Water levels down after pumps turn on at New Energy Ethanol Plant

For the first time this year, water levels are down in the area near the former New Energy Ethanol Plant in South Bend.

The city re-activated one pump Friday afternoon and now, just three days later, water is 15 inches lower and expected to continue dropping.

Despite the improvements, there is a high electric cost attached to the 24-7 effort. Officials say South Bend will pay $5,000 per pump - per month, in order to maintain the water removal.

“As we learned more about the stories, we could start seeing the depth and wideness to this story,” said South Bend Councilman Oliver Davis (D-6th District).

Every day for the last two months, the sewer department has come to the corner of Calvert St. and New Energy Dr. There a crew of two perform the monotonous task of entering a shaft and using a piezometer to measure the water levels in the flood-fervent area.

“This was not just a city project, this was a county project, this was a state project and a federal project. It was all these people coming together to create the New Energy Plant back in the 1980s. Now we have to all come together again to work for not only short term solutions, but long term solution too,” he added.

Because the New Energy Plant sits within the South Bend Regional Airport TIF district, Davis believes the city may be able to tap into part of the $11 million annual budget, in order to build and operate new pumps.

Another potential option for finding funds includes the city’s Vacant and Abandoned Homes Fund. It's budgeted for $1 million this year, 25 percent of which is allotted for preventative home maintenance. Davis believes flooding prevention would qualify.

If all else fails, Davis feels the city’s rainy day fund could be utilized to dry up further flooding.

"I've gone through water problems in my home, in my own basement. I've seen the damage and I understand it," Davis remarked about the Nash St. home he's owned since 1995.

A lot of the homes affected near the plant belong to first time home buyers. Davis wants to make sure they are protected in the future and that further damage is prevented.

“Even though it's a horrible and miserable situation, it's nice to know that you are not by yourself. It's nice to know that your government leaders are not going to leave you out there by yourself,” Davis added.

The city of South Bend will continue to foot the high electric bills indefinitely, with the hope a new operator will eventually move in and take over the pumping responsibility.

The next hearing in US Bankruptcy Court is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. Officials say there are still many details to hash out before the issue is resolved.

Councilman Davis is considering asking residents in the area to contribute a small amount of money, in the ballpark of $20 to $30 a month, to help offset the fees the city has incurred, but no definite plans have been made.

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