As city debates solutions, resident frustration over groundwater issue rises

South Bend leaders are still debating how to deal with a rising groundwater issue after the recent closure of the city's Ethanol plant.

New Energy Plant filed for bankruptcy and closed in November, shutting off pumps that pushed about 6.2 million gallons of water out of the ground everyday.

Since then, many residents living nearby have reported flooding and water damage in their basements.

On Wednesday night, city leaders held their third public meeting to discuss the issue.

They discussed several possible solutions, including turning the plant's pumps back on.

But, taking action is complicated because the plant's owners are currently in bankruptcy court.

In order to get the pumps back on, Mayor Pete Buttigieg would have to make a request to the bankruptcy judge.

If it's approved, the city would likely have to foot the bill, which could be as high as $30,000 per month to keep all the pumps on.

And that doesn't include any work that might have to be completed if the city goes that route.

"It's not as easy as turning them on, because those ran through a process that is no longer operating," said Public Works Director Eric Horvath. "And, so we've got to somehow go around that process and that would take significant piping work."

Other solutions debated at Wednesday's meeting include adding a city well to help drain the water or taking legal action.

But, many residents are frustrated with how long it's taking the city to act.

While leaders debate a solution, the rising water under their homes is causing costly damage.

Common Council Vice President Oliver Davis told residents at the meeting they understand their frustrations and are working as quickly as possible toward a permanent solution.

"You have invested in your homes, so going back with this long-term solution, it could also hopefully as you look at it, not only solve problems, but restore property values," he said.

Horvath says the city will continue to monitor ground water levels; it installed two devices, allowing them to take weekly readings.

He has a meeting scheduled Friday to develop a groundwater model, which will help the city determine what would happen if they did turn New Energy's pumps back on.

In the meantime, the health department will hold two meetings next week for residents affected by the rising water.

From 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 30 and Thursday, Jan. 31, they'll explain how residents can cleanup some of the water and mold damage.

The department will also provide some cleaning supplies.

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