Ethanol plant shut down sparks flooding fears

Rain has been virtually nonexistent in November in Michiana with just over a quarter of an inch falling (.26 inches).

In fact, this month is poised to go down in the record books as the driest November ever.

That’s why you might be surprised to discover that flooding concerns are on the rise in one South Bend neighborhood.

“I do worry about flooding and you know what, maybe I should check my flood insurance make sure I got flood insurance,” said Calvert Street resident Catherine Washington.

The threatened homes are along Calvert Street near the New Energy ethanol plant. The plant shut down earlier this month after its owners filed for bankruptcy.

“That plant used a lot of water,” said Gary Gilot, South Bend Director of Public Works. “They were a sewer customer of ours for wastewater treatment purposes, but they were their own water purveyor. “They had their own wells, they drew water out of the ground just like we do.”

New Energy drew up to two million gallons of ground water each day as part of the production process. That was enough to significantly lower the water table in the neighborhood.

With the plant shut down, that water is ending up in places where it is not welcome.

“If it’s going like this in the dry months, what’s going to happen when it actually starts raining,” said Calvert St. resident Tibor John Folding.

Folding has lived in his home for 11 years but only recently did he get his first glimpse of water coming out of his flood control—sump pump pipe.

“There was one day, I swear, it was on once an hour, while I was awake on Saturday morning,” said Folding.

“What’s happening to the folks along Calvert is their sump pumps are running continuously lately,” said Gary Gilot. “That would be an indication to us that the basement is below the static water table with the water table rebounded because of no wells sucking it down.”

At the intersection of Calvert and New Energy Drive, the rising groundwater created so much pressure that it damaged a city manhole. Crews were completing repairs today.

“Part of what I’d kind of like to see is what happens with the bankruptcy court,” said Gilot. “The ethanol plant has gone through bankruptcy one time before and came out of bankruptcy with new owners who purchased it at a reduced price where they could make a viable go of it. That may happen again; these wells may be running in the not too distant future.”