By Kelli Stopczynski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
5:43 PM EST, February 18, 2013
The city says it is working hard to find a new operator to reopen South Bend’s former ethanol plant soon, but if that doesn’t pan out, sewer bills in the city will go up.
Public Works Director Eric Horvath said New Energy Corporation Ethanol Plant would have generated about $2.2 million in revenue for the city’s wastewater treatment plant this year because it was such a big customer.
But the plant’s shut down and bankruptcy sale mean that money isn’t coming in. Wastewater bills wouldn’t increase for a while and there’s no indication by how much, Horvath added. But he hopes it doesn’t have to happen at all – if someone reopens the plant.
The mess of flooding and mold in homes on Calvert Street, near the former plant, has now become a big concern for nearby farmers and their fields. City leaders asked New Energy to turn on a pump and Friday it did – sending a little more than 4 million gallons of water away from the homes and the plant each day.
The pump is not sending water through South Bend’s wastewater treatment plant because of costs involved and because the water is clean groundwater, the city said. It’s going into a retention pond on the west side of the plant and then into a ditch known as the Place/Kankakee ditch, which ultimately weaves through several local farmland properties, eventually dumping into the Little Kankakee River.
“We all make our livelihood off of that land along the Kankakee River/Place ditch,” said Randy Matthys, who lives downstream from the plant off Crumstown Highway. “So I mean if the river starts coming up, it’s going to back up into the laterals off of it and it could possibly create flooding. And if we get heavy rains, that’s the time they’re probably going to keep pumping or turn the pumps on so that adds insult to injury.”
Another farmer who did not want to be identified because he said his attorney is now involved said at least one downstream farm already invested $10,000 in dredging equipment to alleviate water issues.
Horvath told WSBT the amount of water being pumped out each day is actually minute compared to the amount of rainwater an average storm dumps into the same drainage ditch.
An Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman told WSBT since the current owner/operator of New Energy agreed to turn on the pump, it is operating legally by sending the water through the ditch.
South Bend Public Works Board President Gary Gilot said the city is working with the current owner/operator to cover the electrical cost of running the pump. The mayor made that money available through an executive order last week but noted in a press release Friday he may have to ask the common council for money to pay for some of it.
New Energy’s bankruptcy sale to two companies that plan to liquidate it is not final yet, said the mayor’s Chief of Staff, Mike Schmuhl.
New Energy’s real and personal property taxes totaled nearly $600,000 in 2012 and still have not been paid, said Don Inks, the city’s director of economic resources. Inks added the plant will also owe more than $543,000 in 2013 taxes.
Phone calls and an email to New Energy’s President, Russ Abarr, were not immediately returned Monday.
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