By Denise Bohn (email@example.com)
6:31 PM EST, November 28, 2012
SOUTH BEND – Neighbors living near New Energy Corporation in South Bend are blaming the shutdown company for causing water problems in their homes.
The ethanol plant stopped production a few weeks ago.
Since then, neighbors say sump pumps have been running non-stop.
South Bend officials say the water table in this area has risen, also resulting in a manhole going bad in front of the New Energy ethanol plant on Calvert Street.
The project is costing $40,000. Josh Pemberton, South Bend's construction superintendent says water pressure caused the old system to crumble.
"The groundwater table here is too high. We've had to bring a contractor in to de-water the ground," says Pemberton.
The city had to hire a special contractor to suck out 17 feet of water before workers could install the new manhole system.
The company is required to register with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Records show New Energy operated 6 wells last year, using more than 2 million gallons of water a day.
Neighbors worry some of that unused water is coming up in their basements and backyards.
"I could hear the water. I'm guessing it was pretty close to up here," says Peggy Tomkiewicz, pointing to the top of the sump pump hole in her basement floor.
Tomkiewicz lives about a block from the plant and says for the last 13 years, her sump pump never ran. Now it runs all the time.
"I don't want to replace another sump pump. I don't want to pay an extremely high electric bill to no fault of my own," says a frustrated Tomkiewicz.
Her next door neighbor shares the same concerns.
"There was water on the floor," says Mary Gills who also lives on West Calvert Street. "My husband noticed there was toilet tissue and stuff."
Gills says in the past two weeks, her basement has flooded repeatedly.
"What should we be responsible for? Where do we go citywise? Who can we talk to, because it's continuing," asks a worried Gills.
Neighbors say the plant should be responsible for fixing their problems, but that's not likely to happen since the company declared bankruptcy earlier this month.
WSBT put a call into the City of South Bend's Engineering Department to see if it can help the neighbors. Public Works Director Gary Gilot believes some of the homes were built with the basements fairly deep, deeper than the normal water table. He says it could be the builder relied on the groundwater level being depressed, because the ethanol plant had a big well that lowered the water table.
Now, the water table is back to its normal level with the plant closed. So, the homeowners would have to talk to their insurance companies or builders to see if there is coverage.
The short term, homeowners are pumping that water into the sewer at no charge. That's not allowed by city ordinance, but Gilot says the city is allowing it now because of the hardship. He says that won't be allowed permanently.
He says the city sympathizes, but that's all they can do.
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