Elkhart County intervenes in city sewer dispute
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Jon Nelson holds a letter he received from the city Saturday threatening to shut off is sewer service if he doesnít sign a compact agreement with the city of Elkhart. A dozen people met Sunday afternoon to plot their strategy. (Truth Photo By Dan Spalding)
Exactly what the city will do in response, though, remains unclear.
The city’s utility department vowed to cut off sewer beginning Wednesday to any residents who had not signed compact agreements by the end of Tuesday.
But county officials, at the request of some Valley View residents, stepped into the fray Monday by agreeing to notify the city it would not approve work permits involving county road right-of-ways that might be needed for construction crews to physically shut off sewer lines.
The county action was taken because shutting off sewer to residents would represent an immediate health hazard, according to the county’s letter to the city.
The move by the county came after complaints from residents who live outside of the city but depend on the city for sewer service.
County commissioner Frank Lucchese said the commissioners felt the need to step in because the residents of Valley View do not have official representation in the city.
“We don’t think it’s right to disconnect essential services, and we can’t stand by and let county residents be treated like this,” Lucchese said.
Arvis Dawson, assistant to the mayor, said Mayor Dick Moore had not received any paperwork as of late Tuesday morning.
When they do receive the paperwork, Dawson said, the city will review it before issuing any statement.
The commissioners signed the letter drafted by county legal counsel Gordon Lord on Monday afternoon, March 18.
The letter to the mayor and council members explains that the commissioners would like more details on why the city wants to resort directly to disconnection.
Lucchese said the commissioners had received complaints from Valley View residents who had gotten disconnect notices.
“We talked to our health department about the immediate health hazards that this could cause,” he said. “There are other avenues to collect fees without having to disconnect services.”
Most of the 90 or so residents in the neighborhood have signed the compact agreement, but some have continued to refuse, partly because of concerns over a provision that would prohibit residents from opposing any future plans should the city choose to seek to annex the subdivision located south of city limit.
The residents and city have had a long-standing feud over sewer service.
The compact policy extends to all residential customers outside of the city who have been on sewer service agreements for years, but many are in Valley View.
The number of residents still holding out as of Monday was less than 20.
The city issued its sixth warning letter to residents Friday and also placed tags on doors of residents who have not signed the agreement warning that they face a cutoff of service.
The city also began preliminary steps by painting marks in nearby streets and yards that will guide construction crews if the city chooses to disconnect service.
Jon Nelson, a spokesman for the Valley View opponents, presented copies of an unsigned version of the county paperwork to city council members late Monday night.
Nelson was not available for comment Tuesday morning.