Elkhart fines Michigan entity due to high levels of corrosive substance in sewer system

Tests indicated high hydrogen sulfide levels in the network connecting to the Ontwa Township Sewer District system.

Posted on Feb. 18, 2014 at 9:18 p.m.

ELKHART — Elkhart officials have levied a fine of nearly $12,000 against a Michigan locale that taps into the city's sewer system due to excessive levels of a substance that can corrode the network.

The Elkhart Board of Public Works on Tuesday, Feb. 18, fined the Ontwa Township Sewer District $11,750 due to readings on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 that indicated high levels of hydrogen sulfide in the system there. The presence of hydrogen sulfide first came to the attention of officials Dec. 26, 2011, after the system connecting to Ontwa Township collapsed due to deterioration spurred by the substance.

A July 2013 accord called on Ontwa Township to resolve the problem, implementing fixes to reduce hydrogen sulfide levels to five parts per million or less of samples tested. The Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 tests, though, indicated levels of up to 125 parts per million and an average over the testing period of 22 parts per million, leading to an initial fine of $1,750 and four additional fines of $2,500 each.

John Brielmayer, the Ontwa Township superintendent, said testing the township carried out indicated an average hydrogen sulfide reading on Jan. 29 and 30 of three parts per million. He asked Elkhart officials to reconsider the fine, but officials held fast, though they agreed to do new tests side-by-side with Ontwa Township officials to try to figure out the cause for the discrepancies.

The issue, more than two years old, has been a lingering headache for Elkhart officials.

"We have millions of dollars of infrastructure in place that's meant to last hundreds of years," said Mike Machlan, president of the Board of Public Works. Given the deterioration hydrogen sulfide can cause to concrete sewer pipes, "it is a major issue."

Ontwa Township could face additional fines if hydrogen sulfide levels aren't reduced. Sulfide entering the system in sewage from Ontwa Township combines with oxygen to create the hydrogen sulfide and the hydrogen sulfide can convert into sulfuric acid, leading to deterioration.

Per a long-standing agreement with the Ontwa Township Sewer District, the city of Elkhart handles sewage from the neighboring community.

In other business Tuesday, the Board of Public Works appropriated $5 million to cover the cost of nine upgrades to the city's water system. The city has been saving funds to do the projects, to start later this year.

The board also appropriated $1.6 million for the design of planned improvements to Elkhart's wastewater treatment plant, part of the broader upgrade of the city's stormwater and wastewater treatment facilities required by new federal standards.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack.


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