Sunday, February 7, 2016

City engineer Mike Machlan addresses the Elkhart city council on Monday night, March 17, 2014, about plans for a major sewer project in the downtown. (Dan Spalding / The Elkhart Truth)
Council quizzes engineer over sewer project
Posted on March 17, 2014 at 10:56 p.m.

ELKHART — City officials are doing everything they can do to minimize expected problems from the upcoming massive sewer project that will begin this summer and continue for as long as two years.

That was the message from city engineer Mike Machlan who answered questions from city council members Monday night, March 17.

Monday’s Q-and-A was a prelude of sorts to Wednesday’s meeting at the Lerner Theatre where officials will try to relieve concerns from downtown merchants. That meeting starts at 5 p.m.

Concerns about the downtown portion of the on-going combined sewer overflow project surfaced when merchants and some council members first learned several weeks ago of plans to install a 1 million-gallon underground tank southwest of the Waterfall Drive and Jackson Boulevard intersection.

The biggest concern is that the construction of the tank will close a major city parking lot and require the closing of a portion of Waterfall Drive.

Machlan’s presentation was sought by council member Mary Olson, she said, after she learned about the project a few weeks ago while vacationing in Florida.

Compared to the Main Street renovations a few years ago, Machlan said they thought the upcoming project would be “a minor inconvenience.”

“We were wrong. We found that out right away,” Machlan said. “We started working with the parking issues as early as last December.”

Machlan outlined several moves the city is embracing to minimize the impact on the downtown.

Those include establishing “severe” penalties for contractors who exceed the time limits on certain parts of the project as well as incentives to finish ahead of schedule.

He said city officials are working on plans for additional temporary parking, but declined to say what that might entail since negotiations are still continuing.

A new permanent city parking lot will also be established south of Dairy Queen store, Machlan said.

The idea of removing the existing two-hour parking limit has also been considered, but Machlan said that’s “a real balancing act.”

Bids for the project will be opened in April. The project is slated to begin in July after the Elkhart Jazz Festival, Machlan said.

Some council members voiced concern over what they considered a lack of communication about the project.

“It was in the newspaper before I was aware and that’s concerning since the calls were coming,”  councilman David Henke said.

Machlan said he believed officials updated the council last year on the project.

Councilman Brian Thomas said he recalls some kind of warning about the project.

“It may be late, but public input is going to be vital in deciding the problems of access and location and general information,” Thomas said.

In addition to the underground tank, the project will include improvements to part of Waterfall and the replacement of aging underground pipes.

“The wildcard in this is we’re trying to take care of 100-year-old water mains. We’re slipping those into the projects. That’s forced us to close streets that otherwise, we might not.”