Elkhart fines Ontwa Township once again due to corrosive substance in sewer system

The new fine totals $10,000 and comes on top of an $11,750 fine from February.

Posted on May 7, 2014 at 9:04 p.m.

ELKHART — Once again, Ontwa Township, Mich., faces a fine stemming from the presence of a corrosive substance in the sewer network that connects into the city of Elkhart sewer system.

And once again, Ontwa Township reps are the target of criticism from Elkhart officials.

"This is disheartening," Arvis Dawson, a member of the Elkhart Board of Public Works, said Wednesday, May 7. "I didn't hear anything from Ontwa today to ease my conscience about what is happening."

The board last February fined Ontwa Township $11,750 due to excessive readings of hydrogen sulfide in testing Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in the system Ontwa Township shares with Elkhart. On Wednesday, the board levied a new $10,000 fine stemming from excessive readings of the same substance in testing Feb. 27 and 28 and March 29 and 30.

Ontwa Township reps were on hand at the board gathering Wednesday when the board unanimously agreed to the fines. And ahead of the decision, they discussed some of the efforts they're taking to address the matter, like tracking the sewer customer or customers behind the hydrogen sulfide.

But they didn't receive much sympathy from Elkhart officials.

"I still don't think enough is being done on Ontwa's part," said Dawson.

"This has been going on since 2011," said Mike Machlan, the city engineer and president of the board. "We have begged you to take care of this problem."

Ontwa Township operates a sewer collection system, but it has an accord with Elkhart to send the accumulated wastewater here via a shared network so it can be processed at the city's treatment plant.

Hydrogen sulfide can form in wastewater, and the substance appeared in the Elkhart-Ontwa Township system in late December 2011, causing a collapse. 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.

But the subsequent testing in January, February and March has shown higher levels at times.

Ontwa Township is pursuing construction of its own treatment plant so it doesn't have to rely on Elkhart's system, and those plans came under fire during Wednesday's meeting. The new facility would discharge treated wastewater into Cobus Creek, which meanders into western Elkhart County, and locals living along the waterway have decried the plans.

The continuing hydrogen sulfide issue "doesn't help their case" for the treatment plant plans, said Dawson.

Nick Donis, an Ontwa Township resident also critical of the plans, spoke out as well, reiterating his concerns. He doesn't think there's a need for the facility and worries about its environmental impact.

Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack or visit him on Facebook.


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