Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Elkhart Public Works and Utilities office on Nappanee Street as seen Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (By Jennifer Shephard/The Elkhart Truth)
Ontwa Township, Mich., fined over sewer issue, bringing the running total in penalties to $27,750
Posted on June 17, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.

ELKHART — Ontwa Township, Mich., once again faces a fine stemming from excessive levels of a corrosive substance in the sewer system it shares with the city of Elkhart.

The Elkhart Board of Public Works on Tuesday, June 17, approved a staff recommendation to fine the Ontwa Township Sewer District $5,000 — $2,500 for each of two excessive readings of hydrogen sulfide between May 12 and 14. Ontwa Township faced previous fines of $11,750, $10,000 and $1,000 resulting from the same situation, and Tuesday’s action increases the total it has faced in penalties to $27,750.

Ontwa Township reps were on hand Tuesday to outline efforts they have taken to resolve the ongoing problem, which dates to a 2011 sewer collapse caused by hydrogen sulfide. Ontwa Township collects sewage from area customers and sends it to Elkhart via a shared underground network for treatment at a facility here, per an accord between the two entities.

Two Ontwa Township companies are suspected of emitting the waste that’s led to the high hydrogen sulfide readings, and Tom Miller from Severn Trent, the firm that manages the Michigan system, said one of them now treats its own waste. The other firm, which he wouldn’t identify, has implemented a pre-treatment process to address the problems.

Consultant John Hampton, of Source Technologies in Delphi, said his firm, hired by Ontwa Township, started implementing a system last year to treat the waste to keep hydrogen sulfide levels down, but that various glitches have hampered its effectiveness. He thinks the problems have finally all been addressed, though.

All told, Ontwa Township has spent $52,218 in fixes to address the issue, Miller said. The ongoing problems have exasperated Elkhart officials, and Andrew Carter, a member of the Board of Public Works, noted that the total in penalties thus far represents more than half of what Ontwa Township has spent searching for a fix.

Also Tuesday, the Board of Public Works approved a cease and desist order calling on Ontwa Township to stop violating the waste treatment agreement with Elkhart via the excessive hydrogen sulfide readings. Elkhart officials have mulled the possibility of suing over the issue, and the cease and desist order is the final administrative step before seeking relief in court.

In other business, the board accepted the low bid of $795,960 from Rieth-Riley Construction for a series of street improvements to repair damage brought on by the harsh winter. That’s less than half of the $1.7 million appropriated for the work.

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