Elkhart officials formalize opposition to Ontwa Township sewer plant plans in letter to Michigan officials

The Elkhart Board of Public Works cites misleading information in the proposal in a formal letter to Michigan officials.

Posted on Aug. 20, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Elkhart officials have formally gone on board opposing construction of a sewage treatment plant across the state line in Michigan that would discharge into Cobus Creek here.

The decision Tuesday, Aug. 19, from the Elkhart Board of Public Works comes before the start of the official public comment period for the project. But in the letter, addressed to two Michigan officials, board President Mike Machlan cited a measure of urgency created by what he described as misleading information contained in the application for the permit needed to operate the facility.

"Elkhart feels it is imperative to review comments prior to the public comment period because as detailed below, there is significant misleading information provided in the MDEQ application,“ says the letter, signed by Machlan.

MDEQ is the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the body handling the Ontwa Township permit application. Normally, the body issues a preliminary permit after getting proposals like Ontwa Township’s, then launches a public comment period to gather feedback before finishing the process.

Ontwa Township officials want to build a sewer plant that would process waste coming from the community around Edwardsburg, Mich. It would be located on the outlet from Garver Lake, emitting treated sewage into Cobus Creek, which passes through western Elkhart County before emptying in the St. Joseph River.

Ontwa Township officials have defended the plans, saying the treated wastewater would be cleaner than Cobus Creek water.

Many living along the waterway oppose the plans, though, skeptical the discharge would have no adverse impacts on the creek, a cold water stream. Elkhart officials have previously voiced concerns, doubtful Ontwa Township officials have the expertise to manage a wastewater treatment plant, and they reiterated their worries in the letter approved Tuesday.

As is, Ontwa Township sends its waste to Elkhart via a shared underground network for treatment at a facility here. The presence of a corrosive substance on the Ontwa Township side of the system led to the 2011 collapse of a segment of the network and Elkhart officials complain that reps in the neighboring local haven’t done enough to remedy the situation.

"Ontwa has stated publicly, ’if operated correctly’ the discharge from the proposed wastewater treatment facility would be cleaner than that which is discharged from Elkhart...,” said the letter. “Yet Ontwa has a proven track record of exhibiting a lack of urgency, understanding, willingness and desire to comply with legal, financial and environmental obligations.”

On Thursday, Cass County, Mich., commissioners are scheduled to consider a proposal to suspend work on the Ontwa Township proposal, amid the swirling controversy. Funding for the plans comes through Cass County, according to Nick Donis, a foe who’s lobbied against the plans.

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

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