Sheriff weighs in on sewer dispute

If the city of Elkhart wants to begin cutting sewer service to Valley View residents, it will likely face deputies from the Elkhart County Sheriff's department.
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 20, 2013 at 5:23 p.m.

ELKHART — If the city of Elkhart wants to disconnect sewer lines in Valley View Hills, officials might be confronted by the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department.

One day after county officials vowed to intervene on behalf of Valley View residents in their dispute with the city over sewer service, Sheriff Bradley Rogers and county highway manager Jeff Taylor showed up Wednesday morning in the subdivision to send a not-so-subtle statement.

“We’re supporting the people against what we believe to be an improper role of government,” Rogers said Wednesday morning, March 20, while parked in a patrol car in the driveway of a Valley View Drive homeowner who has refused to sign the city agreement.

The front yard is dotted with utility flags and recent spray paint helps direct crews to underground sewer lines.

The yard is one of more than a dozen that have been prepared for sewer disconnects.

Rogers chose the driveway where he and others believe the series of disconnects would begin. A letter sent to residents over the weekend indicated shutoffs would start on the north end of the subdivision.

“Government is in place to protect the rights of people and the liberties of people,” Rogers said. “To do things like this is just not the right thing to do.”

He said he believes the residents have not been give “due process” and that there are better ways to handle the disagreement.

City officials threatened to begin severing service beginning Wednesday to customers who had not agreed to the city’s compact fee policy. A letter sent by the city on Friday marked the sixth warning from the city.

But in a last-ditch effort, Valley View resident Jon Nelson appealed to the county commissioners, who quickly announced they would not approve work permits involving county road right-of-way, essentially blocking the city’s ability to cut service.

Mayor Dick Moore said on Tuesday the city was still formulating a response to the county’s move.

On Wednesday, Moore declined comment on the sheriff’s presence or what the city might do next. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, there were no signs of city attempts to work in the neighborhood.

Rogers arrived at about 8 a.m. and was joined by county transportation manger Jeff Taylor. Rogers stayed for more than an hour. Taylor remained afterward.

While Rogers said he doesn’t plan to continually patrol the neighborhood, he told at least two residents that if city crews arrive, they should call 9-1-1.

The county commissioners chose to get involved because they believe the elimination of sewer would represent an immediate health hazard.

Rogers, an outspoken advocate of limited government and constitutional rights, said he found it unimaginable that residents wold be left without sewer service.

“My goal is to try to protect people,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s even from the government themselves.”

The residence where Rogers parked is owned by a woman who has declined to identify herself.

Nelson said the threat of cutting off sewer service has left the resident upset.

Nelson, who has become the sole spokesman for the Valley View holdouts, said he was heartened by the county’s presence in the subdivision.

“I’m very glad the county’s standing up for us,” he said.

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