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Elkhart officials grant Ontwa Township more time to fix sewer problem

An Ontwa Township, Mich., official asked for more time to reduce high hydrogen sulfide levels damaging to the city of Elkhart's sewer system.
Posted on Nov. 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Elkhart officials have granted the Ontwa Township Sewer District across the state line in Michigan more time to remedy excessive levels of a substance that threatens the city of Elkhart sewer system.

But it didn’t come without a measure of exasperation from Elkhart officials, who took up the matter Tuesday, Nov. 5, and a $1,000 fine was included in the deal should the Michigan sewer district miss the original Nov. 13 deadline in addressing the issue, as expected.

Ontwa Township officials better remedy the situation by the new Jan. 30 deadline “because next time I’m going to be hunting for bear,” said Mike Machlan, chairman of the Elkhart Board of Public Works.

Per a long-standing agreement with the Ontwa Township Sewer District, the city of Elkhart handles sewage from the neighboring community. That relationship came under strain after a portion of the interconnected sewer system collapsed on Dec. 26, 2011, due to deterioration brought on by high levels of hydrogen sulfide coming from Ontwa Township.

An accord on July 16, 2013, called on Ontwa Township to implement a fix reducing hydrogen sulfide levels to five parts per million or fewer by Nov. 13. But John Brielmaier, the Ontwa Township supervisor, told the Elkhart Board of Public Works members Tuesday that it’ll take longer to install the equipment required to address the issue, perhaps until the end of next January.

The root of the Elkhart officials’ concern is the continuing damage caused by the hydrogen sulfide. In an Oct. 29 memo to Board of Public Works members from Elkhart Utility Engineer Tory Irwin, Irwin said “damage to the city’s sewer system continues to occur at an alarming rate and will continue until the (hydrogen sulfide) is brought under control.”

Whatever the case, with little other recourse, the board granted Ontwa Township an extension until Jan. 30, though the body also implemented a $1,000 fine, should the Nov. 13 deadline come and go without a fix.

If things aren’t fixed by Jan. 30, the fines would get even more severe, per Tuesday’s decision. A $4,250 fine would be levied on Jan. 31 and fines of up to $2,500 would be levied each day thereafter pending a resolution.

“I think this has gone on way, way, way too long,” said Machlan.


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