By Adam Aasen
A proposal to place above-ground storage tanks for run-off waste water on the grounds of a local church is causing quite a stir in Carmel.
Angry neighbors packed the recent City Council meeting to express their concerns and Mayor Jim Brainard said he agrees with their sentiments.
For years, the Clay Township Regional Waste District has been trying to figure out what to do with overflow problems. On July 2, the King of Glory Lutheran Church on 106th Street received an offer to sell 1.6 acres of its land for the construction of a wet weather equalization storage facility. The storage tanks would store around a million gallons of waste water, which some people claim is toxic and can emit an odor that would be bothersome to close-by residents.
The church was offered $106,800. The CTRWD also agreed to make improvements to the property, such as turning a field into a multi-use athletic field and repairing the church’s driveway after construction is complete. Currently, they have until the first week in August to decide.
Pastor David Hewitt said no decision has been made and there have been discussion within the congregation, but did say that the CTRWD said they could take the land via eminent domain if the church refused to sell.
City leaders don’t get a vote on this issue, but do have some ways to exert influence. The CTRWD might need an easement from the city to be able to access pipes to transfer the waste water into the tanks. There are also other permits required.
Brainard said he believes a better solution is to place waste water tanks on the property of the city’s existing sewer plant.
“This is not good solution to the problem,” he said. “But when it rains a lot there’s raw sewage coming out of the ground so there is a problem and we’ve been after them about fixing this problem for some time. This is their proposed solution. It’s not the right solution.”
Angry neighbors – most notably from the Millbrook neighborhoods – have written letters to the church and sent e-mails to City Councilor Luci Snyder, who represents the Church’s district. They are concerned about the visible sight of the tanks, possible cracks which could cause harmful leaks and odor.
“My feeling is everyone needs to take a step back and re-evaluate this situation before a lot of homeowners lose a piece of their financial future,” said Kevin Schaefer, a Millbrook resident.
Andrew Williams, the utility director for the CTRWD, told the Current that many of the concerns about this project are unfounded. He said the tanks would be reinforced with concrete and covered so leaks should not be likely. He said the tanks should only be used only two to five times a year when rainfalls are particular heavy. Williams also disagreed with Brainard’s proposal , saying that building a force main along 96th Street and moving the tanks to the sewage plant would make the project cost twice as much and it’s not necessary.
Williams said ventilation with air purifiers should make smell a non-issue.
“As far as odor, we don’t believe there will be an odor,” he said. “There has been a large lift station just south of Carmel Creek for twenty five years and we don’t receive complaints.”
John Duffy, director of City of Carmel Utilities, said these tanks need to be designed properly for that to be true.
“Odor control filters can work, but they need to be maintained to work effectively and over time are not without potential problems,” he said.
Snyder said there needs to be more discussion because even if Williams is correct that there is no risk, the perception out there could negatively affect property values and home sales.
“I am not an engineer, so I don’t know the answer. I don’t take a side. I just want to hear all the facts,” Snyder said. “My role is to listen to my constituents and clear up any inaccurate statements.”
Residents dispute that notion and say they haven’t received any plan or notification from the CTRWD. Williams said than the Millbrook homeowner’s association president, who attended their July 7 meeting, nobody has bothered to attend their monthly public board meetings where the information would be available.
Williams said they met with Millbrook’s homeowners association but some neighbors who feel they weren’t notified might live outside the limits of the project. More areas will be notified if the project advances, he said.
“We wanted to make sure we had a contract to purchase the property before we spent the time and expense on the construction plans,” he said.
Williams said he believes this project is a positive for the community because it fixes a problem with – what he believes – is minimal impact. He said the dispute can be traced to political differences, specifically the fact that some want the township and city utilities to merge.
“We believe this project is technically sound,” he said. “Unfortunately we haven’t been expecting the political blowback of the project and unfortunately the church has been caught in the middle.”
Duffy said political disputes have nothing to do with the problem they are trying to fix.
“Politics didn’t cause the problem and the residents do not wish to be impacted by the fix the District has proposed,” he said. “It is very difficult to fix a problem like this when it is in residents’ backyards. We would have not chosen this project at this location because of that reason alone.”
When asked for comment, Pastor Hewitt referred the Current to his written statement, which only says they are considering the offer and haven’t made a decision.
The church might be in a tough situation because the money and the improvements could be beneficial to their property and if the CTRWD took the land using eminent domain, the church would likely not receive the property improvements and would have less say regarding landscaping and how the sight is concealed by trees. At the same time, neighbors are upset and the church wants to be seen as a positive member of the community.
The next meeting is Aug. 11 and Williams expects a crowd.
In the end, this all comes down to whether you believe using the church lands presents a risk to neighbors.
One neighbor, Vince Artale, provided links to several pieces of research which prove that there could be a risk with these tanks, in his opinion.
“This is why you don’t put these things in the middle of neighborhoods and in environmentally sensitive areas,” he said.