The LaGrange County Regional Sewer District asked those that are seeking to revoke their easement agreements with the district to reconsider, pointing to the benefits of agreeing to the blanket easement for the Shipshewana West sewer project.
As work to locate spots for the grinder pumps continues around Shipshewana Lake and along CR 250N, six residents in the service area have asked for the easements they signed previously to be revoked. Several residents were on hand to speak to the board Wednesday evening, with several noting they felt pressured at the time to sign the blanket easement.
A blanket easement is the normal method the district uses to ask for access to properties in the service area. Under its terms, the district and its contractors are allowed to place the grinder pump on the property, as well as have continued access to the pump and line for future maintenance, repair or replacement.
District attorney John Gastineau told the board that the requests to revoke the easements were not legally enforceable. Gastineau said that merely requesting to revoke an easement does not make it effective. “You are not obligated to accept the request to rescind the easement,” he told the sewer board.
Gastineau noted that the district promises specific benefits in return for the blanket easement, including assuming costs of the grinder pumps and installation of the pump and lines to the service line, as well as the costs of future maintenance, repair and replacement of the grinder pumps and lines. The district would work to place the pumps as close to the residences as possible, Gastineau added, to help keep the owner’s costs as low as possible.
The district would only require two out-of-pocket expenses on the part of the property owners. One would be a one-time expense of putting a line in from the residence to the pump and any cost to fill in the septic system, Gastineau said. The property owner would also have a monthly sewer bill.
In 2009, the district passed an ordinance that addressed property owners that did not sign the easement. Gastineau said that the district could bypass any property that did not have an easement agreement. “They will still have to connect to the system and we can go to court to enforce connection,” Gastineau said. The district would not place a grinder pump on the property that it bypasses, he added.
“When it comes time to connect the properties that didn’t sign an easement, we will expect them (property owners) to pay the costs,” Gastineau said. Those costs would be all of the costs that the district would have assumed under the easement agreement listed above.
“There are a number of advantages a property owner has when they give us the easement to go onto the property,” Gastineau stated.
Gastineau also addressed the concern that some people have felt coerced or felt that they signed the easement “under duress.” “We’ve tried to explain the advantages of giving us an easement and the disadvantages of not signing,” Gastineau said. “That is not duress. The property owners have the opportunity not to sign.”
Gastineau also said that a property owner may request to have an easement drawn up to limit access to specific areas of a property, but the district would not assume the cost to have that type of easement drawn up. The district uses the blanket easements as it feels that method is more cost effective than incurring the costs of surveying and recording individual easements.
“I believe it is better for all sides to talk about the matter further,” Gastineau told the board, “and to see if they will reconsider.”
Gastineau recommended that the board not take formal action on the requests and authorize him to send a letter explaining the benefits and disadvantages to the property owners that had not signed and those that were seeking to rescind their easements.
The board was also questioned about the first billing received by property owners earlier this month. The district had announced at the rate hearing in December and at other times that it would begin “half-billing” when financing was received.
Those questioning the board expressed concerns over being billed for services not provided, as the system is not installed nor treating waste.
The district pointed out that the billing sent out is to cover the financing costs of the project during construction, as well as administrative costs incurred during that time, and does not include operating or service fees for any use of the system.
Full billing, which will include both the debt service and the service fee for the system, will begin when the district assumes control of the system, which is expected to be in October of November of this year.
In other business:
The board was told that a site visit had been conducted for the YMCA camp to look at the structures on the camp property and how that compared to the district’s billing for the camp. The district asked for a meeting to be set up with the camp to look at needed changes, including an accurate count on beds at the camp and which structures would be hooked into the system.