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Utility district approves action on easement issues


With 17 properties that have not granted a blanket easement for the Shipshewana West sewer project, and one additional property owner who is resolute to have the easement agreement revoked, the LaGrange County Regional Utility District decided to confirm its plans to move ahead with the project, which could include bypassing those properties.

The district is giving property owners until 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 26, to sign the blanket easement or be bypassed during the construction of the system.

The district board confirmed its process laid out by an ordinance passed over two years ago. Under the policy, property owners who do not give the district a blanket easement will have those properties bypassed by the project, with no grinder pumps or other infrastructure put in place for service. Once the project is complete, the district plans to seek to have the owners hooked into the system at the owners’ expense.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the board was told that the cost for an owner to buy and install their own grinder pump and line would be close to $10,000. That would not include electrical service or maintenance of the pump. The board was told that since the district would not own those specific pumps it would not be responsible for the electrical or ongoing maintenance costs.

“Without an easement, we can’t go onto their properties,” the district’s legal counsel, John Gastineau, said. “So far, we’ve taken the action needed to enforce the ordinance.” A decision was needed, Gastineau said, so that the contractor knew whether or not it needed to order grinder pumps for those properties or not.

It was also noted that, in some cases, the owner that had not signed the easement was to share a grinder pump with a neighboring lot. In those cases, the owner that had signed would have a single grinder pump installed on their property, meaning the neighbor without the easement would still need to buy and install a separate pump.

The board also moved to rescind the easement as requested by the one property owner. The decision was made as the board was concerned that by only bypassing the property and not rescinding the easement could create significant issues later.

In other business on the Shipshewana West project:

The board confirmed that it would not be liable for the costs resulting from a cut fiber optics line that occurred during the first day of construction. It was noted that the incident occurred due to the location being mismarked by CenturyLink.

The board clarified its position on specific easements and the costs when asked why a resident would need to pay for the survey and other work for an easement when the district had apparently paid for work on three easements in the project area. It was noted that one was survey work for a piece of land that had to be purchased for the project. The other two were for easements for the system’s force main line, which is separate from the work done under a blanket easement. The blanket easement is for access to lots for installation of the grinder pumps and other infrastructure.

The board also clarified that the blanket easement would not prohibit building additions on lots, as long as the construction did not affect the line or pump. It was also pointed out that, as the property owner also owns the line from the home to the pump, the owner could move the line to suit.

The board declined a request to remove a second billing for an in-home business, citing the district’s ordinance that allows for billing when there is more than one use in a building. Gastineau noted that this billing is handled that way, as an in-home business is likely using more water and producing more wastewater than just a residence.

The district approved removing billing for the dining hall at the Shipshewana Brethren Retreat Center, but added additional billing for the retreat office, resulting in a zero net difference in billing.

The board was told that the project has received 30 grinder pumps on site, which are being prepared for installation after July 1.