Utility district holds on installation issue for Shipshewana project
The LaGrange County Regional Utility District Board was approached by Attorney Brian Hoffer, representing Dennis and Kay Martin who live in the Shipshewana West service area, to discuss the installation of equipment by property owners who did not sign an easement for the project.
The district passed an ordinance prior to the start of the project that would result in the project bypassing any property where the owner had not signed a blanket easement. Blanket easements would allow the project workers and the district to place the needed equipment – grinder pumps, electrical, etc. – on a property and maintain it. Any property bypassed would then be required to connect to the system when it was completed, incurring all costs of the equipment and installation.
Hoffer argued that the format crossed a boundary in tying connection fees to signing a voluntary easement, a situation that he noted had been taken to court in Steuben County. Hoffer contended that those who did not sign an easement before the June 2012 deadline were in effect being charged differently to hook into the system, compared to those that had signed an easement.
The district’s legal counsel, John Gastineau, noted that the district does not consider that to be a connection fee. “There is no upfront connection fee,” he said. In consideration for the easement, Gastineau said, the district provides the equipment, installation, operation, maintenance and eventual replacement for each customer.
The district had attempted one last chance in October to allow those that wanted to sign an easement and connect to the system. At that time, the district was willing to cover the costs outlined above. However, Rural Development, who financed the project though a loan and grant combination, would not allow the district to do that. “Rural Development put us in a box on this when they gave us that grant and loan,” Gastineau said. The funding provided covered those that had signed the easement only, and after Rural Development said the district could not add anymore properties in October, “we couldn’t take the money out of our coffers as we had no other funding source,” Gastineau explained.
Hoffer reiterated that he felt that the district had crossed the line of tying the cost to connect to the voluntary easement.
In other business:
The board was told that 53 inspections have been done so far in the Shipshewana West service area. Operations Manager Don Skinner noted that crews had found a number of septic systems that were little more than 55 gallon drums and other containers used as the septic tanks. Many were also found to be below the water table, he said.
The district was asked about allowing the Howe Fire Department and any department rendering mutual aid to fill tankers from the Fawn River Crossing site.
The district was asked to include Aurora Services in the Shipshewana service area as they plan to build a new facility on CR 250N at CR 850W. It was noted that, as a commercial operation, it would need to get permission from the Town of Shipshewana first, as the current agreement does not allow for commercial or industrial waste. It was noted that no waste other than domestic type waste would be produced at the location.
The district was told that the LaGrange County Health Department had asked for its assistance in determining how close the facilities at Camp Lakewood were to a district line, as well as determining if the property could be serviced by the district. It was noted that it is not a forced main line at that location, which would allow the camp to connect. However, the board declined providing a distance, feeling that the health board should determine the distance if they are the ones to enforce a connection or not. The district could mark the location of its line, it was decided.