(Ed. Note: The following press release was issued shortly after the October 12 LaGrange News went to press. The initial article on the utility district’s amnesty plan can be found below.)
The LaGrange County Regional Sewer District was told by the Rural Development agency on Thursday that Rural Development was unwilling to pay for a program that would have given property owners in the Shipshewana West service area a last chance to be part of the project. As a result, the District has suspended it efforts to implement such a program.
The Rural Development agency of the United States Department of Agriculture is funding the construction of a sewage collection system around and near Shipshewana Lake with a grant and a low-interest loan.
On Wednesday, the Board of Trustees of the District agreed to give property owners in the service area who previously said they did not want to be part of the project and who previously declined to give the District an easement that was necessary to make them part of the project a “last chance” to be part of the project. Approximately 14 property owners would have been given 10 days to comply with particular conditions in order to become part of the project.
However, Mike Sutter, president of the board, stated that if Rural Development will not fund the additional costs of allowing those property owners to participate the District cannot afford to offer it to them. “Although Rural Development initially had been encouraging when the idea was first proposed, its position changed after further review and its final position had not been made known to the District when the Board considered the program on Wednesday,” Sutter said.
Utility district offers ‘last chance’ for Shipshewana project holdouts
Property owners in the Shipshewana West project area that have not joined the project are being given a second chance before the project is completed.
The LaGrange County Regional Utility District approved an amnesty program for the project that will give the estimated 14 property owners still holding out the opportunity to still join the project without further costs to themselves. The board approved the action Wednesday evening, and instructed legal counsel John Gastineau and District Administrator Heidi Sisco to mail a letter to the property owners notifying them about the amnesty period, which will be for only 10 days.
In order to take advantage of the amnesty period, a property owner will have to have all fees paid up to date, agree to continue to pay all monthly fees, state that they wish to be in the project, and execute an “easement acceptable to the district.”
The letter was expected to be sent via certified mail with return receipt requested on Thursday, Oct. 11.
The plan was proposed by Howard Slater, who represents the Shipshewana West project area. “We have several families that have not signed up and may now have second thoughts,” Slater said. “I don’t want to stick them with a large bill.” Slater initially proposed a 20-day period, and noted it was a “last chance” for those who have so far resisted being part of the project.
The board discussed the plan, shortening the time to 10 days, noting that residents have had ample time to consider what they wish to do.
The board also asked project engineer Steven Henschen about additional costs if some or all of the property owners join the project at this stage. Henschen reminded the board that the initial change to the project that removed the 14 or so properties dropped the cost by around $80,000. Adding all of the properties back in would reinstate that cost, plus additional funds from the contingency fund of around $10,000, he estimated. The additional costs would be incurred if the contractor has extra expenses in remobilizing its crews, as well as additional pumps and electrical work. That cost could be minimal if the changes are made while the contractor is still on site, he added.
“I would expect the contractor to request a time extension,” Henschen said. Currently, the project is on a Nov. 14 deadline for substantial completion. That could be pushed back into December, with restoration work held off until spring.
Utility Board President Mike Sutter agreed with the proposal, noting that two had requested to come back into the project, adding, “Others have been given bad advice. This is an effort made in good faith and cleans the slate off. It they don’t come back on board, they don’t come back on board.”
One resident, Donald Holaway, was at Wednesday meeting to request to be added to the project. Sutter asked him for his reasoning to join the project. Holaway told the board that he had been unable to attend the initial project meetings due to work and “I was misinformed by a lot of people.” He told the board that he would not be able to afford to install the grinder pump and other things needed to connect on his own.
Residents who do not hook into the system will be required to hook in at their own expense, per the district’s policy. That could cost a property owner upwards of $15,000, plus the electricity and maintenance of the grinder pump over its service life.
Residents that wish to accept the final offer from the district will need to come to the district’s office at 116 E. Wayne St. in LaGrange to fill out the forms and sign the easement papers.
In other business:
The district approved an amendment for inspection services with GAI, the engineering firm overseeing the project. GAI had asked for $30,000 for the additional amount of work needed on the project, and up to an additional $15,000 for inspection, which could include additional work due to the amnesty program.