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City needs to address stormwater

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By The Staff

I wanted to "take my head out of the sand" (as Cannelton Mayor Smokey Graves said in a June 12 News story) long enough to explain my position as a former Cannelton city councilman regarding the city's sewer rates.

Let me preface this by saying that it is my understanding that our community is essentially set up as a user on Tell City's sewer system.

We pay that community monthly based upon how much sewage we send them for treatment. Our rates as individual household users can then be affected by that monthly cost, somewhat of a trickle-down effect.

Late in 2004 it was brought to my attention that rain, or storm water, was infiltrating our wastewater (sewer) system, especially during times of heavy downpours. At a subsequent council meeting I posed the following question: On a monthly basis, do we know exactly how much raw sewage we are sending to Tell City and how much rain water we are sending?

The premise of my question was based upon us possibly paying more than necessary for our flow of sewage to our neighbors. It did not make sense to me that we pay to have rain water treated as raw sewage. It was Cannelton's responsibility, not Tell City's to find out the answer to this question.

When I did not receive a clear, definitive answer to my question, I asked then-Mayor Melvin McBrayer to inquire about the city applying for a grant to study our failing storm-water system. He complied and the city did in fact go through this process, one which takes time.

This process includes finding matching funds, conducting public hearings and procuring an engineering firm before applying for the grant.

After application and approval, the study can take nine to 12 months to complete. This is partially due to the fact that an engineering firm needs an adequate amount of time to effectively evaluate storm-water issues. They need the opportunity to look at a system during the spring rains as well as the traditional dryer season.

The city of Cannelton successfully completed this entire process and received grant funding.

After several months the city received a completed comprehensive study from Bernardin Lochmueller and Associates. This study included proposed work to correct Cannelton's issues but would require a lot of money from our small community. BLA did an excellent job giving the city opportunities to prioritize our needs and break them into smaller more achievable projects rather than one large costly project.

The city took some of the recommendations and with the help of its engineer and grant writer, Jeff Pruitt, submitted an eligible project for grant funding with the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. This project included rehabilitation of the forced main that delivers sanitary sewage to Tell City. This is the project for which the current administration continues to pursue funding and one I do support.

These OCRA grants are highly competitive. Cities and towns all over the state compete twice a year for a predetermined amount of federal money allocated annually.

These type of projects include fire trucks, fire stations, community centers, emergency-medical-services stations, wastewater construction and towers for drinking water.

If funding is denied, a community is not limited on the amount of times it can apply. The process includes a very detailed scoring model which does include financial impact. This is where the issue of our sewer rates was addressed.

I think the citizens of Cannelton need to know that there are many other ways of improving our application and getting this project funded which do not include raising these rates. For example, increasing the local match, offering services in-kind, and increasing public participation, just to name a few.

I truly understand that making decisions on items such as raising rates is difficult for elected officials (Democrat and Republican) and maybe in the end Cannelton's will need adjusting.

Many of our current administration have said they want to make Cannelton more marketable and attractive for new businesses and residents. I agree with this wholeheartedly, but it won't happen by doing things such as raising rates without proper justification.

My position remains the same, our current sewer rate situation cannot effectively be evaluated until the community's stormwater issues are adequately addressed.

Bennett is a former city councilman in Cannelton.