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June 2, 2014

Jeffersonville short $16 million for sewer pipe project

Also: Council passes Big Four-related ordinances

JEFFERSONVILLE — The city has a massive project on its hands that it must complete but is at a loss for how to pay for it.

Bill Saegesser, a member of the Jeffersonville Sanitary Sewer Board, updated the Jeffersonville City Council on Monday on the combined sewer overflow interceptor project mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Saegesser said that recent estimates for the project — which cover an intercepting pipe underground large enough for a pick-up truck to drive through — come in at about $37 million.

However, an outside bonding agency calculated the sewer board’s bonding capacity based on its ability to collect sewer bills at only $21 million. That leaves the sewer board about $16 million to come up with.

“That is going to be a challenge,” Saegesser said.

The city has already increased sewer rates in several phases to pay for initial sewer improvements in the city, including adding or replacing sewers in the annexed area.

“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of money at a very rapid pace,” Saegesser said. “... We keep spending money, but we don’t know how much we have.”

Many residents were unhappy with the rising sewer rates, the last of the increases going into effect in March.

“We have no idea that we’re ever going to come to you with a rate increase,” Saegesser said, adding that the sewer board will do its best to come up with money in other creative ways. “ ... We have to do whatever’s necessary to comply to the consent decree.”

The EPA is requiring that Jeffersonville build an interceptor pipe that will redirect combined rainfall and sewage from the Ohio River to a treatment plant. Other river cities including New Albany and Louisville are required to do the same.

The project area will include Chestnut Street between Graham and Pearl streets and continue north from Maple and Pearl streets toward Ninth Street and Indiana Avenue.

Saegesser said the sewer board has been largely in the dark about many aspects of the project.

Councilman Bryan Glover asked how the sewer board doesn’t have answers about how the pipe will be maintained, how odor will be controlled, and how the board will pay for the pipe and at what cost.

“I would have expected to know those three things before I would have ever sent it to design,” Glover said.

Councilwoman Connie Sellers said some of the slow movement of the project could be accounted for by a change in mayors with different positions on the project, but Saegesser said that the interceptor must be built regardless of whether former Mayor Tom Galligan’s canal dreams came to fruition.

Saegesser said that the board is looking into other design options to see if some of the cost can be shaved down.

“I strongly believe that the people of Jeffersonville up to this point have paid their dues,” he said.

He said the board just found out about its bonding capacity — which is hurt by millions of dollars in property owners’ failure to pay sewer bills and indebting the city — last Wednesday.

“Give us a chance,” Saegesser said. “We’ll figure it out.”

BIG FOUR ORDINANCES

The city council voted on three ordinances that regulate activity at the Big Four Bridge ramp and surrounding park area.

The first one regulates “transient merchants,” aimed at independent vendors selling goods to pedestrians and cyclists on the ramp.

Vendors will now have to pay a $300 license fee and undergo a background check through the Jeffersonville Police Department.

Councilman Zach Payne said he opposed the ordinance because he doesn’t think the city should make it more difficult for these vendors to stay afloat financially.

“This just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It’s burdensome.”

Corporation Attorney Les Merkley said that the Waterfront Development Corp. requires all vendors to have a license and to give a cut of their profits to the company.

The second ordinance that passed concerned rules and regulations on the ramp — no pets other than service animals are permitted and bicycles and service vehicles are the only wheels allowed on the ramp.

“This only is imposed on the ramp on our side,” Merkley said, adding that it is identical to Louisville’s rules.

Elderly or handicapped people will be allowed on the ramp through service vehicles.

The last ordinance that passed only on first and second readings, whereas the first two passed on all three, prohibits unauthorized camping on public or private property. This ordinance is directed at homeless people who may live around the ramp or on Big Four Station, the park being built at the foot of the ramp.

Councilman Nathan Samuel said he would like for the Homeless Task Force to be aware of the ordinance before it passes on final reading.

 

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