Friday, December 03, 1999

Rancor over utility's expansion

Neighbors cite foul sewage plant

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LAWRENCEBURG — Miller Township residents got their concerns about LMH Utilities Corp. off their chests — and placed them in the hands of state regulators.

        About 50 people who live in and around the rapidly growing Bright community said they do not want the sewer company to expand its service area.

        LMH Utilities wants to add about 1,600 acres and 207 customers to the area it serves.

        During a public hearing Wednesday night at the Dearborn County fairgrounds, some of those customers told the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission that LMH has not controlled foul odors at its sewage treatment plant. They complained LMH has not lived up to service promises it made following a 1997 rate hike.

        “The major complaint from everyone is that you have a sewage treatment plant that is sitting in the middle of a subdivision and it stinks,” said Greg Vollmer, chairman of Community Planning Advocates Inc., a grass-roots group pushing for public utility service and coun tywide planning.

        “I feel guardedly optimistic that something will happen. I think they will give LMH the extension ... but they will force (LMH) to do something about the odor. At least something good would come of it.”

        Wednesday's testimony will be mulled over by the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which represents consumers and gives them a voice in utility policy.

        That agency's staff will investigate the complaints, weigh them against Bright's need for public sewers and make a recommendation to the utility regulatory commission by Dec. 10.

        The commission will consider that input, hold a final evidentiary hearing Jan. 5 in Indianapolis and then decide whether to grant LMH's request.

        “There wasn't anything raised at the hearing that was so out of line that obviously (LMH would be refused). We have to take all of the issues into account,” said David Goldwater, the consumer counsel's director of consumer service.

        LMH President Jay Tucker attended the hearing but did not speak. His company applied Wednesday for a permit that would allow it to dispose of the smelly sludge produced during sewage treatment.

        Mr. Goldwater said his agency could ask the commission to delay ruling on the expansion request until the sludge issue is settled. Meanwhile, they could conduct an on-site investigation into complaints of mismanagement.

        State regulators and Dearborn County health officials want to encourage public sewer service in the Bright area, where septic system failures are common.

        “These obviously are all concerns we need to take into consideration and weigh the public good overall against the issues raised at the hearing,” Mr. Goldwater said. “We'd like to see public sewers ... but you have to make sure that it's going to be properly managed.”


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