NORTH WEBSTER – The Lakeland Regional Sewer District Board expressed fears Thursday that a 30-day comment period required by the US Department of Agriculture could delay the project until spring.
Board President Jim Haney said the USDA notified them of the comment period after receiving in May paperwork in preparation for bidding out construction of the wastewater treatment plant and collection system. Haney said they don’t know yet if the USDA will wait until after the 30 days to begin the environmental approval process – if they do, he said it could shift the timeline and possibly push the start of construction to spring. The district expects to receive an answer to that question early next week.
The board then discussed the timeline, which includes closing on the loan to fund construction as well as holding a wage rate hearing. They heard the district could begin advertising as early as July rather than in August.
Also during the meeting, Haney addressed a letter from a district resident  questioning their decision to run lines under the road to bypass properties without easement agreements, which will later be required to connect once the system is finished. The letter asked why they didn’t instead pursue eminent domain with those properties and avoid possible complications later with the lines under the road.
Haney said cost was the main driver behind the board’s decision – $350,000 to bypass the properties versus as much as $1.5 million to pursue eminent domain. Lengthy legal battles would also drag out the term of their loan, allowing interest costs to add up that much more, he said, as well as possibly missing their window for USDA funding.
And Haney later talked with Mark Dillon, who owns a bait shop on the outskirts of the district at Ind. 13 and CR 350N, about the possibility of his business joining the sewer system. Dillon said the board told him two years ago he would be able to hook up, but he recently learned he would not be allowed because he’s on the wrong side of Ind. 13.
“Somewhere, somebody dropped the ball, and I’d like to know where it’s at,” Dillon said.
Haney told him the decision wasn’t made by the district but by the USDA, since the agency wouldn’t cover the cost of installing the line under the highway.
“We’re trying to determine what we can and can’t do, (but) the USDA won’t provide the money to run the line under Ind. 13,” Haney said.
The two agreed to exchange paperwork on the background to the decision and its development.