Officials give nod to NineStar expansion

HANCOCK COUNTY — Despite pushback from local officeholders, county officials recently signed off on a request by NineStar Connect to begin offering water and sewer utilities to thousands of businesses and residences that currently depend on well water and septic systems.

The Greenfield-based nonprofit cooperative, which currently provides phone, Internet and electric utilities, still needs approval from state officials before moving forward with the proposed expansion, which covers nearly 45,000 acres between Greenfield and Fortville.

Fortville town officials protested the expansion this week before the county’s board of commissioners, arguing it restricts the town’s potential for future growth by infringing on areas where the town could one day extend its own services. County officials disagreed, saying the expansion could spark development in rural parts of the county that desperately need the added infrastructure.

Fortville Town Councilwoman Janet Manship argued Fortville’s water and sewer district is better positioned to serve the territory south and east of the town.

But Gregg Morelock, attorney for NineStar, laid out a detailed plan for how the company is prepared to carry out the expansion.

If the company receives final approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission in coming weeks, it has agreements in place to purchase several existing water and sewage treatment facilities, he said.

One of those facilities, Sugar Creek Utilities, currently provides water and sewer service to Heartland Resort off West County Road 300N, along with 76 homes in a neighboring subdivision.

Operations at that facility could be ramped up to accommodate more users, and the location could serve as a starting point for the expansion, said Mike Burrow, NineStar president and CEO.

The other service site, Philadelphia Water Works, isn’t in operation but has the capacity to provide water and sewer services to the area, Burrow said.

The purchases will be paid for through existing cash reserves; financial details were not disclosed.

The utility provider is also in negotiations with Greenfield-Central School Corp., which currently owns and operates water treatment facilities at Maxwell Intermediate and Eden Elementary schools.

Those operations could easily be expanded, Morelock said.

No water or sewer lines currently exist in the vast majority of the territory; about 2,700 homes and businesses lie in the area now, most of which are dependent on wells and septic systems.

Commissioners Brad Armstrong and Tom Stevens sided with Ninestar, saying the company is in the best position to take over the land. Commissioner Marc Huber was not present at a meeting this week.

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or dmorgan@greenfieldreporter.com.