SHIRLEY — A heavy rain fills Jennifer Reyes with dread.
She knows a rain shower means it’s only a matter of time before her backyard, on Delaware Street in Shirley, starts filling with storm water and raw sewage.
On particularly rainy days, she’s even seen toilet paper seep out of the storm drain and onto her property, she said.
And she’s not the only resident suffering the consequences of Shirley’s overtaxed sewer system.
Saturday, three town residents addressed the Shirley Town Council to encourage their town officials to do whatever it takes to repair the sewer system serving 366 customers, including the town of Wilkinson and about five other households outside of Shirley town limits.
Town officials approved a resolution marking their intention to move forward with an application for a $550,000 Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant — a quarter of the $2 million needed to make major repairs to the pipes and drains and nearly double the capacity of wastewater treatment lagoons serving the town of about 800 residents.
Town officials have also applied for a $1.5 million loan to fund the rest of the project, which will repair about 10,000 feet of sewer pipe.
Town officials said they expect they’ll have to raise water and sewer rates to pay for the loan, but they won’t know by how much until a rate study is complete, said clerk-treasurer Teresa Hester. Town officials don’t yet know when they’ll start that study.
Now, residents’ wastewater and water bills start at about $32 a month for 1,000 gallons of water, she said.
Amy Miller, the town’s grant administrator, told town council members on Saturday she’s optimistic about the grant application’s chances despite the competitive nature of the OCRA grants.
“You guys have a very competitive project. It will get funded, it’s just a matter of when,” she said.
Town officials will learn in October whether the project has been selected for the grant. If all goes as planned, work is expected to begin next spring.
Residents say that can’t come soon enough.
Darlene Brolin told the council she and her husband have already had to make a $3,500 repair to their basement after the backed-up sewer system caused flooding. Another fix is necessary because their basement walls are cracking again, she said.
The flooding of overwhelmed sewer and storm water pipes is a decades-long problem for Shirley and its residents, said Marty Ebbert, the town’s maintenance manager.
One sewer pipe serves half the town, Ebbert said, and when the area receives a downpour, that usually means the storm water drains start overflowing.
Cracks in pipe joints in the sewer system allow rainwater to seep into the wastewater pipes, which then taxes the town’s lagoon-style wastewater treatment plant.
When the lagoon overflows, it forces rain and waste water back into the sewer pipes, which causes the flooding.
Sewer improvements in the late 1970s improved the situation, but Shirley has never had a perfect solution to its drainage problems, Ebbert said. In 2013 and 2014, the town spent some $250,000 on a project separating storm sewer and sanitary sewer lines to prevent storm water from ending up in the wastewater lagoons.
Officials said that project didn’t fix the problems, however.
The issue led to Shirley receiving several warnings from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, saying the wastewater facility was well over its capacity of 155,000 gallons per day, said waste water maintenance manager Martin Ebbert.
In 2014, the facility’s flow was measured at 283,000 gallons per day, or 183 percent of its intended flow, according to IDEM. The warnings culminated last year in a ban prohibiting the town from connecting any additional households to the overtaxed sewer system.
The project would increase the capacity to about 300,000 gallons per day, Ebbert said.
The town of Shirley plans a $2 million wastewater improvement project. Town officials are seeking $1.5 million in funds from Indiana’s Wastewater State Revolving Fund, a low-interest loan program, and $550,000 in grant funding from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
Here’s what happens next:
September 2017: OCRA grant application submitted
October: Grant award notification
Spring 2018: If the town receives both the grant funding and the loan, town officials expect construction to begin next spring.
Shirley officials expect a proposed $2 million sewer improvement project will drive up water bills for residents. Town officials say they will not know how much the rate will rise until a rate study is conducted.
Water bills are based on household use. The current minimum bill for a household is:
- $10.62 per month for water
- $.74 in tax
- $20.84 for wastewater