Town preps for water, sewer improvements

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SHIRLEY — A small town is preparing for some big improvements to its water and wastewater services.

The goal of the wastewater project is to resolve violations over treatment shortcomings and bring the town’s system into compliance with state regulations.

Additionally, the town hopes to bolster and upgrade its water service.

Both initiatives combined are expected to cost over $10 million, for which Shirley is seeking help from a state loan program to help fund. Town leaders anticipate water and wastewater rate increases as well.

Shirley, which straddles the border between Hancock County and Henry County, is under an agreed order with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management over violations at its wastewater treatment plant at 10874 E. 650N. That order refers to excessive inflow and infiltration – caused by rain and groundwater – in the wastewater utility’s collection system, leading to wastewater that hasn’t been treated enough getting discharged into the nearby Smith Ditch.

The agreed order states that the town will resolve the deficiencies, which it has hired Indianapolis-based Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering to help with.

John Burgelin, project manager with Fleis & VandenBrink, said during a public hearing at Shirley Town Hall Monday that proposed improvements include new treatment and treatment structures, including ammonia removal and solids removal from existing lagoons at the wastewater treatment plant. He added that an investigation would also be conducted to determine where the inflow and infiltration problem is coming from.

The estimated cost of the wastewater improvements is $7.25 million.

Shirley’s water utility is not experiencing any problems, Burgelin said, but the potential for one exists due to all of its wells drawing from a similar aquifer.

”They could be under the influence of each other,” he said of the wells. “If one was contaminated, it may contaminate multiple wells.”

If funding is secured, Fleis & VandenBrink Engineering would explore installing a backup water source, something Shirley currently does not have. A test well would precede any new permanent one to ensure it would be drilled in a good location, Burgelin said.

Upgrading the water plant’s iron filter and upgrading the water utility’s meter system would also be among the improvements, he continued.

The water enhancements are estimated to cost $3.39 million.

Shirley applied to Indiana’s State Revolving Loan Fund Program, which provides low-interest-rate financing for water and wastewater improvements.

Burgelin expects to learn if Shirley made the program’s priority list in July.

David Messer, president of Shirley Town Council, said he expects water and wastewater rate increases to accompany the projects, the specifics of which would be determined in the future. He added rates haven’t changed in about four years.

Shirley has over 350 water and wastewater customers. Currently, a customer using 2,000 gallons of water and wastewater in a month pays over $59.

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