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Dislike Huntertown’s plan for using ditch? Say so now

Some residents of Huntertown are angry that they have only three days to voice concerns about a plan that has been in the works by local government since October.

Town officials are seeking state approval to send effluent flushed from its drinking water filters at the water plant into nearby Geller Ditch. Currently, the effluent is sent to Fort Wayne City Utilities for processing.

The water is a result of backwashing the drinking water system filters to flush out accumulated debris and particles.

Town officials have applied to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for a permit to discharge 6,000 gallons daily into the ditch, which flows into the Eel River.

A tentative permit has been issued by IDEM, and residents have until Tuesday at midnight to notify IDEM and weigh in on the matter.

Huntertown is in the process of constructing a new $1.8 million drinking water filtration plant on 11 acres along Carroll Road near Lima Road, part of a $4.5 million project to improve the capacity and pressure of the town’s water system.

The new plant is expected to be operational before the end of the year.

The current water plant provides drinking water to the Allen County Fairgrounds and for nearby county land and buildings, including the Byron Health Center, the highway, sheriff’s and health departments, and the Youth Services Center.

Sue Gongwer, president of the Huntertown Town Council, said she did not know specifics of the permit application, but she said the town applied for the permit because of the expansion at the filtration plant.

The backflush water will go through a process of reclamation and then through a filter system, Gongwer said.

“It’s my understanding that there will be very little backflush going into the ditch,” she said.

The amount of daily discharge does not determine the significance of a permit, said Nicole Gardner, IDEM permit manager.

“Other site-specific factors are considered as well,” she said.

According to the original permit application of Oct. 14, signed by then-council President Jim Fortman, the discharged water would not include any pesticides or other contaminants.

The town would reclaim 90 percent of the water, Fortman said, and discharge the remaining 10 percent – up to 6,000 gallons a day – into Geller Ditch.

“This is extremely clean water we are asking to discharge,” Fortman said.

The balance of the backwash water would go through a surface sand filter before being discharged into Geller Ditch, and the remaining sludge would be pumped and disposed of in a landfill, according to the application.

Ted Nitza, program manager for City Utilities, said the discharge to Geller Ditch is not necessary.

“Right now, they discharge to City Utilities and there is no harm done to Geller Ditch,” Nitza said. “There is not a lot of information on this permit. The few that are aware (of the application for the permit) do not seem to know why they are doing it.”

The permit says the public has until Monday to send comments to IDEM, but because Monday is a national holiday, comments will be accepted through midnight Tuesday, IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock said.

The draft permit also states that a copy of the permit would be available to the public at the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, but health department spokesman John Silcox said the health department had not received a copy. Hartsock said that will not affect the deadline for comments.

Huntertown resident Dave Garman found out about the permit Thursday and was clearly frustrated.

“Why do they have to do this? They already have a cheaper, readily available alternative in place,” Garman said. “They seem determined to degrade Geller Ditch.”

Garman was referring to another project – a proposed $11.2 million wastewater treatment plant that was intended to discharge into Geller Ditch. That permit was denied by IDEM in October, but Huntertown has appealed that decision.

Another resident who owns a farm east of Huntertown with a Churubusco address, but is near Geller Ditch, was also upset.

Gayle Marshall has complained of flooding and the possible degradation of Geller Ditch at past town meetings.

The issue was never brought up at any town meetings, according to Marshall. She plans to voice her objections in a letter to IDEM, she said.

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