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Citizens leading recall effort in Onwta

Published 9:02am Thursday, May 22, 2014

A group of citizens who are part of Save Our Resources and Environment (SORE) are leading the charge to recall five members of the Ontwa Township Board.

A hearing on whether or not the petition is “clear and factual” will be held at the Law and Courts Building in Cassopolis at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.

The recall petition stems from Ontwa Township’s proposed sewer treatment plan, which would discharge into Cobus Creek and feeds into Garver Lake.

Ontwa Townships officials and SORE  have been at odds for several months over the proposed plant. At its Feb. 10 meeting, the township board voted 6-0 to enter into a contract with Cass County to build the facility. Jerry Duck was absent from the meeting.

Nick Donis, who lives on Garver Lake and is a member of SORE, filed the paperwork with the Cass County Clerk’s office. He is seeking to recall supervisor John Brielmaier, treasurer Meryl Christensen, clerk Paula Ralph and trustees Norman Krupp and Nathan Brousseau.

Trustees Marchetti and Duck are not named on the recall petition because they oppose the current sewer plan.

“The two of them are against the plant being build at this time,” Brielmaier said of Marchetti and Duck. “When the vote was taken, Jerry Duck was not at the meeting as he was recovering from surgery. Jerry was there.”

Brielmaier said he had no idea what would come of Friday’s hearing.

“I don’t have the slightest idea,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about it. In my mind I did the right thing for the people of the township.”

If the recall petition is approved Friday, it still faces several hurdles, including the collection of 457 signatures on each of the five petitions within a 60-day window.

If Donis and SORE can obtain those signatures and they are approved by the Cass County Election Board, the recall would be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Ontwa Township wants to build its own facility due to the increasing costs of outsourcing the service.

“It’s just time for us to do something,” Brielmaier told the Cass County Board of Commissioners March 13. “If you have a service someone else is providing you, and you know that the rates will go up, wouldn’t you want to do something about it.”

When Edwardsburg entered into its contract with Elkhart, residents were paying $22.25 per month, which included a $5.50 debt service fee. That has increased to $36 per month, including the fee.

“I have heard there is another increase coming in 2015 that would raise the rate up for $40,” Brielmaier said.

At its May 12 meeting, Ontwa Township voted to put the sewer treatment plant on hold for a period of 120 days or “until a new sewer board is formed and gives a report to the township board on whether or not they should move forward,” Brielmaier said.

At its April meeting, Donis questioned the board as to why it wanted to build a sewage treatment plant.

“Why put a sewer here?” he said. “Our homes are here. We are against the $8 million sewer plant. We don’t need it. I just learned about it three weeks ago. A lot of people didn’t know what was going on.”

Donis said he had visited the Porter Township and plant, met with the Elkhart city engineer about sewage problems. He also visited the sewer plant near Marcellus.

Donis also claimed that Elkhart wants to continue to receive sewage from Ontwa Township.

“We are opposed to the creation of this sewage plant,” Donis said. “We are refruting the reason why they say it is necessary.”

Donis added that he doesn’t think the board even realized it potentially was breaking its contract with Elkhart until he brought it to their attention at the May 12 meeting.

“They are just going to go forward with it anyway and we think it is reckless,” he said.

Robert Donnelly, also a member of SORE, has voiced his displeasure with the project.

“It doesn’t make sense mathematically,” Donnelly said. “We will be paying Elkhart if we break the contract. It has nothing to do with the environment. Why would we be spending money on something that doesn’t equate.”

Brielmaier said people are only getting half the story.

“Mr. Donnelly claims by discharging into Garver Lake it is going to ruin his property,” he said. “The discharge point is down stream from Mr. Donnelly’s  property and it is not going to affect anything he has there.

“It was said that the Porter Waste Water Treatment Plant and the Lake Area Plant near Marcellus are losing money. After each has paid all of their bills and put money away for potential problems they have a $30,000 positive cash flow in Porter and $36,000 positive cash flow in Marcellus.”

Brielmaier received letters from the Lakes Area Sewer Authority and Porter Township confirming the positive cash flow.

Brielmaier added that Cobus Creek has been checked for phosphorus and E. coli. He said that in a four-week reading, the water was unsafe and polluted now.

“Indiana people are talking about how it’s a trout stream and we are going to ruin it,” Brielmaier said. “They say that their kids play in it during the summer when it dries up. I don’t know of any fresh water trout stream that dries up in the summer.

“Most of the residences in the northern part of Indiana that abut the creek are on septic tanks. Those septic tanks and drain fields are between the houses and the creek. You can imagine what they are dumping into the creek.”

Brielmaier also pointed out that an annual report, which he could not remember who produced it, said that in 2013 Cobus Creek as a fish habitat was at the impaired level.

The board has also received conflicting letters from attorneys at Bauckham, Sparks, Lohrstorfer, Thall and Seeber, and Warner Norcross and Judd as to whether or not the township could terminate its contract with the City of Elkhart.

Donis said, that on a positive note, the creation of a seven-member sewer board is a good first step. He is not sure how the 120-day delay is going to affect the project.

“If they (the board) want to do this, they need to do it the right way. They need to make a plan for the future. If they truly want to do this, they need to work with Elkhart and they need the blessing of the community,” Donis said.

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