HAMMOND | A Lake Superior Court judge ordered city officials Wednesday to keep treating Griffith, Highland and Whiting sewage while resolving through arbitration a dispute over how much the service should cost their residents.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Wednesday he will appeal the decision on behalf of Hammond and Munster and pursue other ways to recover the cost of cleaning excessive wastewater discharges from the three neighboring communities.
"As the court has ordered, we will adhere to the contracts, pending our appeal," but he added the current system is unfair to Hammond and Munster ratepayers financially and in the area of public health.
"We simply will not permit the basements of Hammond and Munster residents to become the repository for excessive wastewater from Whiting, Griffith and Highland," the mayor said.
McDermott said Hammond and Munster residents are unfairly bearing the entire cost of water-pollution controls the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered. This includes tens of millions for construction of a retention basin to stop dumping untreated wastewater into the Grand Calumet River during heavy storms.
Griffith Town Councilman Rick Ryfa said Wednesday, "We are very pleased with this ruling. However, the town of Griffith remains very concerned with the threats of very large increases for our sewage treatment from Hammond when the current contract expires in 2018. Griffith officials are exploring all alternatives to find a solution."
Judge John Sedia dismissed a series of lawsuits filed last summer among the warring communities after the Hammond Sanitary District canceled a 19-year-old cost-sharing agreement among them over wastewater treatment.
The sanitary district treats sewage for 150,000 in Griffith, Hammond, Highland, Munster and Whiting. It is jointly owned by Hammond and Munster and serves the other three communities through contracts dating back to the 1990s.
The judge ruled Hammond must respect clauses in those contracts requiring Hammond, Munster, Griffith, Highland and Whiting to submit any disputes over sewer rates to a panel of arbitrators.
That cancellation threatened to stop all sewage treatment in Griffith, Highland and Whiting.
McDermott said last summer this was necessary because Griffith, Highland and Whiting balked at paying higher sewage rates.