HAMMOND | The city is putting new pressure on Griffith, Highland and Whiting to pay more for the wastewater treatment the city sanitary district provides.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said Friday the five-member sanitary district board has voted unanimously to terminate a decades-old contract the mayor says has become inequitable.
He said the three communities aren't shouldering their share of federally mandated pollution-control infrastructure.
The town of Griffith and city of Whiting received notices saying the district no longer can afford to provide services to their communities for the amount of money they now pay.
The two communities are pushing back.
Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura said Friday afternoon, "We stand by the contract we have in place and think it provides all the necessary tools to be able to get to the table and discuss it rationally. This (statement) is not what I would call rational."
Nicholas Kile, an Indianapolis-based attorney for Griffith, promised, "We will be hotly disputing (the district's) claims. Right now it looks to me that we are headed to court."
He said the contract isn't set to expire until 2017, and Griffith has the right to extend its terms at least 20 more years.
Highland Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin said no such ultimatum had crossed his desk and referred all questions on the matter to John Bach, Highland's public works director, who was out of the office Friday.
McDermott said Friday that Highland, Griffith and Whiting residents on average pay less than a third of the amount Hammond and Munster residents now are charged.
"Their contract is unrealistic all the way around," McDermott said.
The district, which treats sewage for 150,000, is having to borrow $55 million to meet a mandate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to construct a retention basin designed to stop the dumping of untreated wastewater into the Grand Calumet River during heavy stormwater events.
McDermott said Griffith, Highland and Whiting haven't yet paid their share of that new debt.
Hammond and Munster, which jointly own the 400 miles of district sewers, extends services to Griffith and Highland communities at payment rates the contract has frozen since they were set in the 1990s. McDermott said Whiting's price freeze isn't that old.
McDermott said last month Hammond recently installed more accurate flow meters and discovered Griffith, Highland and Whiting were pumping more sewage to the district than permitted under the contract.
McDermott said despite the contract dispute, the district will continue accepting wastewater from the three communities. "Nothing is going to change during this interim period. I hope we sit down and renegotiate the deal. We don't want them to leave as customers, we just want them to shoulder some of the pain," he said.
Kile said Griffith told the district last month they are prepared to talk about the rate dispute once the district provides the sewage flow data proving their claim that Griffith is beyond contract limits. He said the district has yet to respond with any evidence.