PORTAGE | The general manager of the Michigan City Sanitary District says the once-troubled department has turned a corner.
Michael Kuss, general manager for the Michigan City Sanitary District, reported on the progress at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's Environmental Management Policy Committee last week, saying 50 of 99 areas pegged for improvements are now complete.
The district is under criminal investigation for allegations of falsification of records and false informing stemming from information provided by a whistle-blower who alleged he was wrongly terminated for voicing concerns about safety.
The Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration found the sanitary district was out of compliance with a number of regulations as a result of the complaints.
An agreed order was also signed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the previous administration at the Michigan City Sanitary District requiring immediate training, system monitoring and proper reporting.
Kuss took over in January 2012 after the complaints were lodged.
"One of the things that wasn't being done, when there was a (combined sewer) overflow, it wasn't being reported at all or it wasn't being reported properly," Kuss said.
Kuss said some pieces of equipment had not been cleaned in nearly 10 years, though their user manuals suggested annual cleaning.
The wastewater treatment plant needed cleaning as well.
"The digesters hadn't been cleaned in 20 years," Kuss said, adding that the city spent $330,000 to clean them.
Kuss said the city has three lift stations and the one on Lake Street "is literally crumbling."
Kuss said the city is hoping to move that station to California Beach with a new restroom facility, walkway to the beach, parking lot with green infrastructure and a separated sewer.
The city is also buying a host of new vehicles, including a sewer cleaning vehicle that will run on compressed natural gas, making it the first of its kind in the state, Kuss said. The district will also have its own compressed natural gas station in the coming weeks.
The district is also applying for a grant for two electric vehicles.
Kuss said the sewers on Michigan Boulevard also need to be redone, after the city put in new sidewalks and medians with flower beds.
"It looks great, but they didn't fix the sewers," he said. "We need to tear it up to do that ... Maybe we need to get together with (the Indiana Department of Transportation) and get some policies in place.
"It's at the local level, too, though. It's just a matter of checks and balances."