VALPARAISO — A judge has opened the door for all customers of Shorewood Forest Utilities to join in on a lawsuit aimed at stopping a proposed expansion of the subdivision's sewage treatment plant.

And the incentive has been sweetened with the potential of sharing in an award of more than $2 million, according to Glenn Vician, an attorney and utility customer representing the four original plaintiffs in the case.

The Benton County judge who is now presiding over the case recently certified it as a class-action lawsuit, which means all 1,092 customers of the utility can sign on to the complaint and share in any awards, he said. Otherwise the customers would have to go to the expense of filing individual lawsuits on their own.

The customers will be notified by mail of the lawsuit and given the opportunity to join in on the action, Vician said.

The original complaint claims the plant was not intended to become a regional treatment facility based on its size and location within the subdivision in Union Township.

The plant currently serves 1,092 lots within Shorewood Forest and has capacity for less than 200 additional users, according to the suit. The proposed expansion calls for servicing up to 379 more lots from a subdivision proposed outside of Shorewood Forest.

The proposal could bring in nearly 25 percent more sewage, which would amount to more than 42 million additional gallons a year, according to the lawsuit.

It has since been discovered that there could be damages in excess of $2 million as a result of alleged mismanagement of the utility and liabilities brought on by past board members, Vician said.

Kevin Rasp, a Chicago attorney representing some of the defendants in the case, was not immediately available Tuesday afternoon for comment.

The utility board has predicted the expansion will cost at least $1.6 million to design and construct, the suit says.

The members also voiced concern in the lawsuit about the increase in odors from the plant as a result of the proposed expansion and the subsequent loss of property values.

"The Shorewood Forest Utility Board of Directors has never commissioned or received a recent study, to determine the environmental effects and impact of processing millions of gallons of additional sewage per year," according to the suit.

Utility members voted on the proposed expansion, but the lawsuit claims "there were numerous improprieties with the way the referendum vote was structured."

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.