The Cedar Hills sewer project began this week as contractors started the excavation process that will connect the neighborhood’s sewer lines to a treatment plant through the Regional Water Resource Agency (RWRA). The year-long project affects hundreds of residents in at least 125 homes in the east Daviess County neighborhood.
The process of re-routing the sewer lines for those living in Cedar Hills has been filled with controversy. Higher sewage bills, and the construction and excavation of the residents’ land are part of the controversy, but some of the biggest complaints from those in the neighborhood have been directed toward 14th District State Senator Scott Lewis, who had private ownership of the packaging plant that previously serviced the community’s sewage needs.
According to RWRA Director Joe Schepers, Lewis found himself losing money every day while running the facility, prompting his abandonment of the package plant. The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) took over operations thereafter and, by summer of 2020, Cedar Hills Sanitation Disposal Corporation, LLC will be dissolved, and RWRA will take over.
Lewis said he was charging residents only $15 a month for sewage service.
“I basically charged what they’d been charging when I took it over. I didn’t want to put a burden on the residents,” he said. “I asked for a raise one time — between $3 and $5.”
While Lewis didn’t say losing money was the biggest issue for him, he did say a major concern stemmed from the package plant not having a certified operator to run it.
“I would’ve tried taking it on a little longer, had the operator not been in bad health,” he said. “I didn’t abandon it. It’s been operating this whole time, but I had a very hard time finding a certified operator to continue running it.”
Lewis said that because the plant had aged so drastically, Cedar Hills was going to eventually have to make the switch to a new sewage plant. It was just a matter of when.
“I think the residents are upset, but it was coming, eventually,” he said. “[RWRA] has taken over several of these plants throughout the county. The residents are upset that their sewer bills are going to go up. They said I just tucked the money away, but I promise you that’s not true. Something needed to happen.”
According to Lewis, he approached both RWRA and the County in 2014, requesting that they continue running the package plant in his place.
“They didn’t want to,” he said. “I filed with the state in 2016. The Public Commission Service agreed with us that it needed to be closed down.”
RWRA raised the sewage rates to $50 a month after announcing the switch would be made at a June 25 meeting. Lewis said that $50 a month rate is a typical cost for those whose sewage lines are operated by RWRA. According to Schepers, Cedar Hills residents will see their bills increased to $110 a month after RWRA officially takes over.
At least two residences had been holding out the easement — which would RWRA and MAC Construction & Excavating right-of-way to run lines through properties and perform construction — but those residences have since turned their properties over in compliance.
The sewage project will start at the Countryside neighborhood, next to Country Heights Elementary School, and a sewage line will run along the ditch lining Highway 54. It will then cross the highway and field on the other side, and run to the newly constructed sewage plant.
Excavation work on Highway 142 is already underway, said RWRA Director of Engineering Sean O’Bryan.