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Hammond vows to appeal ruling forcing it to honor sewage deals

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott. | Sun-Times Media

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 10, 2014 11:59AM



The Hammond Sanitary District will have to honor wastewater treatment contracts with the three towns whose contracts it and the City of Hammond threatened to cancel.

Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott Jr. said in a release issued Wednesday that the city will appeal Lake Superior Court Judge John Sedia’s ruling that McDermott and Hammond Sanitary District had no authority to cancel the contracts between it and the Towns of Highland and Griffith, and the City of Whiting. As well, the city will continue to seek to cancel or otherwise modify the contracts that, McDermott says, “unfairly benefit Whiting, Griffith and Highland ratepayers at the expense of the ratepayers in Munster and Hammond.”

“As the court has ordered, we will adhere to the contracts pending our appeal,” McDermott said. “In doing so, we will strictly perform our contractural obligations, including with respect to excess wastewater flow coming from those communities.The current flow amounts are unrealistic, compared to the actual flows sent by these communities to the Hammond Sanitary District. These unrealistic flow amounts, coupled with the outdated financial formulas used to calculate rates, were two of the reasons we sought to cancel these contracts.

“We simply will not permit the basements of Hammond and Munster residents to become a repository for excessive wastewater from Whiting, Griffith and Highland.”

Town of Griffith Vice President Rick Ryfa, R-3, called Sedia’s ruling “fantastic” but cautioned it’s only a short-term solution. Since Griffith’s contract with Hammond Sanitary District is up in 2018, the two entities need to start negotiating as soon as possible.

“While this is nice, it doesn’t solve the problem of Hammond’s promises of dramatic rate increases,” Ryfa said. “We will continue to look at every possible alternative and solution for our residents.”

Attorneys for Griffith and Whiting filed complaints in Lake Superior Court in September, calling Hammond’s cancellation of the contracts “patently unfair, illegal and outrageous” and that Hammond should be required to abide by the terms.

Whiting, according to Hammond Sanitary District, pays 94 cents per 1,000 gallons to the district while charging its residents $3.50 per 1,000 gallons; while Griffith pays $1.38 per 1,000 gallons while charging its residents nearly $4.50 per 1,000 gallons.

Hammond had also originally threatened to no longer allow new sewer line connections from Whiting but later backed down on the issue, calling it “an item of discussion.” Nevertheless, on Aug. 27, the Hammond Sanitary District Board of Commissioners passed a resolution canceling the contracts with Whiting, Griffith and Highland.

McDermott said at the time that Indiana law absolutely allows for governmental units such as the sanitary district to cancel contracts if it can be proved the contracts are no longer financially feasible.

The City of Hammond is facing a $77 million mandate to build a stormwater overflow catch on the Grand Calumet River. Up to this point, McDermott said, Hammond and Munster have been paying the lion’s share of that cost, at around $2.50 per 1,000 gallons.



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