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Hammond: Sewage deal with neighboring communities stinks

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Updated: October 1, 2013 6:49AM



HAMMOND — Griffith, Highland and Whiting face higher rates to have the Hammond Sanitary District process their wastewater after the district’s board voted unanimously to cancel those customer communities’ contracts.

Officials in those municipalities said they are mulling their options, including legal action against the HSD for canceling the contracts.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., meanwhile, stood by comments he made early Friday to a local radio station, while insisting the district will not stop treating the wastewater of customer communities.

“We’re not going to be bad neighbors,” McDermott said. “We’re not going to shut off their valves. We’re going to take on their water at a higher rate that’s fair.”

McDermott said the customer communities are paying about 75 cents per thousand gallons of wastewater, while Hammond and Munster, which own the processing plant, pay closer to $2.50 for the treatment.

The Hammond mayor acknowledged property owners pay additional fees in the customer communities to have their wastewater piped to HSD’s facilities.

With the board’s decision, on advice of counsel, according to McDermott, all the communities will pay closer to the same, higher rate. He said state code allows governmental entities to cancel contracts that are no longer feasible.

One driving reason for the board’s decision to cancel the contract is a federally mandated, $77 million catch being build in Hammond to prevent overflow storm water from flowing into the Grand Calumet River.

Hammond and Munster have been picking up that cost, but McDermott wants to “spread the pain” equally with Griffith, Highland and Whiting.

Officials in those municipalities said their contracts with HSD include a “cost of services analysis,” or a study to determine how much those communities would have to pay for increased costs of wastewater treatment and other services like the catch basin.

Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura kept his comments brief, upon advice of counsel from city lawyers, he said.

“There is a process, I believe, in the contract that spells out any changes, and I stand by our contract.”

Griffith Clerk-Treasurer George Jerome said the town’s relationship with HSD for the last few years has been troubled, and he really did not understand why. The town tried to open a dialogue with the district, he said, but not only was it not forthcoming, the town had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get information that HSD was contractually obligated to give.

Griffith’s contract with HSD runs through 2018. Jerome said he and other Griffith town officials planned to meet Friday afternoon to see what remedies they have.

“As long as we’re living up to our end of the contract and they’re living up to theirs, I think this is a lot of posturing (by McDermott),” Jerome said.

McDermott said he does not stand by that contractual provision, claiming it was part of an old contract just canceled by the board and rendered invalid by the cost of the catch basin and other work.

“It’ll take a long period of time” to do the study, McDermott said. “That bill’s due now.”

Post-Tribune correspondent Michelle L. Quinn contributed to this report.



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