This sewer expansion is just the “FIRST PHASE” of the plan developed by “appointed” officials of the Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board “without any” public input. The overall plan affects all taxpayers as well as those with existing functional septic systems.
Questions? Citizens can provide questions in advance, can ask questions at the hearing, or submit their questions in writing on the day of the hearing. Responses are to be provided within 5 days of the Hearing. Questions and responses become part of the record and can serve as the basis for any requests to state and federal officials for further review.
Validating estimates and assumptions. The counter to anecdotal evidence as a basis for supporting decisions is the application of the scientific method. This method includes identifying operational definitions of key terms (such as failing and inadequate systems, useful life), followed by data collection and statistical sampling plans, inspections, data analysis, and conclusions. Findings from a statistically valid sample can then be applied to the larger population.
Joint RSD Meeting Notes, May 23, 2023 – Helmsburg and Brown County Regional Sewer Districts (RSDs)
Public Hearing July 8, 2023. The required Public Hearing regarding the applications for funding remains scheduled for Saturday, July 8, 2023, from 10-12, Brown County Fairgrounds. Copies of the Preliminary Reports (PERs) are available online and will be available in hard copy – location to be identified and published in the Democrat. Online copies and supporting documentation.
Questions? Citizens can provide questions in advance, can ask questions at the hearing, or submit their questions in writing on the day of the hearing. Responses are to be provided within 5 days of the Hearing. Questions and responses become part of the record and can serve as the basis for any requests to state and federal officials for any further review.
Let your voice be heard. Unlike other county strategic plans that must include public meetings and a vote to approve by elected officials, the BCRSD plan and study WERE NOT required to be presented at a public meeting. Consequently, citizens were not allowed the opportunity to comment. The Public Hearing will provide citizens the opportunity to ask their questions and voice any concerns.
Indian Hill RR Crossing. Audio begins at 19:00. Hallelujah! Commissioners with a 2 to 1 vote, agreed to petition the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) to re-open the crossing. Commissioners had the power to close the crossing. Only INDOT has the power to consider re-opening. The Railroad can appeal the decision to re-open. Commissioner Sanders was the No vote and wanted more information regarding potential costs.
Representative Matt Pierce has taken the lead in representing the legislature’s interest in supporting the re-opening. Our State rep Erik Koch and House Rep Dave Hall have also expressed their support for re-opening.
Pay Increases. The deadline Department to submit requests and justification for pay increases is the June council meeting. The council unanimously approved a pay increase for the Court Security Officer Baliff from pay grade 11 to 15 and a $10.50 an hour pay increase for nurses.
Appropriations. Council approved an additional 30,000 for the Public Defender Board.
Council approved an expenditure of $200,000 requested by the Hamblen Township Fire Protection District. This comes from their budget and not the county’s. Council is responsible for reviewing their budget.
In terms of the BCRSD’s Wastewater Strategic Plan, Watershed Study, and application for funding via a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER), systemic bias is an inherent part of the process. This bias limited alternatives to a gravity or low-pressure sewer system. Ref BCRSD PER).
The same engineering firms whose specialties include engineered wastewater treatment systems, can legitimately and legally compete to develop strategies, plans, studies, and applications for funding. They can also compete to do the work associated with the approved projects. This supports the adage that “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
For instance, for manufacturers and suppliers of septic systems, what would be their perspective regarding an overall plan for the county and how individually managed septic systems can be part of the solution?
Given the inherent bias, it becomes imperative for citizens (We the People) to provide the needed oversight on the quality and scope of the proposed projects. A one-sided closing argument is not sufficient for supporting major decisions that can impact almost everyone in the county.
The “jury” (citizens), need to consider an opposing argument, review the transcripts (supporting information – see Read Aheads below), and ask questions to support their respective decision regarding approval, disapproval, or need for changes in the proposal. In this case, a Public Hearing is required in order to obtain citizen input regarding the project. Citizen input becomes part of the record.
In preparation for this meeting, a review of the supporting documentation is needed. A good start is with the two videos. The “foundation” for the solutions identified in the PER is derived from the BCRSD WW Strat Plan and Watershed Study.
May 23, 2023.Post No. 4. Estimates and Assumptions. In a previous post (May 17, 2023), I provided the history of the commercial interest in expanding sewer service in the Eastern Corridor (Helmbsurg to Bean Blossom to Woodland Lake). The option of the private sector developing strategies to support their interest in development and sewer service is not mentioned. The two prior presidents of the BCRSD Board both identified that there was no documented direct evidence of failing septic systems. The current president acknowledges his commercial interests in expanding sewer service in the Bean Blossom area. This post and comments also at Brown County Matters.
Justification of Need. To justify a solution for the Eastern Corridor, a problem had to be identified. The BCRSD created a justification for the need based on estimates of failing septic systems due to the projected age of systems, lack of records, and water samples.
Record Keeping. Regarding record keeping, when (in what year) did the State require that the county maintain records, and what records were required to be kept? When and How did/does the county enforce the guidance? An assumption can also include that individuals installed a septic system using the prevalent technology at the time and repaired/replaced their systems as needed without the knowledge of the health department.
Estimates and assumptions. Of 3,000 septic systems in the Bean Blossom Watershed, it was speculated that 76% (2,200 systems) of these need repairs or replacements. This is based on the “assumptions” derived from an observation that 41% have no record on file and an estimate that 35% are near or past design life. (Ref: Video presentation, Watershed Study)
The watershed study also references Cordry-Sweetwater Conservancy District. (Ref: Watershed study, pg. 25-26)
There are 550 homes around Sweetwater Lake, which represent the largest concentration of residential septic systems in the watershed. “Failures” were identified as being caused by “abuse, lack of maintenance, or grandfathered installations.”
No evidence of any “significant threats to water quality resulting from septic systems.”
Note that “potential” for problems was identified but nothing to indicate existing septic management practices would not continue to be effective.
Of the 550 homes, what would the BCRSD estimate be on the failure rate given available records and “useful life?
Commercial systems and Records? In Table 3 Service and Study Area Flow Estimates, page 8 of the PER, there are 612 Residential Units identified. There were 927 commercial units identified. What is the status of the “Records” for the commercial units? How many of these units have evidence of septic system failures?
Water Quality. The Watershed study identifies that “pastureland loads more E.coli to Brown County steams than other sources under all modeled septic failure modeling scenarios. Only if 100% of documented septic systems are failing do they contribute a significant volume of E.coli to the entirety of Brown County.” (Watershed study, pg. 69-70)
Only 5 of the 22 water samples identified the majority of E.coli as being of human origin. (Watershed study, pg. 63) No additional analysis was referenced to identify how many systems may be contributing to the problem. In general, 80% of problems may be due to 20 of the systems.
Design Life. Regarding the useful life of the systems, the BCRSD identified that “Various sources suggest 25 years as the average lifespan for a well-maintained septic system” (Ref: BCRSD Septic System Information as of August 2020).
Per the EPA, “Conventional septic systems are designed to operate indefinitely if properly maintained.” However, because most household systems are not well maintained, the functioning life of septic systems is typically 20 years or less.” (Ref: EPA 932-F-99-075 September 1999). Presby Systems has also identified that a well-designed and maintained system can have an indefinite life.
Indiana DOH. The Indiana Department of Health identified that “There are nearly 1 million septic systems in Indiana” and estimated that 20% are inadequate or failing.
Validating estimates and assumptions. The counter to anecdotal evidence as a basis for supporting decisions is the application of the scientific method. This method includes identifying operational definitions of key terms (such as failing and inadequate systems, useful life), data collection and statistical sampling plan, inspections, data analysis, and conclusions. Findings from a statistically valid sample can then be applied to the larger population.
SOILS. The Brown County Watershed Study (1) identifies “some” of the Literature cited (pg. 72) but does not include a link or footnote to the source document that would provide the supporting detail for the respective statement. This could be considered a material weakness in internal controls that undermines the justification for funding.
On the topic of Soils, the following is a supporting and misleading premise: “According to Purdue University’s Census of Wastewater Disposal by Indiana County, all Brown County soils are severely limited for septic system use. Soils data complied by NRCS support these findings indicating that more that 99% of soils in Brown County are severely limited for on-site septic use (Figure 19).” (Ref Section 4.2.2., pg.40). NRCS – Natural Resource Conversation Service/USDA
Th BCRSD Preliminary Engineering Report ( pg. 1) in reference to the PER, states that “The Report follows the Brown County Regional Sewer District Strategic Wastewater Plan dated April 2022.”
This reference (no footnote) to Purdues’ and USDAs assessment on “soils” is repeated in the PER (pg.6) which also includes the following: “United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also classifies soils in Brown County as “Severe” in terms of septic system unsuitability. Despite these limitations, of the 8,400 households in Brown County, nearly7,700 are still served by on-site septic systems”
The STATE OF INDIANA, NOT the USDA and its bureaucracy, determines the suitability of soils. Indiana requires the testing of soils and has identified the acceptable criteria before a septic permit is issued.
The Soil “argument” represents a misleading premise that is not supported by State policy. The State has concluded that Soils can be suitable for septic systems.
Can the BCRSD identify (now or at a future date) a higher standard for approving septic permits than what is allowed by the State and county?
Phase 1 of the sewer expansion project includes a Western corridor (Helmsburg to Lake Lemon) and an Eastern Corridor (Helmsburg to Bean Blossom to Woodland Lake). I have no issues with the Western Corridor which may account for about half of the total cost. There is a valid justification that includes the need to replace an aging sewer plant, failing septic system in flooding conditions, and community support. Further, the current monthly cost to the 70 Helmsburg customers is $92.50 and adding more customers may stabilize future increases and perhaps even result in a lower monthly bill. The Helmsburg and Lake Lemon communities also have active citizen groups. For Lake Lemon, it is the Lake Lemon Environmental Group. The Helmsburg community developed a Community Development Corporation to provide citizens with a voice regarding major decisions in their community.
Some History. Previous Bean Blossom efforts to acquire service from Helmsburg and Nashville were not successful due to cost. This led to the decision to build a new plant in Bean Blossom and expand the area (and customer base) to be served.
The BCRSD submitted an application for funding for a new sewer plant in Bean Blossom in June 2018 with the expectation that funding and construction would begin within 18 months. Despite the need in Helmsburg and Lake Lemon, Bean Blossom was the priority project for the county. Letters of support from residents of this project were from “1998.”
In a meeting punctuated by heated debate, the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board took public comment last night on its plans to build a sewer system to serve Bean Blossom. … About 40 people showed up to hear about the need for the project, what it’s going to cost residents and what building it — or not building it — might mean for the future of their community.
After spending 200K of county taxpayer funds, the BCRSD was unable to acquire land. This forced them to expand the scope to include the Eastern Corridor – Helmsburg to Lake Lemon.
I wrote a Guest Column in the Democrat (April 2020) making the case that a delay of the project was warranted. The article referenced that a county-wide strategy would be developed. I did not expect that it would be completed without any public meetings or input from citizens and elected officials. GUEST OPINION: Bean Blossom sewer plant: Delay warranted.
Motive. In contrast to the support from Helmsburg and Lake Lemon residents, the proponents of the 20-plus-year interest in expanding sewers in Bean Blossom have been from a few with interests in economic development or supporting their businesses. This includes support from the current BCRSD president Mike Leggins who has acknowledged his commercial interests in expanding sewer service in the area. Another emerging interest is environmental with a long-term goal to change agriculture and livestock management practices. (Opposition/Legal Action).
Mike Leggins bought six lots on Old Settlers Road in 1988. He razed the vacant, condemned or burned-out homes that stood on them and put up five new ones — family homes, with three or four bedrooms.The septic systems that served them soon failed, even though the systems were new. Leggins said the high water table was to blame; waste was hitting the groundwater before it had been sufficiently filtered and cleaned.Now, Leggins, the landlord, has to use those homes as if they were two-bedroom homes in order to not put strain on the septic systems — and even that doesn’t prevent them from sending waste downhill, he said.He isn’t the only business owner who’s dealing with sewage flowing where it shouldn’t, including at the back door of his own home, he said. Brownie’s restaurant, the Bill Monroe Music Park, the Bean Blossom Trailer Court
Previous BCRSD Board President – Judy Swift Powdrill. “Again, I do feel that there is a need; however, I also feel that as a taxpayer and the person who went before the county council and made this presentation … I feel like that we need to put some of our future movement on pause. … I cannot see us continuing to spend money without absolute proof that there is this need and want.”
At the start of the sewer board’s next meeting on Dec. 11, it was announced that Swift Powdrill had resigned. Longtime board member Mike Leggins was elected to replace her as president.
Werling lambasted past sewer board members and the health board for a lack of detailed documentation about the need for the sewer project, and alleged “sabotage” by the health department when the sewer board tried to obtain a “boots on the ground” survey of septic system failures in the Bean Blossom area to show the need for the project.He also brought up cost omissions in the sewer project engineering report, which a previous sewer board commissioned with county money.At least four engineering reports have been done since 2001.
Consequently, justifying a need and expanding the customer base and area to be served had to be expanded in order to justify funding. A need, other than development, also had to be developed.
Future posts will address the justification of the need provided in the supporting project documentation.
May 15, 2023. BCRSD Sewer Expansion Project. Post No. 1. The aim of this first post is to introduce and provide context for the upcoming “trial” (public hearing) on the sewer expansion project and to provide the opportunity for citizens to discuss/debate the issues.
I used the term “trial” to reinforce that a “jury” applies critical thinking skills to assess the arguments and to make a decision. The “jury” in this case consists of county residents who are affected by a county strategy.
No Public Meeting. The BCRSD has refused (which they can legally do) to present the “Brown County” wastewater strategic plan at a public meeting. This plan identifies the justification of the project. The BCRSD position is that the posted video presentations and supporting documents are sufficient. Their decision for no public meeting is supported by our “elected” officials who appointed the BCRSD board members. In 2024, three council positions and two commissioner positions will be on the ballot.
I will be providing a series of posts including the argument and counter-arguments for the “proposed” Phase One $50.5 million project. The required Public Hearing is tentatively scheduled for July 8, 2023. These posts will also be added to a timeline (see link).
If public concerns expressed at the hearing are not addressed and the project is approved by the funding agencies, their decision can be challenged (appealed) under state and federal statutes that deal with issues with waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.
Interesting that the documentation does not include footnotes that would provide specific references supporting the opinions used to justify the project.
Critical thinking and responsibilities of Citizens (the “Jury”). Critical Thinking involves the process of developing and defending a good argument using facts and reason. In the U.S. justice system, for example, the process begins with an allegation of a problem. A member of a jury applies critical thinking skills to support their respective decision as to Yes (true, guilty) or No (false/not guilty).
The prosecutor and defense represent both sides of the argument respectively. The argument also includes a discussion on motive. Witnesses can offer additional information and be cross-examined (challenged) by the opposing counsel. The Judge ensures that the information presented by both sides is credible (rules of evidence). The Judge also decides on the sentence if the defendant is found guilty. Civil cases are less stringent than criminal trials that have the standard of allowing for reasonable doubt. The media can also play an important part of reporting on the presentation of both sides of the argument.
When the county government proposes any solutions – changes in policy, ordinances, resolutions, new strategies or programs, etc., citizens are responsible for ensuring there is a clear understanding of the problem that the “solution” is attempting to resolve. Too often, We the People are presented with only a “closing argument” and are expected to accept the vote/decision. There is rarely any transcripts (supporting documentation).
For example, in supporting a major decision to vote yes or no, minimum information requirements would include the statement of facts, assumptions, constraints, risks, decision criteria, and analysis of alternatives which includes the pros and cons of each alternative.
Citizens can provide input regarding the vote but this “testimony” can be considered just a mere formality by the proponents of the change. In other words, the other side of the argument can be and is often ignored.
Examples in Brown County of changes supported by one-sided arguments include the Music Center, the Closing of the Indian Hill RR Crossing (efforts underway to reverse this decision), and the revised septic ordinance that exceeded state requirements. When citizens had the opportunity for their voices to be heard such as in the school referendum, they voted No. The rationale for the No vote, in this case, included the lack of a good argument as opposed to relying on emotion.
The following link provides additional information regarding critical thinking including a list of fallacies. A fallacy is an error in logic. The most common is ad-hominin – where through ignorance or deliberation, the messenger is attacked as opposed to the message. This line of attack generally signals “game-over” e.g., the lack of a good argument.
(1) On August 7, 2020, the VSTOP team successfully completed an RLA pilot in Brown County, Indiana. This activity was carried out by VSTOP in collaboration with the Election Assistance Commission, the Brown County Clerk’s Office, and Brown County Commissioner Diana Biddle.
Also participating were two members of the VSTOP CEATS cohort: Karen Wheeler and Beth Sheller.
The VSTOP Team members who participated are: Jay Bagga and Bryan Byers, VSTOP Co-Directors, Molly Owens, Project Specialist, Mani Kilaru, IT Specialist, Chad Kinsella, VSTOP Faculty Fellow, and Sajal Sheel, Graduate Assistant.
The following information was gathered as part of the pre-work and planning phases of the Brown County RLA pilot. This information was considered and entered in the Stark Tool, which assisted the VSTOP team and county election officials in deciding which race should be audited during the RLA pilot. Brown County uses the Unisyn 2.0A Ballot Card Voting System. According to the VSTOP inventory, there are 15 OVO (OpScan) units and 15 FVT (Ballot Marking Device) units. There are 12 precincts in Brown County and the county stores ballots by precincts. These ballots were not separated by Party.
The RLA Team audited the following races:
• Republican races (R): President of the U.S. and County Treasurer, and Jackson 2 Precinct Committeeman
• Democrat races (D): President of the U.S. and US Representative in Congress District 9
Each of the above contests was audited with a risk limit of 10%.
There were a total of 3,143 ballots of which 1,258 were Democrat ballots and 1,885 were Republican ballots.
President of the U.S. (R): The RLA tool instructed the RLA Team to audit a sample of 6 ballots for ballot polling with a diluted margin of 85.52%. The RLA team oversampled the ballots for ballot polling and reviewed 104 ballots. The Stark method functioned as expected and confirmed the “Donald J. Trump” outcome in the Brown County precincts with high levels of statistical assurance (100% for the Ballot Polling RLA).
County Treasurer (R): The RLA tool instructed the RLA Team to audit a sample of 119 ballots for ballot polling with a diluted margin of 18.30%. After reviewing the initially sampled ballots, the risk limit was not met. RLA team sampled a total of 270 ballots to attain the risk limit. The Stark method functioned as expected and confirmed the “Andy Vasquez Bond” outcome in the Brown County precincts with high levels of statistical assurance (96% for the Ballot Polling RLA).
Jackson 2 Precinct Committeeman (R): All 110 ballots were sampled for the Jackson 2 Precinct Committeeman, a contest that was close. Results were verified but the winner received two additional votes in our count. After closely examining the ballots, the RLA team confirmed that the additional ballots might have been counted by the voting machine as undervotes or overvotes.
President of the U.S. (D): The RLA tool instructed the RLA Team to audit a sample of 12 ballots for ballot polling with a diluted margin of 61.21%. The RLA team oversampled the ballots for ballot polling and reviewed 73 ballots. The Stark method functioned as expected and confirmed the “Joseph R. Biden” outcome in the Brown County precincts with high levels of statistical assurance (100% for both the Ballot Polling).
US Representative in Congress District 9 (D): The RLA tool instructed the RLA Team to audit a sample of 43 ballots for ballot polling with a diluted margin of 24.74%. The RLA team oversampled the ballots for ballot polling and reviewed 73 ballots. The Stark method functioned as expected and confirmed the “Andy Ruff” outcome in the Brown County precincts with high levels of statistical assurance (100% for both the Ballot Polling).
Indian Hill RR Crossing. Some good news. Positive developments in the efforts to re-open the crossing. Jake German from Barnes and Thornburg stated that they are working on the draft petition from the county to INDOT to re-open the crossing. Scott Rudd summarizes the argument for re-opening. Rick Kelly from Farm Bureau reinforced their support for the Weddle Farm and the hardships (costs, risks, safety concerns) that the closing has placed on their operations. Farm Bureau is also working on a resolution from the organization supporting holding public hearings on any closing of a public road. Note: Commissioner Braden clarified that Indiana Hill Road is open, it is the crossing that is closed.
Rick Kelly identified that the land for the Railroad crossing was sold in 1905 by the Weddle family and has been used for 113 years.
Commissioners Sanders and Braden added their support to include gathering the information needed in making the case that would preclude any opposition from the Railroad in re-opening the road.
Background. Application for funding via Preliminary Engineering Reports (PERs) were submitted to the State on March 31, 2023, by the Helmbsurg Regional Sewer District (HRSD) and the Brown County RSD (BCRSD). Link to the PERs
The Proposed Phase I (see Map) of expanding sewers includes a Western corridor (Helmsburg to Lake Lemon and an Eastern Corridor – Helmsburg to Bean Blossom and Woodland Lake. The BCRSD collects the wastewater. Helmsburg RSD will process.
Public Hearing – July 8, 2023. The required public hearing is scheduled for Saturday, July 8, 2023 from 10am to noon at the Brown County Fairgrounds – 4H community building.
The hard copy PERs are to be available at 4 locations to include the library.
The hearing provides the opportunity to go on record with questions, your support, or lack of support.
The PERs are based on the County Wastewater Strategic Plan and Watershed Study. I recommend a review of the short video presentations.
Water Quality. The watershed study confirms that the major cause of e.coli in streams IS NOT failing septic systems but pastureland. Even if there was a 100% failure rate of septic systems, the main cause would still be pastureland.
5 OF 22 water samples did indicate human-caused e.coli likely due to inadequate septic systems. No additional analysis is planned to identify “how many” systems may be contributing to the problem. 80% of the problem could be due to 20% of the systems.
Soils. The study cites that the federal government (USDA) concludes that Brown County Soils are not suitable for septic systems. This is in conflict with State policy that requires soil testing before a septic permit is granted.
Presby Systems. No mention that Presby Systems treat wastewater before it is released into the soil which negates the poor soil argument. Presby also identified that their systems have an indefinite life if installed and maintained properly. Presbys are being used as replacement systems in the county.
Pharmaceuticals. Indications of pharmaceuticals in the water samples are to be expected. “The highest detections in surface waters are often associated with municipal wastewater treatment plant outfalls.” Septic systems do not treat pharmaceuticals. There is no violation of any federal or state standards. Ref: Brown County Democrat – STREAM SAMPLING: Where’s the contamination coming from?By Sara Clifford – 1/28/20.
Need. The PERs include a section on “Need” as opposed to “want.”
The Western Corridor (Helmsburg to Lake Lemon) has valid needs that include: an aging sewer plant, over 200 failing systems in the Lake Lemon area in flooding conditions, and customer support (over 140 letters) included in the PER. Helmburg customers also need more customers to help reduce and/or stabilize costs. They are currently paying $92.50 a month for service.
The Eastern Corridor (Helmbsurg to Bean Blossom to Woodland Lake) has based a need on an estimate as to failing septic systems due to a lack of records and the projected age of a system.
Estimates and assumptions. Of the 3,000 septic systems in the Bean Blossom Watershed, it was estimated that 76% (2,200 systems) of these need repairs or replacements. This is based on the assumptions derived from an observation that 41% have no record on file and an estimate that 35% are near or past design life. No reference was provided to support the study (s) regarding design life.
Record Keeping. There was no explanation regarding record keeping, e.g., When were records required? What information was expected to be recorded? In the absence of records, it can also be assumed that septic systems were installed using the current technology at the time and were repaired/replaced when needed.
Generate Report produces downloadable pdf. — Need Crossing Number
Example 1: From the 1st link above, the crossing in Trevlac, Brown County, Indiana at Indian Hill Road is designated as DOT# 292193F. On the 2nd linked page you will find the following:
Example 2: Using 1st link, the Federal Crossing ID (USDOT) of RR crossing where SR-45 crosses tracks to the west of Indian Hill Road is #292 192Y. Entering 292192Y (no space) in second link box generates report for that crossing (attached).