Updated May 28, 2023
Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) – Website
May 28, 2023. Post No.5 Bias and Challenging the Narrative. This post and comments also at Brown County Matters
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.
Public Hearing (July 8, 2023) – Read Aheads – Sewer Expansion
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.
May 19, 2023. Post No 3. – “Soils.” (This post and comments at Brown County Matters.)
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.
(1) The Study is available in the Appendix, starting on page 18. https://browncountyregionalsewerdistrict.wordpress.com/strategic-plan/
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?
May 17, 2023. Post No. 2. (This post and comments at Brown County Matters).
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.”
Residents speak out at sewer project hearing, Part 1 By Sara Clifford,
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).
Residents speak out at sewer project hearing, Part 2 By Sara Clifford,
- 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
Sewer project spending, ‘proof of need’ reviewed, By Sara Clifford,
- 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.
Resigning sewer board volunteers claim project obstruction,
- 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.
The following post and comments at Brown County Matters.
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.
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).
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.