Bean Blossom sewer plant: Delay warranted

Bean Blossom sewer plant: Delay warranted
by Tim J. Clark

Published as a guest column, Brown County Democrat, April 1, 2020.

On March 10, 2020, Ethel Morgan of HomeTown Engineering LLC presented the findings from a regionalization study of wastewater treatment options for the Helmsburg, Bean Blossom, Trevalc, and Lake Lemon areas. This study was funded by an Indiana Finance Authority, Regional Assistance Program (RAP) grant.  This grant was supported by the Director, State Revolving Fund (SRF), as well as by the Helmsburg and Bean Blossom Regional Sewer District (RSD) boards.

A summary of the RAP study was provided in the Brown County Democrat on February 25, 2020 “The Bean Blossom-Helmsburg sewer regionalization report is out. Here’s what it said.

The purpose of the RAP study was to provide findings and “not” recommendations. Ms. Morgan stated that it “appears” that a one plant solution for the area was not the best option. The study indicated that two plants might be needed to serve the area. Options could include a plant in Bean Blossom and in the Trevlac area. A plant in Trevlac could serve Lake Lemon and Helmsburg with the potential of lowering the monthly costs for Helmsburg residents.

Following this meeting, the Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) Board conducted its monthly meeting.  At this meeting, they selected a contractor – Lochmueller Group to conduct a county-wide wastewater treatment infrastructure strategic planning study that is expected to take 14 months to complete. This study will provide additional information. It will include numerous public meetings and, along with the RAP study, can result in the additional analysis needed to arrive at the best wastewater treatment decisions for the county.

Also, at the BCRSD meeting, there was a presentation from the Lake Lemon Environmental Cooperative. The aim of this non-profit group is to lead efforts to acquire sewer service for their fellow residents. This could be accomplished through a separate Regional Sewer District (RSD) or in cooperation with the BCRSD. The Cooperative identified their needs and desire for immediate sewer service. They self-funded a concept plan, have identified that when there are substantial rains, water levels can rise to the point where they can have over 200 flooded and failed septic systems. When these systems fail, they also contribute to the contamination of Lake Lemon. They have obtained support from Monroe county that owns Lake Lemon, who supports the project and will provide the needed land for a plant (s). The Cooperative also has the support of its community.

Regarding the number of potential customers – referred to in the RAP study as Equivalent Dwelling Units (EDUs), the number of EDUs that could be served by a plant in the Trevlac area would be 353 for Lake Lemon and 132 for Helmsburg for a total of 485.  The number of Bean Blossom EDUs is estimated at only 276. The RAP study included projections of a declining population in Brown County. With fewer potential customers, the selection of technologies and life cycle management costs of wastewater systems are significant considerations.

In contrast, regarding a plant in Bean Blossom, the county commissioners, the current as well as the past two presidents of the BCRSD Board, have all stated that there is no documented evidence of failed residential septic systems in the Bean Blossom area.

Regional Sewer Board – Bean Blossom Sewer Project – For the Record

Further, current water sampling has not validated indications of human-caused contamination.  This information undermines the premise that was used to justify a county-wide RSD. The allegation by a county commissioner in 2013 was that a county-wide RSD and a septic systems management plan was needed to address an “environmental catastrophe” in Bean Blossom – an assertion that has still not been supported with evidence.

The RAP study also suggests that a de-centralized approach versus a county-wide RSD may be warranted. The infrastructure study could be expanded to include an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of a local Trevlac and Bean Blossom RSD, as opposed to a county-wide RSD.   Board members of the BCRSD are appointed by the commissioners and county council.  The Gnaw Bone RSD board will be elected by their ratepayers starting in 2020 and the Helmsburg RSD has requested this same option.

Regarding economic and wastewater treatment related plans and strategies, these could be integrated within the County Comprehensive Plan and updated to reflect a choice for local control as an option for growth and development. The Helmsburg Revitalization Initiative provides a working example of this approach.

Despite the information presented in the RAP study and information provided by Lake Lemon residents, the BCRSD board reinforced their intent to move forward with the Bean Blossom project as the highest priority in the county. The BCRSD also intends to pursue the acquisition of land from Parks and Recreation.  The fact that current landowners in the Bean Blossom area were not interested in selling property for a sewer plant does not bode well for the BCRSD’s ability to obtain the estimated 190 required easement agreements from current landowners.

The Helmsburg and Brown County RSDs support for the RAP study and the BCRSD leadership in obtaining a grant for a county-wide wastewater infrastructure study is commendable. However, the Bean Blossom project should be “delayed” until there is a more comprehensive analysis that identifies the best development and wastewater treatment decisions for the county.

Additional Information:


Brown County Wastewater Infrastructure Strategic Planning Study

Lochmueller Group_Wastwater Infrastructure Strategic Planning Study_Accepted Proposal

Lochmueller Group – Website

General Info

Project Status Reports

Current events

Sep 17, 2020. BCD, GUEST OPINION: Sources of E. coli contamination being studied by Clint Studabaler

Sep 16, 2020.  BCD. Water sampling to take place in area creeks Friday By Staff Reports

Aug 13, 2020. GUEST OPINION: Water quality sampling efforts underway by  Maggie Sullivan


In December 2019, the Brown County Regional Sewer District received a $118, 000 grant to fund the development of a  Wastewater Infrastructure Strategic Plan.

In January 2020, the BCRSD issued a Request for Proposals (RFPs) that will be used to select the contractor for this plan.

Dec 20, 2019.   ROI awards $1.86 million in Ready Communities implementation grants

  • Award to Brown County Regional Sewer District for a wastewater strategic management plan. – This grant will fund an engineering evaluation of existing septic treatment systems and study the technical and economic feasibility of regional wastewater collection and treatment options in Brown County.

April 2019. BCRSD April 2019 ROI Grant Application _ Studabaker Clint


Solar Co-Op

BROWN COUNTY – Solar Community Share

Purpose: As a part of Earth Rising we are working together to make Solar Energy available to as many Brown County homes and businesses as possible.

Method: Solar PV prices are coming down but for many it is still considered too expensive for budgets. Through the Solar Community Share Solar Program we are attempting to buy panels in bulk to make them as inexpensive as possible. In addition we want to build a model of working in teams for the installation. This brings the cost down tremendously.

What is Team Installation?

We believe that those people who care about the environment and want solar panels would be willing to offer whatever skills they have to place an array on their home as well as on the homes of the other team members. So what skills are needed. Obviously there are electrical connections so some electrical knowledge is helpful. Some climbing skills and just ability to measure and install rails that the panels fit on.

Do not let this discourage you if you do not have these skills, others may and you can be a helper. If a team does not feel comfortable with certain aspects of the job like electrical and climbing we will augment your team with people that have those talents. We are also considering developing skills in several people who could treat this as a job. Our contention is that it offers work to local talent and we would negotiate reasonable costs for that service.


This plan can work because this is Brown County. We Brown Countians help each other. There is no nobler goal than to help us tread lightly on our earth than to switch from fossil fuel to sun power for our energy. It will help us feel like we are making a difference and we are thinking about how we can be helping our kids, grandkids and their grandkids.

We hope to get this plan implemented this spring. We are in the organizing phase and will be asking people to tell us of their willingness and interest.


Solar Community Share Program

Participation Questionnaire

Preliminary Form

There are many ways to get involved in the Solarize Brown County Community Share Program. The following areas are ones to consider at this time:

I Want to have a solar array connected to my electrical service Yes No

Willing to participate on a team Yes No

If yes I have the following interests or skills (check the areas that apply to you as well as circling your level of skill):

___ Helper

____ Electrical skill Basic Moderate Advanced

____ Willing to do some climbing Basic Advanced

Financial Support

For those people that do not feel their home is or is not conducive to Solar power but feel that the need is important you can help by investing or donating into the program. We need some start up money to buy the necessary equipment to due the jobs that are being requested.

More information on this aspect of the program will be made upon request and I hope we get lots of requests.



Phone No.

Email address


Return this form to William Todd email:

RDC 2020


The Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) is tasked with coordinating follow-on actions derived from the Brown County Economic Development Strategic Plan.

Current and Planned Events

Sep 15, 2020. BCD. Redevelopment commission planning land survey By Sara Clifford

May 28, 2020. BCD. County News. Redevelopment commission mapping out priorities

  • In a virtual meeting on May 7, the members — three of whom are new this year — learned about what the group had been working on last year. President Schwenk explained the concept of gathering data about abandoned, vacant homes in the county, which could possibly be rebuilt into affordable, habitable homes. All voting members supported continuing with this project. They also started thinking about others, and started working on a goals chart which is viewable online at The goals chart is on page 15.

Mar 21, 2020. RDC Discussion – 2020 Plan – 9:00 am, Community Foundation


Assessment – Brown County Economic Development Strategic Plan

  • This plan meets the minimum requirement required by the State.
  • Strategies identify solutions without referencing the data that identifies the scope and extent of the respective problem.  Additional analysis is needed to identify the costs, priorities, and funding options.
  • The strategies were also derived with input from non-statistically valid surveys, and selected input from community members (see Methods below).
  • Not mentioned is the need to retain existing residents and to identify their priorities.  Over half the workers in Brown County have historically chosen to live in the county and commute outside the county for the better-paying jobs.
    • Brown County Democrat: What are best bets for future of  local economy? by Sara Clifford. Brown County’s greatest potential for economic growth is as a bedroom community, according to economists with the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

Governance and Plans

  • Handbook for Indiana Redevelopment Commission  (RDC) Members and Their Attorneys – June 2017  2017-handbook-for-indiana-redevelopment-commission-members-and-their-attorneys-3
  • IC 36-7-14 – Chapter 14. Redevelopment of Areas Needing Redevelopment
    Generally; Redevelopment Commissions  IC 36-7-14
  • Brown County Economic Development Strategic Plan  Brown County Econ Dev Strat Plan and Exec Summary 11.20.2019
    1. Several residents participated in interviews, public engagement sessions, and an online survey to offer public feedback, comments, and ideas for the creation of the following four overarching goals:
      1. Preserve and Promote Brown County’s Natural Environment;
      2. Establish Brown County as a home for young families and talented individuals;
      3. Foster Brown County’s identity as a destination for tourists interested in the arts, outdoors, and historic small-town charm; and
      4. Support Brown County’s interests within the Uplands Region through partnerships .

METHODS.  In addition to employment and census data, public input was considered through a web-based public survey, a town hall event, and individual interviews with key stakeholders. The electronic survey was available to the public and received a total of 185 responses. Responses from approximately 20 individuals were gathered during an open town hall event on January 23rd, 2019. Individual interviews were held with 11 stakeholders representing various positions and organizations within the county.



Zoning – West Robertson Road – For the Record

SummaryGiven the formal complaint by the Mitchells to the decision made by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on Jan 29, 2020, the county judge will now review the process that supported the decision by the BZA which may require that they re-hear the request for a special exception and/or determine that a zoning change may be needed. The hearing is scheduled for Nov 17, 2020. 

Oct 28, 2020.  Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Meeting.  The BZA board rescinded the decision they made at their Jan 29, 2000 meeting that allowed for a special exception for an industrial park. The BZA was provided with erroneous information and have acknowledged that it is illegal for an industrial park to operate inside an area zoned as residential (R2).

At the Jan 29, 2020 meeting, Christina Buccos went before the Board seeking a special exception for “general industrial” use to keep running a business that has been operating for two generations

Those in attendance supporting the Buccos’ were under the impression that the business could be “grandfathered” in or have the support of neighbors.  These are not legal options.  It is not unusual in the county for landowners to overlook zoning laws and ask for any approvals after the fact.

Guidance: INDIANA CITIZEN PLANNER’S GUIDE Part 2: Board of Zoning Appeals Basics
by KK Gerhart-Fritz, AICP.  Developmental Standards Variance Criteria per IC 36-7-4-918.5

  • (1) the approval will not be injurious to the public health, safety, morals,
    and general welfare of the community
  • (2) the use and value of the area adjacent to the property included in the
    a variance will not be affected in a substantially adverse manner
  • (3) the strict application of the terms of the zoning ordinance will result
    in practical difficulties in the use of the property

May 13, 2020Facebook – Brown County Matters, by Sherrie Mitchell. Judge Wertz denied the motion by the BZA attorney to dismiss.

Mar 11, 2020.  Facebook – Brown County Matters.  Notification of formal complaint to the APC and BZA.

Mar 7, 2020.  Facebook – Brown County Matters by Sherrie Mitchell, Volume of truck traffic.

Mar 4, 2020, Facebook – Brown County Matters  – Zoning Overlays – County GIS Map by Sherrie Mitchell. Response by Tom Reoch, GIS coordinator

  • Tim J. Clark  CULTURE: The “culture” in the county that has been expressed at county meetings has been that people can generally do what they want with their property. If there is a complaint, then property owners can apply for a special exception or a zoning change. This issue started with a complaint by a neighbor. Upon further analysis, it was determined that the law governing the approval of the exception may not have been followed. It was also discovered that Board member (s) were appointed to the BZA in violation of Indiana law. Given the formal complaint, the county judge will now review the process that supported the decision by the BZA which may require that they re-hear the request for a special exception and/or determine that a zoning change may be needed.
  • Tim J. Clark . The PROCESS: The County Comprehensive Plan (meets minimum standards required by law), provides the guidance for zoning. The commissioners are “accountable” for the process. The Planning Director and GIS Coordinator work for the commissioners. The “voters” are “responsible”  for the performance of the commissioners.

Mar 3, 2012. Democrat. Zoning decision under review; member resigns, By Sherrie and Benjamin Mitchell filed a petition for judicial review on Feb. 21, asking that the court clear the special exception which the BZA granted for the Christina Buccos property on Gartner Drive in January.

Mar 2, 2020. BZA Meeting. Statement of Fact 20200302185331927

Feb 29, 2020. Democrat.  COUNTY NEWS: Speed limit reduced; update on courthouse remodel  By Sara Clifford

  • An ordinance reducing the speed limit on West Robertson Road to 30 MPH was approved unanimously by the Brown County Commissioners on Feb. 19.
  • The speed limit will be reduced on West Robertson from State Road 135 North to Richardson Drive east and westbound. The speed limit maximum will be 30 MPH unless weather or other conditions require a lower maximum speed limit.

Feb 24, 2020. Democrat.  Business gets OK to keep operating in neighborhood By Sara Clifford

  • A Brown County family has been granted the proper zoning permission to keep running the business it’s been running on its property for at least two generations.

Christina Buccos went before the Brown County Board of Zoning Appeals on Jan. 29 seeking a special exception for “general industrial” use. Her family formed Shady Oaks Logging LLC six years ago, but a log yard has been housed on Buccos’ 130-plus acres since before the county had a zoning code, according to Planning Director Chris Ritzmann’s research. Buccos was asking for the special exception for 3 acres of her land, all of which is zoned FR (forest reserve).

Buccos’ land is on a private road, Gartner Drive, which abuts West Robertson Road.

Feb 21, 2020. Facebook – Brown County Matters, Legal Complaint.  Sherrie Mitchell.

  • My husband and I, represented by Michael Carmin (attorney in Bloomington), filed a request for a judicial review in the Brown County Circuit Court, Judge Mary Wertz. If you read the article in the Brown County Democrat a few weeks back, you are aware that the Brown County BZA approved a logging yard in a residential neighborhood. This is absurd. This sets a precedent for our county and would allow industrial parks in every residential neighborhood. This has to be stopped.

Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) – For the Record

Financial Information – Dept Local Govt Finance (DLGF) Reporting Unit: “Brown County Regional Sewer District”

Current Events

Dissolution of the BCRSD – For and Against

BCRSD Board meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:00 p.m.  Notes from the meetings available at the Facebook Group – Brown County Matters.

Sep 15, 2020. BCD. Lake Lemon homeowners seek help from sewer district By Suzannah Couch

  • Herndon said that the need for sewer in the Lake Lemon area may be greater than the need in Bean Blossom because when the water rises in the lake, effluent from septic systems goes into it. … “We want to figure out a way where we’re not waiting another five years to try to get sewers,” he said.
  • Resident Tim Clark also attended the virtual meeting on Sept. 8. He asked the regional sewer board if they had a percentage of people who supported bringing a sewer system to the Bean Blossom area, like members had suggested to the Lake Lemon cooperative. … “The letters of interest for the Bean Blossom project were from 1998. Has there been any effort to update those to see what current residents think?” he asked. … Project engineer Gary Ladd said the letters had not been updated.

Aug 11, 2020 –  BCRSD Guidance on Finance Controls

March 2020.  Brown County Wastewater Infrastructure Strategic Planning Study


In May of 2013, county health department employee and then-commissioner John Kennard alleged that there was “an environmental nightmare” in Bean Blossom.  His claim served as the premise to establish a county-wide regional sewer district, a proposed sewer project for Bean Blossom, and an aggressive septic maintenance program that would need to be supported with an ordinance.

  • Brown County Democrat May 1, 2013.  “Brown County Commissioner John Kennard called Bean Blossom an “environmental nightmare” due to many failed septic systems in the town located north of Nashville. The comment came during discussion of forming a countywide sewer district. Kennard said the purpose of the district would be to increase the chances of Bean Blossom acquiring a grant to pay for installation of a sewer system for the town. Commissioners voted 3-0 to pursue formation of the district, which could include a septic maintenance program.”

A new ordinance was passed by the commissioners in 2013, successfully challenged in court, and rescinded in 2015.  Mr. Kennard, in addition to the proposed new 2020 ordinance, led efforts to develop a new ordinance in 2017 and 2018. These versions were considered by the Health Board, opposed by citizens, and disapproved by the commissioners. Clint Studabaker, vice president of the Brown County Regional Sewer District Board, has also been a significant contributor to the proposed 2020 ordinance.

Since May 1, 2013, there has been no documented evidence that supports the claim of an “environmental nightmare” in Bean Blossom. The January 28, 2020 article in the Democrat – “Stream Sampling: Where’s the contamination coming from?” does not support the allegation of contamination caused by failed septic systems. To quote: “Is E. coli found in local waterways coming from humans or from animals? Short answer: We don’t know yet.”

2017/2018. Further, the past two Brown County RSD Board presidents – Evan Werling and Judy Swift- Powdrill acknowledged that there was no documented evidence of failed septic systems that would validate a need for a new sewer plant in Bean Blossom.

BCRSD Board. At their Feb 11, 2020 board meeting, Brown County Regional Sewer District (BCRSD) board members acknowledged that they did not know of any evidence of failed septic systems in their district.  Current board President Mike Leggins stated that Brownies Restaurant in Bean Blossom closed as a result of a failed system. Septic systems designed for commercial use are approved and inspected by the State.

Commissioners.  At their meeting on Feb 19, 2020, Brown County Commissioners (Diana Biddle and Jerry Pittman) also acknowledged that there is no documented evidence of failed septic systems in the county.

Cordry and Sweetwater Conservancy.  The conservancy has a septic system management plan and no issues with water quality.

More Information:



Wastewater (Septic Systems and Sewers) Strategic Planning

I can’t think of a more important issue regarding our cost of living and quality of life than the decisions that are and will be made regarding wastewater treatment strategies.

The best decisions are the result of transparency, effective processes (habits) and citizen awareness of the overall process.  Ideal outcomes result from policies, ordinances, and plans where everyone benefits, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term.

In December 2019, the Brown County Regional Sewer District received a $118, 000 grant to fund the development of a  Wastewater Infrastructure Strategic Plan.

In January 2020, the BCRSD issued a Request for Proposals (RFPs) that will be used to select the contractor for this plan.

Also in January 2020,  a wastewater treatment regionalization study was completed that identifies options for the size and location of treatment plants but not options regarding technologies.

  • FINAL REPORT  (received and posted Feb 7, 2020)- Preliminary Engineering Report – Regional Assistance Program.  
    • Summary: “Based on the analysis completed in this report, it appears that is most cost-effective to construct two regional plants to serve the areas under consideration. Table 6-11, following provide the cost and effective analysis of the various alternative combinations considered.

Determining the optimum wastewater treatment options (septic systems and sewers) for the county cannot be determined until after the strategic plan is completed.

Consequently, the proposed Bean Blossom Sewer project should be “paused” (no more spending) until the wastewater strategic plan is completed.  As of February 2020, $200,000 of the $270,000 provided by the county council, has been spent.  Land for the plant has not been acquired nor have the 190 required easement agreements been obtained.

The BCRSD has asked to acquire land deeded to Parks and Recreation.  If land for a plant could not be obtained from property owners over the past “20 years”, how difficult will it be to acquire the needed easements?  Of the 240 potential customers, how many have submitted a letter of support for this project?

Do we need a Brown County RSD?

The regionalization study calls in to question the need for a “county-wide” regional sewer district (RSD).  Multiple RSDs that include Helmsburg and Gnaw Bone that have a proven track record of successful operation, maybe the best solution for the county.

  • The Gnaw Bone RSD Board requested that board members be elected by those being served by the RSD. Their request was approved by IDEM.
  • The Helmsburg RSD Board has also requested elections and will likely be approved.
    • The Helmsburg community has also formed a Community Development Corporation (CDC), established an economic development area and developed its own economic development plan. More information:

      Helmsburg Revitalization – Community-Led

  • A “decentralized” approach for county leadership was identified in the draft 1993 County Comprehensive Plan. This plan was not approved by the commissioners at the time. (See Hamlet and Rural Village Development).

Brown County Regional Sewer District – For the Record


Brown County Community Development Course – Jan 30-Feb 1, 2020

Community development seeks to empower individuals and groups of people with the skills they need to effect change within their communities … that put people and places first

I had the opportunity to attend the 2.5 day Community Development course that was created by Ball State and sponsored by the Brown County Community Foundation. The information presented has the “potential” of resulting in a more effective and inclusive community where citizen input and participation is encouraged, respected, and valued.  Course description and materials below. At the conclusion of the course, several project ideas were identified and future meetings will be used to work through the process. I do plan on posting updates.


Course Materials – Dropbox

Additional Resources and Supporting Efforts

  • Brown County Leader Network – Support Materials
    • Model for  Improvement –  What are we trying to accomplish?  How will we know that a change is an improvement? What change can we make that will result in an improvement?
      • Plan change or test aimed at improvement
      • Do – Carry out the change – preferebly on small scale (prototype)
      • Study – Examine the results. What did we learn? What went wrong?
      • Act – Adopt the change, abandon it, run through the cycle again
  • Brown County Schools – Engineering Design Process
    • 1.0 Ask. What are the problems? What are the conmstraints?
    • 2.0 Imagine. Brainstorm Ideas; Choose the best one.
    • 3.0 Plan. Draw a diagram; Gather needed materials
    • 4.0 Create. Follow- the plan; test it out
    • 5.0 Prove. Discuss what can work better, Repeat steps to make it better
  • National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals







Information Ecosystem – Rural Communities

The Center for Rural Engagement at Indiana University provided the funding for this exploratory research.  Additional guidance and support provided by Elaine Monaghan at the Media School.

About Kinzen.  Kinzen is a technology company that helps citizens engage with the publishers who inform, inspire and empower them. We’re building tools for individuals and publishers to access and present personalized news and information.

Jan 16, 2020. Understanding the Information Ecosystem in Rural Indiana, By Hanna Lennon.

Jan 15, 2020. The Challenges for Local Publishers in Indiana By Hannah Lennon.

Brown County – Input provided by community members at a meeting hosted by the Community Foundation.

  • Brown County League of Women Voters – LWVBC Newsletter December 2019  Three Perspectives on the Media Discussion by IU Center for Rural Engagement (page 8-9). Comments provided by members Pam Raider, Robyn Rosenberg-Bowman, and Tim Clark.