News and Current Events

Contract awarded for next CSO stage

TERRE HAUTE — F. A. Whilhelm Construction Co. of Indianapolis has been awarded a $3.4 million contract to install floatable controls at Spruce Street as part of the city’s effort to separate storm water from sewage.

The contract was awarded Tuesday by the Terre Haute Board of Sanitary Commissioners.

Spruce Street marks the city’s northern-most overflow pipe that discharges storm water into the Wabash River. “As part of our long-term control plan, we are required to filter or screen any water that overflows into the river,” City Engineer Chuck Ennis said.

“So all the pop bottles and plastic top bottles, aluminum cans or trash from the road, whatever gets into the storm drains, is screened before it overflows out into the river.”

The screens are like large drums that rotates to allow water through; however, they catch debris with a brush and then redirect that debris back into the main sewer line, where it is sent to the city’s sewer headworks, which filters out the materials, Ennis said.

“We will do another floatable control structure at Idaho Street at the river,” the engineer said.

Whilhelm was the lowest of two bids. The top bid was $3.7 million. The city’s estimate for the project was about $4 million.

Spring flooding damages future CSO holding lagoon

TERRE HAUTE — Flood waters from the Wabash River have done costly damage to one of the city-owned “lagoons” on former International Paper property.

Recent high water has created a 30- to 40-foot hole in one of the three lagoons set to become giant holding areas for combined wastewater and stormwater, said Chuck Ennis, city engineer.

Speaking Tuesday to the Terre Haute Board of Sanitary Commissioners, who oversee the city’s sanitary district, Ennis said the damage from the flood water will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair.

The “lagoons,” as they’ve become known as, are three small ponds covering about three dozen acres of river-front property not far from the Interstate 70 overpass. According to city plans, the ponds will temporarily store “combined sewer overflow,” or CSO, which is a combination of stormwater and sewage that currently overflows into the Wabash River during a significant rain. Federal law requires the city dramatically reduce CSO dumping into the Wabash and the lagoons are part of a federally-approved long term plan to handle the city’s CSO.

Cost estimates are being prepared to fix the damaged lagoon, Ennis told the sanitary commissioners. The lagoon’s wall will be reinforced so future flooding will not cause the same problem, he said.

Funding for the multi-million-dollar CSO project is coming from increased sewer rates within the sanitary district. The former IP lagoons should be a functioning part of the city’s upgraded CSO system by the end of next year, Ennis said.

City officials plan to speak today with Indiana environmental officials about the proposed cleanup of a former industrial dump site on the east bank of the Wabash River on the south side of town.

The city owns more than 30 acres of property formerly part of Sugar Creek Scrap, a West Terre Haute-based firm. The property is littered with old vehicles, industrial barrels, tires and other debris. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency verified significant levels of lead in the soil as well.

Ennis told the board of commissioners the city hopes to learn from the state what level of health protections will be required for workers hired to clean up the site so those requirements can be included in specifications for the project. The city hopes to advertise for bids for the clean up soon in order to remain on schedule, he said.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or

Price for modernizing sewers steep, but an essential step. Rates will jump steadily as major work progresses

The Civil War was a long time ago. Yet, segments of the Terre Haute city sewer system date back to that era. Few aspects of 21st-century life in America can function efficiently with 19th-century technology.

This community has gotten its money’s worth out of its aged, overburdened sewer system. For too long, Terre Haute — like more than 100 other Hoosier communities — also has used a nearby river as an ultimate destination for its raw sewage.

Legally and ethically, these deficiencies now must be corrected. The repairs are not cheap.

The imperative need to fix the problems is the reason the City Council voted reluctantly, but unanimously, this month to increase sewer rates to local households by more than 50 percent during the next three years. The fees will rise 15 percent in July 2013, with two more 15-percent increases in the following two years. For the average Terre Haute household, the jump will be from $32 to $37 next year, then to $43 in 2014, and to $49 in 2015, according to the Indianapolis consulting firm of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates.

Higher bills affect homeowners, and the council members acknowledged the fiscal pain involved. Still, the reality is, Terre Haute must upgrade its sewer system and its 1960s-era wastewater treatment facility to reduce the amount of raw sewage that runs into the Wabash River. The 1972 U.S. Clean Water Act requires the improvements.

“We are mandated to do this,” Mayor Duke Bennett said at the council meeting. If Terre Haute failed to enact rate increases to pay for bringing the city’s waste disposal methods into Clean Water Act compliance, the community could face a federal takeover of the “long-term control plan” for the system. If so, rates would rise even higher, the mayor said.

The changes are two-fold, and not simple. One involves a $140-million upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant, basically doubling its capacity. The other — that long-term control plan — includes a new $120-million plan to divert, store and dispose of Terre Haute’s combined sewer overflow (or CSO). The end result should allow the city to reduce the volume of CSO — the combination of stormwater and raw sewage — into the Wabash from 690 million gallons a year to just 60 million.

The problem is rooted in the days before indoor plumbing, when Terre Haute built huge underground, brick tunnels to drain storm water from its streets into the river. Once homes acquired indoor plumbing, those tunnels became a “combined sewer system,” sending, yes, human waste along with rain water into the Wabash. A century later, the community invested in the southside wastewater treatment plant, and implemented another large tunnel linking the old combined sewer lines with the plant. That routed much of the sewage away from the river.

Not all of it, though. The system works fine when the sun shines, but any amount of rain or snow melting triggers significant overflow into the Wabash.

The upgrade will capture 96 percent of the CSO, according to the city engineer’s office.

Higher sewer rates will fund the wastewater treatment plant renovation. The extra sewer fees and property tax revenue will cover the CSO alterations.

Difficult as it is, the mayor, City Council and community have taken the proper path to modernize this infrastructure and better care for the Wabash.

Planned trail, CSO line would stretch about 1 1⁄2 miles along east bank of river

TERRE HAUTE — If plans flow smoothly, walkers and runners could be streaming along a new trail parallel to the banks of the Wabash River.

The planned pathway could be completed next year, as Hauteans salute the waterway in a yearlong celebration: 2013 Year of the River.

Plans for a new sewer line to run along the east bank of the Wabash have helped spur efforts to establish the trail, which will connect Fairbanks Park to city-owned property just north of Interstate 70 west of Prairieton Road – a distance of about 1.5 miles.

“It all just kind of came together,” said Mayor Duke Bennett, speaking of plans to improve the city’s sewer system and plans for the trail.

For the past four or five years, the city has been establishing the right to install the new sewer line down the east bank of the Wabash as part of a federally mandated project to prevent combined stormwater and raw sewage (known as Combined Sewer Overflow, CSO) from entering the river.

The new sewer line is needed to divert millions of gallons of CSO annually to a storage lagoon south of the city and then to the sewage treatment plant.

The sewer line will take the same path as the planned trail – down what was once Paul Dresser Drive. The now defunct section of roadway is still barely visible along the east side of the Wabash from Fairbanks Park to a spot about a mile to the south.

The trail itself is “still in the planning stages,” said Chuck Ennis, city engineer. But for the first several years of its existence, the trail will be paved with crushed stone, not asphalt. That’s because the heavy equipment needed to install the sewer line would likely damage an asphalt trail, he said.

Mayor Bennett said he hopes work on the trail can be completed next year, coinciding with the “Year of the River.” But it was still unclear that would take place, he said.

Funding for the trail will come from the Sanitary District’s bond issues being used to finance the approximately $120-million CSO project, Ennis said.

An Important link

Once completed, the new section of trail will be a key part of the city’s growing hiking and biking trail system, providing a link connecting the bulk of the trail system with the city’s south side, said Ron Hinsenkamp, chief transportation planner for the West Central Economic Development District’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“It’s part of the bigger master plan” for trails in Vigo County, Hinsenkamp said. “Trails and bike paths are all a part of the city’s transportation network.”

The city currently has more than 18 miles of trails, but that number will soon be growing. In addition to the city’s trail on the east side of the river, a new, 6.5-mile trail on the west side of the Wabash will soon be opening to the public, said Jon Mutchner, president of Wabash River Development and Beautification Inc., better known as Riverscape. That trail should open to the public in the spring and will follow a levy along the west side of the river, he said.

“It’s all going to be linked together,” said Mutchner, whose Riverscape group has been promoting trails and other development near the river for several years. “For a community of this size, it’s going to be one of the most impressive trail systems in the Midwest.”

The legal groundwork

In the past several years, city officials have been working to establish they have the right to place a trail and new sewer line along the Wabash River south of Fairbanks Park. A large part of the land involved is already owned by the city, including property formerly owned by International Paper Co.

One section of land required the city to go to court to establish the right for the trail, Bennett said. That was for property where the defunct Wabash Environmental Technologies once operated.

“We went through the court system to allow us to put a trail on top of the sewer,” Bennett said.

The entire process of establishing easement rights for the sewer took between four and five years, said Rhonda Oldham, a Terre Haute attorney representing the city in the matter.

Once the trail is in place, it could later link with a proposed “primitive” trail on the south side of I-70 on land soon to be owned by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. That land, known as “the oxbow,” is surrounded by the river on three sides and floods about twice a year, Mayor Bennett said, meaning any trail there would have to be made of bark or wood chips.

The new trail south of Fairbanks Park is just one of many things planned for 2013 marking “The Year of the River.” But it’s a welcome contribution by the City of Terre Haute, especially since it will allow people to see a section of the river that currently is only accessible by boat, said Mary Kramer, executive director of Wabash Valley Art Spaces and an organizer of The Year of the River.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Kramer said of the planned new trail. “I was thrilled to hear [the city] was going to do that.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or

Effort under way to reduce sewage, stormwater dumped into Wabash

TERRE HAUTE — Imagine a 100-acre swimming pool 20 feet deep. Filling that pool would require 690 million gallons of water.

That’s how much combined stormwater and raw sewage the city of Terre Haute dumps into the Wabash River in a typical year.

During Friday’s Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability conference at Indiana State University, City Engineer Chuck Ennis explained how local taxpayers and sewer ratepayers will help reduce that volume from 690 million gallons to about 60 million gallons per year.

The city’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) plan will capture about 96 percent of the city’s overflow into the Wabash River, Ennis said during an afternoon session of the conference, which is concluding today on the ISU campus.

Sections of Terre Haute’s sewer system date back to the end of the 19th century, Ennis said. That means the same underground tunnels that handle stormwater runoff and also raw sewage.

Before 1962, all of that flowed directly into the river. Since 1962, the combination of stormwater and raw sewage only overflows into the river during a significant rain, he said.

But now, thanks to a federal mandate, the city’s property tax and sewer ratepayers must pay for a multi-million-dollar fix to the system.

“That’s the hand we were dealt,” Ennis said.

Terre Haute is dealing with the problem in two giant pieces. One is a roughly $140 million upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant — something that will double the plant’s holding capacity. The second piece is a 20-year, $120 million plan to divert, store and dispose of the city’s combined sewer overflow without letting it reach the Wabash River.

The upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant is being funded by increases in local sewer rates. The CSO plan is being covered by sewer rate increases and property tax revenue, Ennis said.

Terre Haute is not unique. Thanks to the 1974 federal Clean Water Act, all river cities with combined storm- and wastewater sewage systems are facing the same expense, Ennis said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is enforcing the Clean Water Act, uses the presence of E. coli — essentially animal waste — as its “yardstick” for measuring how clean or dirty a river is, Ennis said. At present, the city of Terre Haute contributes about 12 percent of the E. coli you would find in the Wabash River immediately downstream from the city, he said. The rest comes from smaller communities upstream, agricultural sources and from animals living in the wild, he said. E coli only survives for a few days, so Terre Haute’s Wabash River E. coli count is not affected by more distant upstream communities such as Lafayette, Ennis said.

Sanitary board flowing into phase one of $120M CSO plan

TERRE HAUTE — The City of Terre Haute is progressing with the $34 million first phase of its plan to dramatically reduce overflows of combined stormwater and sewage into the Wabash River.

The Terre Haute Board of Sanitary Commissioners, in a special meeting Tuesday morning in City Hall, voted to start negotiations with selected companies to undertake two of the first big projects in “phase one,” including a controversial stormwater “lagoon” near Indiana 63 and Interstate 70.

The five-person board selected Commonwealth Engineers Inc. to handle the lagoon project. However, contract details have not been worked out and the board only granted city officials permission to begin negotiating with Commonwealth, which has offices in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville. If terms cannot be agreed, the city will negotiate with the second company on the board’s ranking, city officials said.

The lagoon project is expected to cost about $6 million and is just one piece in a 20-year, $120-million plan to cut overflows of combined stormwater and sewage into the Wabash. Once completed, the lagoon will temporarily store stormwater and sewage that flows directly into the river during a significant rain.

Actual work on the lagoon is not expected to begin until August 2013, said an official with Hannum, Wagle & Cline Engineering of Terre Haute, which is overseeing the entire Long Term Control Plan, which received approval from state and federal environmental officials last summer.

The lagoon has faced opposition from members of the Terre Haute “Riverscape” group, who fear it will have a foul odor. City officials have said the lagoon will have nearly no odor.

Also Tuesday, the board selected R.W. Armstrong, an Indianapolis-based engineering and consulting firm, and Malcomb Prinie, a water management consulting firm, to handle the city’s “floatable controls” structures for the Long Term Control Plan.

One of the structures, which will be about as large as a two-car garage, will be placed near the Terre Haute Fire Department maintenance facility on North First Street, said Chuck Ennis, city engineer. A second structure of the same size will be behind a wrecking yard on Prairieton Road near Idaho Street, he said.

Floatable control structures extend deep into the ground to capture objects floating in a stormwater overflow, such as plastic bottles or aluminum cans. At present, when significant rainfalls take place, combined stormwater and sewage drains into the Wabash River.

The first phase of the Long Term Control Plan will also involve significant sewer repair and reinforcement work, Ennis said.

State officials are giving Terre Haute’s plan to reduce wastewater and stormwater overflows into the Wabash River a positive first review.

TERRE HAUTE — State officials are giving Terre Haute’s plan to reduce wastewater and stormwater overflows into the Wabash River a positive first review.

Early last month, city officials handed their “long-term control plan” (LTCP) for reducing combined stormwater/wastewater overflows into the Wabash River to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. On Monday, IDEM officials gave their first feedback on the plan, stating they are “encouraged” by the city’s progress.

“I’m fairly pleased with the response from IDEM,” said Mike Cline of Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering, which prepared the LTCP.

Speaking to the Terre Haute Board of Sanitary Commissioners on Tuesday, Cline said IDEM had raised just four questions regarding the plan, which has been several years in development.

“That’s not bad,” he said.

Three of the questions raised by IDEM involved easily-resolved administration matters, Cline said. The fourth will likely require sitting down with state officials to reach a conclusion, he said.

The city’s plan currently calls for construction of “various green infrastructure projects,” such as rain gardens and pervious concrete parking areas, to collect and hold stormwater. The plan also calls for construction of a 2-million-gallon stormwater/wastewater holding tank near First and Spruce streets. However, the size of that tank could be reduced if the green projects significantly reduce the volume of stormwater flowing out of the city’s near-north side, officials said.

If Terre Haute “is successful in implementing green projects and the final contingency storage [tank] is not constructed, how will this affect the overall project costs?” IDEM asked in a March 14 letter to the city. “Would it be likely that the city could then afford a higher level of [combined stormwater and wastewater] control…?”

IDEM wants to make sure that city expenditures on the LTCP reach a certain threshold, said city engineer Chuck Ennis. As a result, the agency wants to be sure that any savings from reduction or elimination of the storage tank would be applied to other areas of the LTCP, he said.

The city’s LTCP is estimated to cost $120 million over the next 20 to 25 years.

“We’re going to have to sit down with IDEM and work that out,” Cline told the Sanitary board.

Meanwhile, city officials are preparing to repair a blocked stormwater control structure on South Fruitridge Avenue near the entrance to the Terre Haute Humane Society. The blocked structure, which is filled with silt, has allowed stormwater to flow across Fruitridge, significantly eroding ground around the roadway, said assistant city engineer Larry Robbins. The work is going out for bid soon and could be completed in about one month, he said.

  • Every year millions of gallons of combined sewage, stormwater, and debris overflow to the Wabash River.
  • The overflows cause increased E. coli readings and other pollution to the river.
  • The City of Terre Haute is undertaking a program to reduce the number of overflows to the river.
  • The goal of the CSO Reduction Program is to have a cleaner city, resulting in a cleaner river.