Noblesville OKs rate hike to finish 15-year wastewater project

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A $14.9 million bond paid for by a $4.35 hike in Noblesville residents’ monthly wastewater fees should be enough to bring the city’s roughly 15-year sewer overflow project across the finish line.

The Noblesville City Council last week approved issuing the bond and spending another $10 million from the city utility’s cash reserves to complete the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s mandated long-term wastewater control plan and a few related projects. The combined $5.95 million sewer improvement project started in 2006 and is now scheduled for completion by fall 2021.

The last phase of the state’s program is similar to the previous one in that it requires city workers to build separate stormwater and sewer lines to prevent sewage from reaching local waterways.

“Because there are less overflows into the White River, it’s a cleaner river than what it has been in years,” said Ray Thompson, Noblesville’s wastewater director. “Every weekend it’s loaded with tubes and rafts and canoes. You didn’t see that before. There are more activities taking place around the river than we had in the past.”

Thompson said the roughly $4.5 million fifth phase is scheduled to start this fall. It includes the construction of a 36-inch sewer line from the city’s 2.2-million-gallon storage facility to a diversion structure; and reinforced 12- to 24-inch storm sewers on 4th, 14th, 16th and Gerald streets.

In addition to the last phase of the long-term control plan, the bond will cover upgrades planned at two lift stations that have either neared the end of their lifespan or been unable to match the city’s growth.

“Rather than a catastrophe happening, we’re trying to be proactive and upgrade these stations as the wear occurs,” Thompson said. “The community is still growing, and we have to keep ourselves postured to grow.”

Noblesville Deputy Mayor Matt Light said Chicago-based consulting firm Baker Tilly originally estimated the state-mandated project would cause the city’s monthly wastewater bill to be $66 by 2022. Instead, residents will pay new the monthly rate of $46.13 for the next four years, starting September 1.

“One of the things that Baker Tilley helped prepare for us was a rate study, benchmarking our rates against peer communities in Indiana,” Light said. “Before the proposed adjustments, we were in the bottom third of [13 peer communities’] wastewater rates. Even with the increase, we remained in the bottom half.”

The city also appropriated a quarter of a million dollars from its wastewater funds to expand its existing discount program and account for additional hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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