La PORTE — A La Porte man wants to know why the city has ignored a drainage board order to cease work on a local stormwater basin project.
During Wednesday's La Porte County Board of Commissioners meeting, La Porte's Louie Spear asked officials to address issues surrounding dewatering at his family's former property off Boyd Boulevard. Contractors building the new stormwater basin have dumped water into a nearby county ditch without approval from the La Porte County Drainage Board, he said.
Last month, Spear made his case before the drainage board, which voted unanimously in favor of filing an injunction against the city to stop the project. Despite the ruling, the city has continued dewatering at the site, though contractors have redirected the flow away from the ditch, according to La Porte Engineer Nick Minich.
Spear told the drainage board that contractors had dumped millions of gallons of water into the county's Shurz Ditch, located nearby his family's property. The excess water has further backed up a discharge tile inside the ditch near Ohio Street, which has harmed drainage on his family's farm, he said.
The La Porte man — who sold the Spear farm to his children years ago — is also concerned that runoff from nearby industrial plants may have contaminated the groundwater crews dumped into the ditch.
During his comments to the commissioners Wednesday, Spear blamed county attorney Shaw Friedman for interfering with the drainage board's order for an injunction. He also said the La Porte Police detained him for nearly an hour last Friday while he accompanied an inspector with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management at the worksite.
"This has gone too far," Spear said. "If he [Friedman] allowed that [injunction] to happen, this altercation with the cops wouldn't have happened."
In response, Friedman said he requested the city impose an immediate stop-work order for the project so officials could address Spear's concerns over the work. However, he also asked the drainage board's attorney, Brad Adamsky, to not file the drainage board's requested injunction.
"We did not want legal action taken against the city," Friedman said. "We wanted to avoid that."
On Thursday, city engineer Minich confirmed that, despite the county's request, crews were still removing water from the basin worksite. Contractors are merely placing "city water inside a city basin," work that doesn't fall within the drainage board's or commissioners' oversight, he said.
"It wouldn't be appropriate to stop a city project," Minich said. "I don't see where their jurisdiction is. It's a little overreaching."
Minich also refuted Spear's claims that the city was discharging polluted water in the ditch. The city has evaluated the groundwater it is removing from the basin area, with tests showing no contaminants in the samples, the engineer said.
While crews did pump water into the Shurz Ditch without prior drainage board approval, they did not do so directly, Minich said. Instead, they discarded the groundwater into a region to the south of where they were building the basin, with the water then draining into the ditch through a nearby 18-inch clay tile.
Last month, Minich told the drainage board that contractors did not seek approval to drain into the county ditch, as officials did not anticipate the dewatering work. It was after work began in July that crews discovered the water level underneath the property was too high to build the basin, requiring workers to remove the groundwater.
Officials also did not expect the area crews placed the displaced water to drain into the Shurz Ditch, Minich said.
In an email to Friedman and city officials, city of La Porte attorney Nicholas Otis said the engineering department now requires contractors to get drainage board approval for any city projects that may involve dewatering into county drains.
Several weeks ago, crews began redirecting the drained water into the basin, which workers have built out enough for it to store the groundwater, Minich said.
Despite the controversy, the city engineer continues to tout the great things the Boyd Boulevard stormwater project will do for La Porte businesses and residents.
The $2.1 million work — which the La Porte Redevelopment Commission voted to fund in May — will separate the combined sewer/stormwater system currently running along Boyd Boulevard. A dedicated stormwater detention pond will not only reduce strain on county ditches but will prevent wastewater overflows during heavy storms, Minich said.
The basin — built on property the city purchased from the Spear family — will also help regulate water flow into the La Porte County Conservation Trust wetlands nearby. The project also calls for repaving the portion of Boyd Boulevard by the basin area, which is another perk, Minich said.
"There are a lot of great benefits to this project," he said. "We're looking to the future in terms of how we can manage our natural resources to the best of our abilities."
The engineer expects the first phase of basin construction to finish by November. The additional construction phases will take place over the next two to three years.
The La Porte County Drainage Board plans to discuss the project during its meeting Tuesday, which will take place at 2 p.m. at the La Porte County complex.