AUBURN — A 2019 report identifies 23 “areas of concern” for septic systems in rural DeKalb County.

Monday, DeKalb County Commissioners heard about a possible solution — forming a regional sewer district.

The areas of concern include 680 homes, in all regions of the county, that have aging septic systems. In many cases, the homes might not qualify for replacement systems, based on today’s standards.

Those 680 homes all lie within the potential reach of the county’s city and town sewage systems, the report says.

Among the largest concentrations of possible new sewer customers are:

• along C.R. 427 south of Auburn, 115 homes;

• along C.R. 36 north of Auburn, 77 homes;

• near C.R. 35 and C.R. 40-A east of Auburn, 69 homes; and

• Holiday Lakes south of Garrett, 65 homes.

“Septics are failing. They’re dying fast everywhere,” County Commissioner Don Grogg said Monday.

“The environmental health issue is real,” said Lana Beregszazi, president of BCS Management in Fort Wayne. She said failing septic systems can affect drinking water, causing illnesses.

Beregszazi met with commissioners to explain the advantages of forming a regional sewer district.

The district should be county-wide, she suggested, with the exception of the territory already served by the existing St. Joe-Spencerville Regional Sewer District.

Instead of building a sewage treatment plant, the district would build collection systems that carry sewage to existing plants.

“The only way these projects can be viable is that a collection system is built to connect to city and town treatment plants,” Beregszazi said.

“It’s an opportunity for the municipality to get additional revenue for treating wastewater,” she added. “We encourage them to even make a little profit at it.”

The process of forming a sewer district could take about one year, Beregszazi said.

“It involves a lot of communication,” she explained. As one element, “everyone who could ever be served” would be invited to a public meeting.

The County Commissioners would appoint a board to govern the sewer district, which would operate as an independent unit.

A district might build three projects in its first year of operation, she said. It would focus on high-density areas that are close to treatment plants, keeping the cost as low as possible.

Government grants and low-interest loans are available to help reduce the cost of building a sewer network, she said.

“The state wants to see these things done,” Beregszazi added.

“It’s all about looking out for the end user,” she said. Still, rates for sewer districts typically are higher than for customers who live in cities and towns.

A resident near a new sewer collection system would be required to connect unless the home qualified for one of three exemptions:

• the property is 10 acres or more;

• the house is more than 300 feet from the sewer line; or

• the septic system is newer than 20 years old and passes an inspection by the county health department.

A county sewer district would not need an expensive staff, Beregszazi said. It could hire a contractor to maintain the system. Her company could manage the district for far less than the cost of a full-time director, she added.

By helping communities form sewer districts, she said, “We are leading the charge and being advocates of water quality.”

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