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Sewer tiff boils in Huntertown

Key court issues remain unresolved

The sewer rate squabble between Huntertown and Fort Wayne isn’t over yet.

A ruling Friday by Allen Superior Court Judge Stanley Levine allowed the case to continue on a number of fronts, denying Huntertown’s request for judgment on some of the issues.

The issues stem from a 2013 lawsuit filed by Huntertown against Fort Wayne. The small Allen County town sought the court’s review of a 2013 Fort Wayne ordinance governing what the city charged sewage treatment customers.

Fort Wayne handles sewage for several area communities and entities, including Grabill, Arcola, Riverhaven and an industrial power plant. Wholesale customers such as the communities received a 53 percent discount on the retail rates the city charged to process sewage, according to court documents.

The city had been providing Huntertown wastewater treatment as a wholesale customer until April 2013 – an agreement in place since Huntertown had to abandon a failing wastewater treatment plant in the mid-1980s.

But in April 2013, Huntertown terminated the agreement, and Fort Wayne said it would charge the town the retail rate.

Huntertown has been pursuing building its own wastewater treatment plant and wants to disconnect from City Utilities.

In his ruling, Levine denied Huntertown’s motion for summary judgment on the matter of whether Fort Wayne gave adequate notice of ratemaking, ruling there were issues that needed discussed.

Levine also declined to decide whether Huntertown or the city of Fort Wayne had “exclusive power” to provide water and sewer service after the adoption of a new law that puts any provision of water and sewer outside a municipality’s jurisdiction solely under the provision of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

According to court documents, Huntertown concedes its “water and sewer service area ordinances” aren’t enforceable unless the state utility regulatory commission approves them.

But Fort Wayne didn’t get everything it wanted either. Levine denied the city’s request for mediation sanctions.

The judge set a pretrial conference on the matter for October, and his order seems to anticipate a trial at this point.

“This court stands willing to ultimately determine the serious issues raised by Fort Wayne and Huntertown by conducting a full trial on the merit’s of each party’s case,” Levine wrote in his order.

Levine also urged further attempts at mediation to resolve the matter as legal expenses continue to climb.

This week, Fort Wayne City Utilities officials met with Huntertown residents with a plan that would lower their sewer bills and offered to kick in $1 million to help the town implement that plan.

A few hours before the meeting, Huntertown received news from state officials that they would not receive the $14.2 million state loan they counted on to build the desired wastewater treatment plant.