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Take latest sewage fight to IURC, Huntertown, Fort Wayne urged

Huntertown needs to take its ordinance about who gets to provide it with sewage treatment services to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

And until that happens, an Allen County judge is not going to tell the city of Fort Wayne it can’t continue to extend its utility services to the northwest Allen County area.

After a hearing about a temporary restraining order requested by the town, Allen Superior Court Judge Stanley Levine ruled Thursday he did not have jurisdiction to rule on whether Huntertown’s ordinance is valid. That, he said, is the purview of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

And he said he could not rule on whether Huntertown’s argument that its ordinance takes precedence over a Fort Wayne ordinance would be successful because that, too, is a decision to be made by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission under a new state statute.

Levine is acting as a special judge in the Allen Circuit Court.

Huntertown’s statute says it has the exclusive rights to provide sewer service to its residents and those in the area. It is in direct conflict with a Fort Wayne ordinance that says the city can extend its sewer and water utilities out past its boundaries up to about four miles.

The town asked for a preliminary injunction to keep the city from extending and operating its sewer and water lines to subdivisions in the Huntertown area. A hearing on the injunction was scheduled for next week.

But within the past few days, the town asked for a temporary restraining order.

Huntertown sought the additional temporary restraining order after it received notification about utility service locations in the area, according to statements made during Thursday’s hearing.

The skirmish is the latest in an ongoing dispute between Fort Wayne and Huntertown over who gets to treat sewage waste from Huntertown. Also at issue is the matter of rates for the sewage already being treated by the city.

Fort Wayne continues to treat Huntertown’s sewage without a contract after the town didn’t renew a long-standing agreement last year that set the treatment for Huntertown as a wholesale customer.

After the agreement was terminated, Fort Wayne said it would process the sewage but at the much-higher retail rate. For years, Huntertown has been unsuccessfully pursuing plans to build its own wastewater treatment plant.

In July, Levine ruled the case regarding the wastewater treatment rates could continue to a trial.

In that ruling, he hinted at his order from the bench Thursday by declining 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.

On Thursday, he reminded all the parties again.

This time, attorneys from both Huntertown and Fort Wayne were joined by Robert Keene, representing the developers who plan to build in the area and await news as to whose utility service they will be using.

Keene argued Thursday that a continued delay caused by the granting of the restraining order, the injunction or requiring nothing to be done while the case waits before the IURC will cause irreparable harm to the developers.

Levine was unconvinced. And though he said he wasn’t making an order to this effect, he suggested that the city not do any more work on the utilities in the area for the next 10 days, just to give the IURC a chance to hear the petition.

“I don’t see that harms anybody,” he said.

Levine expressed a lack of optimism, however, that the state’s utility regulatory commission would issue a ruling on the ordinance in that time.

Huntertown officials this month expressed confidence it would be receiving the go-ahead to build a new $14.2 million wastewater treatment plant, in spite of the rejection of recent similar plans.

Fort Wayne City Utilities recently offered the town $1 million to help build a new sewer infrastructure, which would lower customers’ bills and allow the town to provide for and control growth in its area.

rgreen@jg.net

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