NORWEJ board signs paperwork

By Cheri Shelhart

Members of the NORWEJ board sign the paperwork to begin the process of expansion to the I-65 corridor to provide water to the area. The DeMotte Town Council also approved expansion of sewer to the area as well.

DEMOTTE — At special meetings Monday night, which began with the NORWEJ (Northwest Jasper Regional District) board followed by the town council, voted on three resolutions that takes the first steps for the town’s expansion water and sewer to the I-65/SR 10 corridor and east to the industrial park and as far as the KV high school. The resolutions passed don’t commit the town to the expansion, but allow it to take the steps necessary for the process to begin.

The intention is to expand the sewer and possibly water to the businesses near the interstate, including the new Compass Travel Center that will be built on the east side of I-65, south side of SR 10. With the construction of this new travel center, the time line for expansion becomes a critical issue. The Compass company wants to have the infrastructure in place by May 2021.

The first ordinance is an interlocal agreement between NORWEJ, Town of DeMotte, Jasper County Council and Commissioners, the Jasper County Redevelopment Commission and the county’s regional water/sewer district, all of which have to approve of the agreement. Attorney Chris Janak, of Bose McKinney & Evans of Indianapolis, explained to the NORWEJ board a last minute change by the county commissioners had not been added to the paperwork in front of them. The commissioners requested a change from giving the town 100% of tax revenue from two parcels owned by Compass to 100% of the larger parcel (a 50 acre parcel) and 80% of the smaller parcel (30 acres). The plan is for the county to set up a TIF (tax increment financing) district along the south side of SR 10 from the county line east along the state highway, and on the north taking in the Travel America truck stop. The TIF district would include the TA, Love’s, Compass, a proposed Speedway gas station and any future development along the corridor.

The interlocal agreement also includes the boards paying fees to the county’s attorney for setting up the TIF District at a cap of $50,000.

For each new connection, the county’s regional water/sewer district will get $500 per residential customer and $3,000 per hook up for commercial/industrial businesses. Exemptions to this are the five properties already existing or planned for construction.

The proposed expansion will cost an estimated $11 million and does include some risk on the part of the town and NORWEJ. CPA John Seevers, who attended via Internet, said the TIF will help finance the expansion in the I-65 area. The revenue should be around $80,000 a year from the Compass property beginning in 2023 if the construction is completed as scheduled.

Janak told the NORWEJ board it is a “reasonable deal for all involved” even if it’s not what they wanted. Seevers said the problem would be with difficulties in future years in administering the funds with connection fees and tax revenues. He said the town’s leverage in regards to a TIF District is the fact that without sewer to that area, there will be no future business development.

Compass could opt to build their own septic system as the other travel centers have done, but that could put them in trouble in the future if the system fails, as has happened with the Love’s truck stop. Love’s septic system has failed, another reason for quick expansion to the interstate.

Another resolution calls for the town and NORWEJ to declare the corridor exclusive territory so no other municipality or private company can provide sewer or water. There is a private utility providing sewer service to the rest areas and businesses on the Newton County side, west of the interstate. The exclusion would also prevent Newton County from encroaching into Jasper County.

In order to accomplish this, the town will have to go before the IURC, Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Janak explained this requires litigation, which includes hearings and discovery. The independent utility can object, and they may have to negotiate on that regard. He said the process can take eight to nine months, less if there is no opposition.

“You have to do this to keep others out,” he said.

Before any of this can begin, they have to have agreements with the businesses that will require them to pay a fee upfront. The three travel centers will provide $1.5 million in fees if they agree to hook up. Janak advised the town council if Compass doesn’t sign up, they would have to consider whether or not to bore under the interstate as they consider future growth and the costs.

Jeff Cambe, town council president and board member of NORWEJ, said there is some risk involved in the proposals. “It will take awhile to realize all this, but we have to start somewhere. It’s a big gamble, but we have done due diligence. John (Seevers) has worked the numbers for us and the TIF District gives us some breathing room.”

Both the NORWEJ board and the town council, in separate meetings, approved separate resolutions and a bond ordinance that will begin the process.