Sewer shut-off causes feces fight

Several hundred homes around Witmer Lake in Wolcottville had been without sewer service for more than a week on March 5, 2018. (Provided Photo/WANE)

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – To say the situation is not ideal is an understatement. Several hundred homes around Witmer Lake in Wolcottville are without sewer service, and have been for more than a week. When someone took out their frustrations in a not-so-sanitary way, the town clerk’s response caused even more backlash.

Wolcottville Town Clerk June Wood said the area hasn’t flooded this badly since 1982. Back then, homes around the lake had individual septic tanks, not a shared sewer system. But even then, the massing flooding caused issues for the septic systems.

This year’s water just kept rising — all the way into Mary Arend’s garage.

“We’ve had high water before, but not to this magnitude. It’s never flooded our garage before and we had three inches in there this year. This is the worst it’s ever been and we’ve lived here 32 years,” she said.

This time the flood water also caused an unexpected complication. Even though the vacuum system in the sewer system is sealed, breaks or cracks in PVC pipes allowed water to get in.

“It was just sucking up lake water. We got there at 9:30 Friday night and were there till three the next morning. It just would not stop. It would have burned up the pumps,” Wood explained.

There was no choice. They had to shut down sewer service to around 200 homes around the lake.

“It’s very frustrating,” Arend said. “You can’t cook, so we eat out a lot. You can’t run water because you don’t have a drain. It’s been a lot of inconvenience.”

Aaron McCoy’s lived on the lake for six years and said he’s seen flooding worse than this and there wasn’t a sewer issue.

“I don’t have showers. I can’t cook. If I want to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I have to go to a porta potty on public land a quarter of a mile away,” he said. “Other people have porta potties at their door, but I don’t want to go to their door to use a porta potty.”

“I wish this was different,” Wood said. “We’re still out there working. It just takes time and you can’t make water go down any faster. We apologize for how long this is taking, but there’s no way around it. If there was, we’d be doing it.”

A few years ago, the town had a sewer upgrade and rates went up from around $60 to $90 a month. Some people are blaming the changes for the reason the sewer had to be shut down.

“I can understand that and that would be my thought, too, right after they had a rate increase. But that was the sewer plant, and that thing’s running like a top,” Wood said. “The sewer upgrade was to the actual plant and this was an issue with the vac system, which runs into the plant.”

The sewer was shut down on Feb. 24. After a few days of mounting frustrations, human feces was found outside the door of the sewer plant.

“It was a slap in the face, I felt. I shouldn’t have felt that way. It’s my fault. I should have let it go,” Wood said.

But in the height of the frustrations, she posted on the town’s website.

“It wasn’t right what they did, that one person, but it’s not right for the whole lake people to be blamed,” McCoy said.

“The reason I said that is because lake people were the only ones out. I shouldn’t have called them out, but I live at the lake, so I called myself out and the lake was out and the town still had sewer. I shouldn’t have said it,” Wood said.

Monday that post was gone and an apology was in its place.

“Start giving us updates. If you can post about your anger, post something we can actually say, ‘Ok. They’re working on it,’” McCoy said.

Wood said she will post progress reports on the website when she has them, but there hasn’t been anything new to report since March 1. She said she’s not withholding any information.

“I talked to her on Friday, and she assured me they’re doing everything they can go get us up and running again. I believe them that it’s true, but so many people had so many issues, they’ve just been overwhelmed by the whole thing,” Arend said.

“I wish I had more. We’ve all been in tears,” Wood said. “We wish there was something more we can do.”

She wasn’t sure when all the sewer would be back and running because they can’t predict when the water will go down, but she’s hopeful things will be normal again by Friday at the latest.