State grants $10M for water development

Cindy DiFazio - Staff Writer

State Representatives Cleo Duncan and Dave Cheatham held a press conference on Monday, May 14 at the Decatur County Courthouse in Greensburg to announce a $10 million appropriation by the State of Indiana to fund water systems for Ripley, Jennings and Decatur counties. Duncan said that the state budget was passed on April 29 and included a line item granting the three counties the monies through the Build Indiana Fund. These grants will allow the counties to hire professionals to investigate and propose solutions to local water problems, then take actions to improve the availability and distribution of water.

Duncan explained that the announcement was slightly delayed because, “We wanted local entities to have a chance to reach an agreement.” She noted, “I wanted to make it very clear that this money is to benefit these three counties to ensure there will be enough water for any economic development projects the counties wish to pursue.”

Rep. Cheatham thanked Duncan for her hard work on the project saying, “I’m so thankful for Cleo’s expertise. She’s been very helpful and good to work with.” He added, “The idea is that we need to look at this as a regional endeavor that any group, business or community will profit from.”

Cheatham went on to explain that the new water resource board will look into both short and long-term needs. He told the gathering that originally $20 million was requested to help the three counties connect their water resources. Cheatham said that while the $10 million will not provide all the water the area needs forever, it will help cover the needs in the short-term. He told the group, “Although we originally asked for $20 million, we’re happy to get what we could. Now we need to see how far we can connect with $10 million.”

The hope is to provide a uniform level of water to all included areas by interconnecting those who have more water with those who have limited access. Local water companies would still maintain their local rates and agreements. He noted that it would take only a short connection with Holton’s water company to reach into Ripley County. A plus for smaller communities, for example, Westport or New Point is that with all the communities tied-in, should a small area see a growth spurt in businesses or suffer a contamination problem, the affected area could still be supplied.

Cheatham said that while all three counties have more than enough water at this time, Jennings County has the most, with an extra 1-2 million gallons per day. Decatur County has the greatest need at this time. He questioned, “We’re looking at new development and asking ‘can we meet those needs?’” His answer, “With these connections, we think we can.”

Cheatham also said that although all the technical parts of the project are not yet in place, the water boards involved have committed to be a part of the project. Duncan commented, “This whole issue has been thrust upon us because economic development is coming and we need an infrastructure in place.”

Asked what kinds of strings might be attached by the state, Rep. Cheatham replied, “The idea is to be shovel-ready for businesses to relocate here. We already lost a business because we couldn’t connect to enough water.” Both Cheatham and Duncan were adamant that this state funding is not leverage between Greensburg and Decatur Water. Duncan stated, “We are pioneers together in this water district.” Cheatham agreed, “We are not here to bargain, we’re here to help.”

He also noted that these are grants, not loans, which will keep water rates low and improvements economically feasible. “Rate payers should not have to pay for this expansion,” Cheatham commented. “This is a $10 million asset to the community that is not on the backs of rate payers.”

There is a two-year window in which to spend the $10 million. If the monies have not been used, they revert to the state. “We’re hoping we have a lot of water needs because of economic development,” said Cheatham. He went on to assure the group, “This is where we serve, these are our people, and that’s why we want this.”

Decatur County Commissioners Charles Buel and Jerome Beuning also were on the dais to take part in the announcement. Beuning is on the committee to form the water board. Buel noted that Decatur County Water has always felt there was a need for a regional water board and commented, “We’re willing and ready to get it started.” Both commissioners thanked Duncan for spearheading this effort with Beuning noting, “The state didn’t leave us high and dry!”

Duncan closed by remarking, “I am very selfish. I want to have good jobs available for my kids and grandkids. I hope you’re all as selfish as I am to want good things for your families here.”

Pictured are Representative Dave Cheatham and Representative Cleo Duncan speaking at a press conference regarding $10 million in state funding granted for the development of water resources in Ripley, Jennings and Decatur counties.