Muncie leaders say $160M sewer project is vital to growth, keeping natural resources safe

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MUNCIE, Ind. (Nov. 25, 2014)—After days of heavy rain or snowfall, more polluted water is flowing into rivers in areas like Muncie.

City leaders say they're trying to reduce that pollution and keep the White River safe so people can enjoy it. However, it requires a sewer system overhaul, including construction and money to fix the issue.

You can't miss the construction while driving through downtown Muncie. Some drivers complain it's a headache, but Muncie leaders are saying there would be a much bigger problem if it wasn’t happening.

"A hotel could be built, but it would've been a disaster because the problems we have at this point in time would've been multiplied dramatically,” said Bill Smith, president of the Muncie Sanitary District.

With new buildings going up, the sewer systems need to be upgraded.

"A lot of the downtown sewers were built in the 1880s and go into a sewer called the primary outfall sewer," said Mike Cline, vice president of the Muncie Sanitary District Board of Commissioners.

"When it was announced that the ARC training center would be built here, we knew our downtown storm sewer system was too small to handle that," he said.

Besides the need to change with growth, the sanitary board of commissioners says it's a vital part of keeping the city's natural resources safe.

Millions of gallons of storm water gets polluted one way or another or it's laced raw sewage through the outdated system and it's flowing into Buck Creek and the White River. Now, millions of dollars are needed to overall that system. The original estimate was $160 million.

"The Muncie Sanitary district is dedicated to improving the water quality of the White River, and that could be a combination of combined sewer overflow reduction, storm water treatment and new sewer construction, and if we can do all that while helping downtown grow again, then we've got the best of all worlds,” Cline said.

The city has until 2031 to reach the mandated standards set for clean water, but the $160 million price tag would fall on taxpayers over the years. City leaders say they're working to reduce that number.

In Indianapolis, work has been done to clean up the White River as well. Crews have been working on a $1.6 billion project to create a tunnel system that can hold sewage before it’s treated. Cities across Indiana are dealing with outdated sewage systems.