Bloomington issues COVID-19 update for buses, utilities customer service

Late Friday, the city of Bloomington issued press releases about the way that public bus service  and utilities customer service will be altered starting next week, to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most Bloomington Transit buses will continue to run next week on their normal schedule. But the suspension of Indiana University classes means that BT will offer no service on Routes 7, 6-Limited and 9-Limited through March 29.

Routes 6 and 9 will continue operating on the university’s semester break schedules through March 29. BT Access, the agency’s para-transit service, will operate normally.

For water and sewer customers, the city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) customer service office on Miller Drive will be closed to walk-in service. According to the release, customers can still call (812) 349-3930 or send an email message to utilities.cs@bloomington.in.gov Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The after-hours number is (812) 339-1444. Continue reading “Bloomington issues COVID-19 update for buses, utilities customer service”

From utilities building to city hall, Bloomington’s COVID-19 response shows visible signs

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As part of the effort to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus, Bloomington’s city council chambers have been configured into a social-distancing formation as of Thursday, March 13, 2020. The state’s guidance document on gatherings says “Smaller, non-essential gatherings held in venues which do not allow social distancing of six (6) feet per person should be postponed or canceled.” (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Thursday, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, announced additional statewide measures meant to help reduce COVID-19 infection rates. The number of cases in the state of Indiana has doubled from six on Tuesday (March 10) to 12 cases two days later (March 12).

Among the measures announced by Holcomb on Thursday was a prohibition of non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. About the scope of the prohibited gatherings, the press release states, “This includes any event or gathering of people who are in one room or a single space at the same time, such as cafeterias …”

Here in Bloomington, The Square Beacon saw evidence of Bloomington’s city government efforts to reduce COVID-19 infections, from the utilities service building on Miller Drive to city hall. Continue reading “From utilities building to city hall, Bloomington’s COVID-19 response shows visible signs”

Bloomington’s city council OKs bonds for county TIF district roads, different sewer rates for city, non-city customers

The line separating the part of Monroe County that’s inside Bloomington from the part that’s outside the city formed a common thread across three agenda items on the city council’s Wednesday agenda.

The council approved a sewer rate increase for all of Bloomington’s customers. For the first time, the rate is different for customers inside the city limits compared to outside. Customers inside the city limits will see a 3-percent increase, or about 72 cents more per month for an average customer. For an average customer outside the city, the 15-percent increase works out to $3.60 more per month. The differential rate increase passed on an 8–1 vote, with Chris Sturbaum dissenting, based on the differential character of the rates.

City limits also played a role in a revision to the city’s ordinance on sewer connection fees, which was also approved by the council Wednesday night. The point of the revision was to allow the director of utilities to waive connection fees in a couple of basic situations—for a single-family affordable housing project inside the city limits, or for the purpose of disconnecting a property from a septic tank. In the week between the city council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting a week ago, and Wednesday night, the wording was amended to make clear: The septic tank scenario for a waiver is not confined to customers inside the city limits. The council’s vote on the possibility of sewer connection waivers was unanimous, in favor.

Finally, the council approved issuance of $8 million of bonds by the Monroe County’s redevelopment commission, for construction of two new roads outside of town near the western edge. One road will extend Profile Parkway to Gates Drive. The other will extend Sunrise Greeting Court from Vernal Pike down to Gates Drive. The issue was in front of the city council because the county’s TIF district that’s providing the funding includes some land that the city annexed, after the TIF district was established. The council’s vote was unanimous, in favor.

Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council OKs bonds for county TIF district roads, different sewer rates for city, non-city customers”

Higher rates for Bloomington sewer customers: An inside-and-out story

How much sewage do Bloomington utilities customers generate every year? About 2.57 billion gallons. Lake Monroe’s capacity of about 77.14 billion gallons could hold roughly 30 years worth of Bloomington’s sewage.

Bloomington’s sewage is not piped into Lake Monroe, of course. It goes to one of two wastewater treatment plants—Blucher Poole or Dillman Road. These days the Dillman Road facility often operates near or even over its rated capacity of 15 million gallons a day.

It’s a situation that caught the attention of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) recently, in 2016, and two decades ago, in 1999. IDEM sent “early warning” letters to Bloomington noting that the average daily flow through the plant, measured over the course of a year or more, was approaching or over 90 percent of the rated capacity of the facility.

So Bloomington’s utilities director, Vic Kelson, will be appearing in front of the city council on Wednesday (Sept. 11), to lay out the case for a sewer rate increase, to help pay for needed improvements to the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities.

The department’s capital improvement plan over the next seven years calls for about $35 million worth of improvements to Dillman Road and $17 million for the Blucher Poole facility. Continue reading “Higher rates for Bloomington sewer customers: An inside-and-out story”

Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s utilities director Vic Kelson presented the city council with a proposed $1.7 million for water main replacement as part of the department’s 2020 budget.  He described how that would pay to replace roughly 2.5 miles of pipe.

During the time for councilmember questions, Isabel Piedmont-Smith responded to the 2.5-mile figure by saying, “That does sound like very little.” Piedmont-Smith’s assessment was based on the roughly 420 miles of pipe in the system, and the frequency of recent high profile water main breaks.

At a press briefing on the Friday before the week of budget hearings, Mayor John Hamilton said the pace of water main replacement was not fast enough, because pipes don’t last as long as it will take to replace them all—if the current pace of replacement is maintained. About the 2.5 miles per year that has been budgeted for the last few years, Hamilton said, “That’s way better than it was five years ago, but is not good enough.”

At Tuesday’s city council session, utilities director Vic Kelson put the possibility of increasing the pace of water main replacement in the context of a possible rate increase. The current residential rate for City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is $3.73 per 1,000 gallons with a monthly $5.89 charge for a 5/8-inch meter. Any proposal for an increase in water rates has to be presented to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Bloomington’s rate case to the IURC is planned for 2020.

Kelson said as a part of the rate case, CBU would be evaluating whether the 2.5 miles of pipe a year is aggressive enough. Continue reading “Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?”

City of Bloomington exceeds allowed E. coli levels four times in 30 days, report to state required

Four times in the last 30 days, the City of Bloomington’s waste water treatment plant on Dillman Road was putting too much E. coli bacteria into Clear Creek.

R Map annotated ecoli exceedenceEcoli exceedencexxxxTesting is done daily by water treatment plant staff, and it’s allowed for the E. coli limit to be violated three times in a 30-day period, department of utilities public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin told The Beacon.

But if the E. coli limit is exceeded a fourth time, the city has to report it to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), she said.

The City of Bloomington announced the fourth E. coli violation, and its report to the IDEM, in a press release on Friday afternoon.

According to the press release, the daily limit for E. coli is 235 colony-forming units (CFUs) of E. coli bacteria per 100 ml.

Updated on Aug. 5, 2019 with additional information from the form received by IDEM from Bloomington: The level of E. coli  CFUs  measured by Bloomington, on July 23, was 365 CFUs per 100 ml, or 130 CFUs greater than the limit. Remedial action to be undertaken by Bloomington includes: relocation of two of four pumps; repairing the contact chamber rapid mixer; and investigating the departments sampling techniques location and process. According to IDEM Director of External Relations, Sarah Bonick,”IDEM is monitoring the situation and will ensure that the facility comes back into compliance.” Continue reading “City of Bloomington exceeds allowed E. coli levels four times in 30 days, report to state required”

2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks

Not counting any of the half dozen water main breaks in July, the city of Bloomington has tallied 44 breaks so far in 2019.

Is that a big number? Yes, based on the number of breaks over the last six years that are logged in the dataset posted on the city’s B-Clear data portal.

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The broken water main from the intersection of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street  lay on the pavement Monday morning. July 22, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The 44 breaks in 2019 so far, through the first six months of the year, are at least 12 more breaks (37 percent more) than in the first half of any of the last six years. So this year looks like it could be on course to match or exceed the 88 breaks tallied in 2016, which is the biggest number for a whole year since 2013.

Causes for breaks recorded in the dataset include ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others. Water hammer is a sudden increase in pressure caused when the momentum of all the water flowing in a pipe is brought to a sudden stop.

A dramatic water main break last Sunday, at the busy four-way stop at Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street downtown, put Bloomington’s drinking water pipes in the news. Continue reading “2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks”