River pollution plagues Spencer

Feces and sanitary pads found in the wake of 2005 floods


Chris Pickrell Chris Pickrell and unknown

SPENCER, Ind. – Citizens concerned with the White River’s water quality and flooding problems gathered Wednesday at the Spencer United Methodist Church, 95 W. Franklin St., for a fact-finding meeting.

Nearly 40 citizens were on hand to speak with officials from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the state and county governments.

Saundra Johnson, who has lived in Spencer since August, went door to door to inform other citizens of the meeting.

Several citizens said that in 2005, a massive flood destroyed houses, costing citizens thousands of dollars in damages. After the flood, many citizens found sewage from the White River, which surrounds Spencer. And with the sewage came many unhealthy surprises.

“It’s polluted,” Judi Sturgell, 32, said. “You find sticks, Tampax, Kotex – you find anything.

“The last flood that we had, they weren’t swimming in it,” Sturgell said, referring to children playing in street floods. “They were playing in it (this time) in the streets because the water was coming up in the streets... They ride their bicycles in the dirty water.”

Sturgell said she found fecal matter in the water and had to call police to get the children out of the water.

“I don’t even want to walk in the grass when the backwaters have went down, let alone when the water is up,” Sturgell said. “There’s a smell when (the water) goes away.”

State Rep. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said the problem is from upstream cities and towns.

“The river is very attractive at times, but when I hear Indianapolis is dumping 60 million gallons of raw sewage in there, that bothers me, and it should bother everyone,” Bray said. “And I understand that it’s going to cost an awful amount of money for Indianapolis to solve it, but for a long time they stuck their head in the sand and weren’t doing anything.”

Bray said a possible solution to the flooding would be to separate the storm sewers from the sanitary sewers.

“To separate it, you’re going to have to tear up some streets to do it,” he said.

Councilman Anton Karl Neff, D-Owen County District 2, said it was possible to see polluted waters in the streets of Spencer during the floods.

“When we had the big flood a while back, when that water receded, I wouldn’t be surprised to see things like that among other things,” Neff said. “There could very well have been sanitary pads, diapers, toilet paper and sewage from further upstream, but I have not seen it.”

Marylou Poppa Renshaw, watershed planning branch chief for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management Office of Water Quality, said Spencer was second on a project priority list for small communities.

Renshaw said while there is nearly $7.2 million in loan money available for improvement of a wastewater treatment plant, citizens’ sewer rates would go up if such a project is undertaken.

She said some treatment plants have certain capacities, and when the sewers and the street catch the rainwater and send it to the wastewater treatment plant, they may exceed their capacities and overflow with leftover, untreated raw sewage.

Renshaw recommended to Spencer citizens that their town make sure its wastewater treatment plant is the proper size to accommodate the town’s water needs.

But while officials did offer some solutions, citizens were still left in the dumps about their flooding problems.

State Rep. Vern Tincher, D-Riley, said citizens were going to have to explore the possibility of raising their homes’ foundations so that water doesn’t destroy their property. Tincher said this suggestion was feasible, but that it would require the use of federal funds, which would take years to procure.

Don Pope, 64, said the flooding would get fixed if the town government did something about the problem.

“The thing of it is there is nobody involved in doing anything involved with it... the town council needs to get involved,” Pope said.

Pope said flood insurance estimated damages to his home to be $5,000 – $1,500 of which was paid for by his insurance company.

Barbara Hendricks, 48, has lived in Spencer for 18 years. She said when her home was flooded, she paid a $1,000 deductible for a $4,500 job to replace her furnace and water heater.

During the eight days it took to repair her flooded house, she had to stay in a hotel and eat out.

“I didn’t get any of that back from my flood insurance,” she said.

But Micael Powell, who has lived in Spencer 37 of the 38 years in his life, had to tear down his home because of flood damage and rebuild it. He said to raise his home as Tincher suggested would cost him $15,000. Powell said he would rather just move to another part of town where flooding does not occur.

“I would stay in Spencer no matter what,” he said.

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