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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Septic problems cause local stir

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A handful of local residents chat and play pool at the Cunot Community Center Monday morning. The center was used by 19,000 people last year and is a popular local meeting place.
CUNOT - Everybody has their own agenda swirling around in the Cunot Community Center septic tank.

But the bottom line is this: A leak in the septic system has a very real possibility of shutting down a facility that everyone agrees provides a vital social service to many of the people in this economically-depressed community of about 1,300 homes.

The most recent turmoil about the septic tank came to a head when the Owen County Health Department sent a letter on Aug. 8 ordering the center to "pump and haul" its waste to prevent the failing system from leaking. As a result, the community center must now pay some $500 each week to pump the grease and sewage from the tanks. At this rate, the Cunot Community Center, which brings in about $26,000 in annual revenue from selling meals and operating regular bingo games, will not be able to stay open long, said center director Sherry Humble.

Health Inspector John Reeves sent the letter after he twice discovered black water that had leaked out of the septic on the center's property. The second time, he concluded that the center's septic system had failed, he said.

The failure is likely due to the fact the center, located at 5530 State Road 42, removed its grease traps and has been letting the excess cooking grease flow into the septic system, Reeves said. Once grease gums up a septic system, there is nothing that can be done to repair it, he said. Local septic experts agreed with that assessment.

The trouble is, a non-profit organization that serves food to the public must comply with a long list of state-mandated engineering and design standards to install a new system. Even though the center averages about 12,000 gallons of water usage a month, slightly more than a family of four, one preliminary estimate put the cost of a new system near $50,000 - well outside of the means of the center, said board secretary Jeff Smith.

The building is owned by the Cloverdale School Corporation and leased out to the community on the grounds that it provides social services to disadvantaged residents of Owen, Putnam and Clay counties.

Cloverdale Superintendent Carrie Milner said the district has no financial responsibility to the center under the terms of the lease.

The facility operates a food pantry that serves some 4,500 disadvantaged people each year. It also fills the role as a traditional community center, providing a space for senior citizens and youth to get together, play pool and chat. About 19,000 people use the center annually. Humble has organized retreats, Medicare and Social Security information classes, barbecues, dances and a laundry list of other activities for the community. The center also serves breakfast every day to a committed core of regulars - biscuits, gravy, two eggs and a mess of hash browns for less than $4. And the coffee's always free to anyone who walks in the door.

Retiree Jerald Monds said he's been coming in just about every day for breakfast since the 1970s. He said he's fortunate to have a pension and savings. If the center closes, he'll just have to find another place to eat breakfast. A lot of local residents of this poor community in an already poor county, though, aren't so lucky, he said.

Dustin Willingham, 21, said he tries to eat breakfast at the center every day before work.

"I've been coming here for 18 years," he said in between a bite of pancakes. "It's kept me out of trouble."

The septic problems have caught community center leaders off guard. They have applied for grants and appealed to local officials, including Sen. Richard Lugar, for help, but they have no long-term ideas for how to raise the money.

The entire process of dealing with the health department has been taxing on the leaders of the community center. Three boards, all with different responsibilities, oversee the center, and the leadership frequently turns over. Humble said she is fed up and frustrated with ordeal.

"I've begged and begged for money and support and I'm tired of begging and I'm sure people of tired of hearing it," she said.

Tears began to fall gently onto her cheeks as she said the center will have to close, barring some miracle.

Anyone wanting to contact Humble can call the center at (765) 795-3461.

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