By Julie Young
In anticipation of a flood of new development taking shape throughout Hancock County, NineStar Connect is going with the flow to ensure that water infrastructure is in place to meet the demand. With the planned $40 million Education and Innovation Center expected to open at CR 300N and 200W in 2026 as well as a possible I-70 interchange in the area, the time is right to expand utility services and prepare for what’s in store.
“It’s quite a menu of projects,” said Alan Martin, NineStar’s manager for water and wastewater utilities. “We have several things going on all at once that will benefit the county and help us bring a better quality of life to those who work here, live here and spend money here.”
One of those projects, which wrapped up at the end of June is the extension of the water main from the Mount Comfort area to Riley Village and the Heartland resort area where NineStar has a small water treatment facility that could not support more growth.
“I think it is going to turn into a really up and coming area, and our getting the utilities out there and ready to go will be a driving force in the growth that is anticipated.” Martin also said that the Riley Village main extension is going to be a good for Western Hancock County as well.
The second project, which is expected to begin in early 2024, is a sanitary sewer main along CR 200W between The Boulders subdivision near US 40 up to CR 300N. This project has been made possible from a partnership with Hancock County and it is awarding NineStar an ARPA grant to build this sewer main.
In accordance with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s (IDEM) regionalization goals, the co-op will decommission an older wastewater plant on Sugar Creek north of I-70 and pump flows to NineStar’s new state-of-the-art regional wastewater treatment facility just north of US 40 near Philadelphia.
“IDEM is all about regionalization,” Martin said. “They want the systems that do not have the budget or capacity for growth to merge with the ones that do.”
Another project that is planned is a water main extension that will connect water systems between Gem and Philadelphia where NineStar’s existing water system serves the two areas. Several years ago, NineStar acquired the Philadelphia Waterworks site when the original development fell through during the 2008 recession. The co-op was able to install the water and wastewater infrastructure that allowed Joyner Homes to develop the parcel into a residential neighborhood now known as the Boulders.
“It’s kind of a chicken and egg type of thing,” Martin said. “You need access to utilities before you can build anything on the site and that’s a fine line to walk for our utility cooperative. You have to plan ahead and anticipate the needs so that you can get the proper infrastructure in place, while also being budget conscious.”
That means knowing exactly what kind of development is planned, how feasible the project is and how long the infrastructure will work before major upgrades are required. Having access to water and wastewater infrastructure means significantly mitigating the risk of contamination that can cause health issues. Martin said that most of the unincorporated area of the county is on private residential wells and septic tanks which is a public health concern as the county grows in population.
According to a 2019 ULI Panel Report, Hancock County has been underserved in terms of water and sewer infrastructure, which has had a negative impact on quality development, land value and growth opportunities. When NineStar purchased Gem utilities that same year, the company served approximately 460 water customers in the western Hancock County area. Within four years, the co-op has more than doubled that number and has been quick to expand its water infrastructure if it meant quality development for the county.
“We never would have seen this kind of growth back when we purchased Gem Utilities,” Martin said. “We quickly realized that they were at capacity and would not be able to sustain any growth, which was a detriment for the western part of the county.”
NineStar is currently working on plans for another water treatment plant to support additional growth. “It’s going to be a good-sized plant that will treat 1 million gallons per day to begin with, but can be expanded to 7 million,” he said. “We are always looking for more water and test wells because we don’t want IDEM to come in and tell us that we are over capacity.”
Considering Hancock County is the last donut county in central Indiana to experience a boon from those looking to move out of Indianapolis, Martin said NineStar is excited to embrace the opportunity that is heading east from the Circle City.
“We want to help the county grow smarter,” he said. “Obviously there are those with generational ties to the community who are naturally resistant to change, but this growth is going to be a big benefit for us all.”