When City of Lake Station Project Manager Dwayne Polarek began his position in 2009, he was quick to recognize that the infrastructure in the area was in desperate need of improvement.
As someone who has worked for municipalities since 1985, Polarek was familiar with the maintenance and redevelopment of necessary infrastructure. Following a basic assessment of the sewer and stormwater systems in Lake Station, Polarek found that it was not in proper shape.
“It was pretty dilapidated, not maintained like it should have been with no money invested in it whatsoever,” said Polarek. “So, I started working for the sewer departments, basically managing it and trying to fix the sanitary side with the little funds that we had.”
The sanitary sewer system and the stormwater system are two separate entities. The sanitary system includes piping that stems from household pipes and connects to your sinks, showers, and toilets, while the stormwater system collects water from precipitation where water collects on the pavement and flows into storm drains, eventually flowing through pipes and discharging into rivers and lakes.
Though the majority of the area in Lake Station has stormwater in addition to sewer, Polarek has been tasked with redeveloping the existing sewer systems that are in need of upgrades while simultaneously implementing green infrastructure - the stormwater systems - in places where it is still needed.
“While investigating the storm system, we found a lot of areas throughout the system that had been overcharged, where the pipes are undersized for the area that it’s serving,” said Polarek. “The City of Lake Station has somewhere around 20 sewage stations, and there are probably five left that were built in the early 60s that are in very poor condition and need to be updated.”
The problem that arises from these outdated sewer systems is that they become overwhelmed once the nearby stormwater systems become filled. Whenever the stormwater basin does not work properly, it puts more pressure on the sanitary side because the water does not have anywhere to go. Though stormwater catch basins being tied into sanitary systems was outlawed in the 60s to avoid these problems, it has taken time to make those proper changes and separate the two systems.
There are currently three sewer pump stations in Lake Station that are being replaced in 2021, and two more are on track to be replaced next year.
“One of the stations to be replaced next year - Crossroads - will be what they call a superstation. It will be one of the city’s largest pumping stations that will also be designed to handle additional flow from potential developmental areas,” said Polarek. “We’re addressing it from the sanitary side, fixing that infrastructure, and then coming over to the stormwater side where I’m currently working with an engineering firm, American Structurepoint, on developing the stormwater master plan.”
Once Polarek and city planners realized that the stormwater upgrades cannot be properly completed until existing sewer systems are appropriately fixed and upgraded, he was then able to start thinking about how to specifically improve the stormwater systems and implement new systems in areas that do not yet have them.
“These things need to be looked at to decide where we need to help the residents and not create additional problems and costs so that when it’s replaced, it’s replaced to sustain and to handle the extra flow from new developments,” said Polarek.
In total, combining both the improvements to the existing sewer systems and the upgrades and additions to the stormwater system, Polarek estimates that the plan could range from $6 million to $10 million from its cheapest to most expensive routes of completion.
“The more you dig in, the more you’re going to find and have to fix and it becomes more money involved, but at the same time, you are getting a better product,” said Polarek. “The sewer systems are very expensive to replace, and at the same time, when you replace it, you want to upgrade it to a better system and plan for future expansion if there is to be any in that area.”
Thinking ahead for the future of the city in this way is a large proponent of the master plan that Polarek has been creating and constantly adapting. By taking a step into the future and thinking about what stations need to be updated or built where, Polarek is able to kill two birds with one stone and avoid tearing up the roads for two separate installations.
“When they were getting ready to pave the streets last year, I would say, ‘Wait a minute, we need to hold off on this section because a new station is being built' or 'I have a stormwater project that is going to be taking place within the next two years on this street, so why pave something when you’re going to be tearing it up in the near future?'” said Polarek. “Let’s fix the infrastructure and then pave so you don’t have to tear it back up.”
Polarek discussed how none of the infrastructure improvements and effective planning would be moving along as quickly and smoothly, if at all, without the support from Mayor Bill Carroll. Prior administrations for the City of Lake Station had not followed through with enhancements to the existing infrastructure, but Carroll has shown immense support and approval during the process.
“Mayor Carroll is seriously pushing for infrastructure improvements, and he’s all for this, doing it the right way,” said Polarek. “Working with the new mayor, who is excellent to work with, it has been great to have that support. He really listened to what I had to say on infrastructure and has been 100% supportive on this stuff.”
Some of the benefits that Polarek suspects will arise from these massive improvements include the obvious perk of avoiding flooding from overwhelmed stormwater pipes and of experiencing savings in maintenance and electrical costs. Polarek also noted how generators will be implemented to generate electricity during power failures, which is a feature that they did not have before in the history of the city.
“We’ve got a long road ahead of us, but things are actually looking up; you can see some light at the end of the tunnel,” said Polarek. “Once the master plan is mostly complete, we can create a better timetable for when this will be done, but tentatively, you’re looking at maybe 10 years because of costs.”
What started as infrastructure starved for attention has since developed into a project with efficient and effective planning in place to prepare the community and its residents for benefits for decades to come. Polarek wanted readers to keep in mind that it will take time to get the small details worked out, but in the meantime, the city and its planners are looking into creating paths for things like walking and biking, and essentially treating each section of the city as a puzzle piece that needs to be fit into place.
“We’re moving the city in the right direction, and it’s all positive things that are happening, so I’m excited to keep moving in that direction,” said Polarek.
To learn more about the City of Lake Station and the stormwater project master plan, head to www.lakestation-in.gov.