2017-11-01 / Front Page

Water rates will jump to $34.07 if plan approved

By WILLIAM FARLEY

The Board of Directors of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District voted unanimously to start the process of its first-ever rate increase for Letcher County water customers.

Board Member Richard Carter, who made the motion, said this is the first time the district has ever raised rates since it was formed in the 1990s. If the Kentucky Public Service Commission approves the new rate the average water bill per month for household customers will increase to $34.07. Monthly water bills now average about $22 per month.

In other business at its October meeting, the board discussed another new option for supplying water to the Cumberland River. The latest proposal offers the possibility of cross-county cooperation with as many as three Harlan County communities. Roger Recktenwald, director of Research and Planning for the Kentucky Association of Counties, told the board that state law allows any two public utilities to form a cross-city or cross-county entity to create a water district. He said the new district must contain at least two public utilities.

Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said he has spoken with Judge/ Executive Dan Mosely of Harlan County and that two of the three water districts in the upper part of Harlan County, Benham and Lynch conducted first readings of an ordinance to allow for the creation of a special water district in cooperation with Letcher County. He added that Cumberland is expected to join. The Letcher County Board approved the motion to move forward and begin the process.

The statute gives water districts in different cities or counties the ability to jointly acquire and construct sources to supply water when the governing body adopts a resolution to acquire and jointly operate sources to supply water. After the judge/executive has made an order creating the water commission, commissioners can be appointed to operate the district.

Chapter 74.430, Authority for joint water services reads:

In the interest of the public health and for the purpose of providing an adequate supply of water to cities, water associations, water districts, and facilities owned or operated by federal agencies, any two (2) or more cities, or any two (2) or more water districts organized under this chapter, or any combination of cities, water districts, water associations, and federal agencies may jointly acquire, either by purchase or construction, sources of supply of water and may operate jointly the sources of supply of water and improve and extend them in the manner provided in KRS 74.420 to 74.520. The governing body of any city, water association, water district, or federal agency desiring to avail themselves of the provisions of KRS 74.420 to 74.520 shall adopt a resolution or ordinance determining and electing to acquire and operate jointly sources of supply of water.

Section 74.450 describes the process of creating a water commission for the joint district:

(1) After the county judge/executive has made an order creating a water commission, the presiding officer of each of the cities, water associations, or water districts which proposed the creation of the commission with the approval of its governing body, and each federal agency which joined in a proposal shall appoint one (1) commissioner. If the number of commissioners so appointed by the presiding officers of the cities, water associations, or water districts and by the federal agency or agencies shall equal or exceed five (5), no further commissioners shall be appointed and the commissioners shall be and constitute the water commission. (2) If the number of commissioners appointed by the presiding officers of the cities, water associations, water districts, or federal agencies shall be less than five (5), the county judge/ executive who entered the order creating the commission shall appoint additional commissioners to the commission as necessary to make the number of commissioners equal five (5). The commissioners shall constitute the commission, which shall be a public corporation and a public body corporate and politic with the powers and duties specified in KRS 74.420 to 74.520. The commission may in its corporate name contract and be contracted with, sue and be sued, adopt and alter at its pleasure a corporate seal, and purchase, own, hold, and dispose of all real and personal property necessary for carrying out its corporate purpose under KRS 74.420 to 74.520. (3) The commissioners originally appointed shall meet and select by lot their respective terms.

Recktenwald told the board that it wouls need to find a location for a water treatment plant along the Cumberland River and build it to suit its needs, in such a way that it can be expanded as new needs arise. He added that at present, only the City of Cumberland takes its water from the Cumberland River and that Benham and Lynch take theirs from coal mine sources. He said the legislation does not exclude anyone and that a process will be in place for new districts to join.

“I don’t see how you can go wrong with this,” said Recktenwald. “It puts you in control of your future.”

Recktenwald added that funding will be the biggest step, but need, particularly in Letcher County, will be a big factor. He said Letcher County still has the biggest unserved sector of potential customers that have been identified in the state. He added that the new district will have to “go big” in identifying funding opportunities, but the possibilities are there.

Judge Ward told the board that Recktenwald knows as much about obtaining water for communities as anybody in Kentucky and added that Letcher and Harlan counties’ participation in the Kentucky Highland Promise Zone would help create opportunities for funding. Funding totaling more than $453 million has been designated for projects since the federal Promise Zone designation began three years ago for the eight-county area of Bell, Harlan, Letcher, Perry, Leslie, Clay, Knox, and part of Whitley counties.

Recktenwald told the board he had spent the last 30 years working on water issues and said that in his opinion, a regional plan was the way to go.

“Forget county lines. I don’t see a problem and it may be the only way to get water for the Cumberland River side, and give it to the upper end of Harlan County.”

In other business, Alan Bowman of Bell Engineering reported that the environmental documentation for Phase II of the Red Star, Ulvah, Hallie and Turkey Creek Water Improvements Project has been sent to Abandoned Mine Lands for approval and Bell is waiting to receive authorization to bid. Key stakeholders for the federal prison project at Roxana attended a meeting with the Kentucky River Area Development District to discuss funding options for water treatment possibilities.

The district will re-visit sewer treatment options for the Millstone Sewer Project and present them to the Kentucky Division of Water. The DOW also sent its approval for a water interconnect at Boot Hill Road and Burton Drive, pending funding availability. An agreed order that was executed by the district was forwarded to DOW for review and approval. The order is part of the process to take care of toxicity from treatment chemicals that gather in standing lines and was the subject of an earlier violation. The schedule to remediate the problems will become effective when DOW approves it.

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