Whitesburg KY

Attorney: County is prosecuting water thieves

Stealing treated water from Letcher County Water and Sewer District lines creates safety issues and will be being prosecuted as a crime, officials say.

At the July meeting of the Water and Sewer District’s board of directors, Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton said he has initiated the criminal prosecutions of individuals who bypass water meters with “straight pipes,” and that doing so for any reason is a crime and will be treated as such. When asked if he thought this was the correct approach by Board Chairman Bernard Watts, Hatton was emphatic.

“Yes,” said Hatton. “It’s a serious crime. People can steal thousands of gallons of water.”

Hatton said several of the water thieves had their service terminated for seriously delinquent accounts. He urged district customers who are behind in their payment to come in and establish a payment plan to get caught up. He said some others had bypassed the meters to fill up swimming pools and laughed about one person who he said told him with a straight face he hadn’t known bypassing the meter in order to fill his pool was against the law.

“To bypass a meter for any reason is a crime,” said Hatton. “It’s theft of service. It’s stealing water.”

District Superintendent Mark Lewis told the board it is a safety issue as well. Lewis said that bypassing the meter with a straight pipe also bypasses a double check valve that keeps water from a household from running back into the water lines. He said the water thieves had been cut off and had cut the locks on the meters in order to set the straight pipes up.

“It can be safety issue too,” said Lewis. “It can contaminate the entire system.”

In other business, the board learned that operations to extend water lines in Thornton and Deane are now complete and will be ready to go into operation sometime this week. Steve Caudill of Bell Engineering told the board that Phase III of the Thornton Project, which finalizes line extensions in Thornton, and Phase I of the Deane Project are both complete except for paving, cleanup, and placing lines in service, which he said will take place “sometime next week” at last Thursday’s meeting.

Caudill also asked the board to approve a change order to take advantage of $200,000 in Abandoned Mine Lands funding that was left over from Phase I at Deane. The change order will simply allow the contractor to continue extending lines from Coon Hollow to the mouth of Willis Branch, work that is scheduled for Phase II. Board member Billy Stamper asked if the money could be used for something else since the work is already written into Phase II. Caudill said possibly, but it would have to be used in AMLapproved work and at this time, Phase II is the only feasible project that has been approved for AML funding and will serve the most people for the amount of money. He said it wouldn’t make sense to put lines in another part of Deane if there is nothing to connect them to and the board voted unanimously to approve his request.

The contract time on the Pine Creek/Pert Creek/ Cram Creek Water Improvement Project started on July 16 and the final completion date for installation of a water tank for the project that is currently under construction by Laurel Construction has been set for January 11, 2013. The completion date for the first phase of water line construction by Ronnie

Mullins and Sons is set for February 11, 2013. Caudill said Bell Engineering is waiting to see Mullins and Sons’ project schedule and added that AML is working on authorization to proceed with bidding Phase II of the project. He said he expects the micro piles to support the water tank to be in place in October.

A Corrective Action Plan for the Millstone Sewer plant was forwarded to the Kentucky Division of Water’s Enforcement Branch on June 27. The plan is designed to eliminate the effluent discharge by intercepting the flow and routing it through a septic tank and leach field. The district continues to seek funding for the rest of the Bull Creek/Elk Creek Water Project and Bell Engineering and is working on ways to serve the maximum number of homes with $500,000 in Kentucky Infrastructure Authority funding it has on hand while waiting to see if an additional $720,000 funding from AML will become available during the 2012/2013 funding cycle.

The district and Bell met with the Kentucky Department of Highways on June 18 and information concerning two segments of highway along Route 7 has been sent to Cumberland Pipeline, the project contractor. Caudill said Bell Engineering has sent Cumberland Pipeline a letter notifying it that the board has withheld the contractor’s bond along with $134,527.16 in retainage and will apply the money to highway repairs if Cumberland doesn’t satisfy requirements to complete the highway repairs. Caudill expressed frustration with ongoing delays from Cumberland in completing the project.

“They did fix some leaking meters,” said Caudill, “but it took several weeks of constant badgering to get that done.”

Caudill said Cumberland Pipeline has a sevenday period from notification to comply and itshould be able to coordinate the work with the highway department. County Attorney Hatton asked if Cumberland Pipeline actually intends to finish the project and Caudill said it has said it does.

Residents of Loggy Hollow, accompanied by District One Magistrate Bobby Howard, asked if there is any hope for extending lines into the community that lies just outside Whitesburg city limits, but Caudill said at this time there are no funds available. He said Bell has sought funding for quite a while and added an application for AML funding will be made again. Loggy Hollow could add as many as 47 customers and one resident said the water there is terrible and ruins appliances.

Hatton also told the board he has worked out an agreement with the City of Vicco that will allow Vicco to supply water to a small number of Letcher County customers near the county line at Vicco until the district extends lines through Carcassonne. He said as soon as funding is available, line extensions will connect the customers with district lines but the present solution is a winwin situation.

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