Whitesburg KY

Citizens urged to attend Thursday meeting about best way of getting water to Cumberland River area

After getting through the extreme cold weather in January with very little damage to water lines, the Letcher County Water and Sewer District wasn’t so fortunate in the recent floods.

At the district’s February meeting, District Manager Mark Lewis told the Board of Directors that flooding caused by the recent heavy rains caused a number of problems and district work crews spent much time repairing line breaks caused by the rushing water undercutting the lines.

Lewis said one of the worst breaks was caused by a backhoe that dug into a culvert that had filled with debris and hit a main line, causing a serious leak in the Bottom Fork Area, and caused a large amount of water loss before it could be repaired. He said the Bottom Fork leak cost the district approximately $3 for every two minutes it was active and it took quite a while to repair. Another leak in the Isom area caused a 500-gallon per minute loss and was active for several hours as well. Lewis told the board the amount of money spent on water purchases in February will no doubt be higher than usual due to the leaks.

Lewis said he hopes the district will be able to recoup at least part of its losses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government disaster funds. However, he said it will take a while, and the amounts that can be recovered are uncertain. Judge/Executive Jim Ward declared a state of emergency last week due to flooding in Letcher County.

Lewis also said he, Board Chairman Bernard Watts, and board member Richard Carter took floor plans and estimates for turning the old Sapphire Coal Office Building on Route 7 into a district office to Community Trust Bank to secure a construction loan. He said they expect to hear from the bank soon and that it may be necessary to call a special meeting to get consensus from the board members on terms, so their attorney can then present it to the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

Kim Padgett of the Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAP), told the board that an important community meeting will be held by the Letcher/Harlan Regional Water District at the Cumberland River Fire Department on Thursday (February 22) at 6 p.m.

The purpose of the meeting is to get community input on the plan to build a water plant in the Cumberland River area to treat water from the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River to provide water service to Letcher County residents in the Cumberland River area and the citizens of Benham and Lynch in Harlan County. Benham and Lynch have joined with Letcher County in the commission.

At the October board meeting, the new option was introduced for supplying water to the Cumberland River area that offered the possibility of crosscounty cooperation with the Harlan County communities by Roger Recktenwald, Director of Research and Planning for the Kentucky Association of Counties. Recktenwald told the board that according to Chapter 74 of the Kentucky Community Water Statute, any two public utilities can come together and form a crosscity or cross-county entity to create a water district. He said the new district must contain at least two public utilities.

At that meeting, Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he had 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, had already conducted first readings of an ordinance to allow for the creation of a special water district in cooperation with Letcher County. At that time, the City of Cumberland was expected to join, but later declined. 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 part as follows:

74.430 Authority for joint operation of water sources. 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.

Since that meeting, Judge Ward and the city councils of Benham and Lynch moved quickly to form the regional commission and the Thursday night meeting is a positive step to get the project underway.

In other business at the meeting, Alan Bowman of Bell Engineering presented the Engineering Report and told the board that the district has been awarded funding by Abandoned Mine Lands to expand the county water system in the Roxana area to support the federal prison which will be located there.

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