Whitesburg KY
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County attorney says water board was told a lie

Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling said Letcher County Water and Sewer District Board Chairman Phillip “Peewee” Back was “lying through his teeth” last week when he told fellow board members he “has never been able to communicate” with Bolling.

Bolling, who has provided free legal services to the water and sewer district since it was formed in 1998, was reacting this week to remarks made by Back during a July 23 meeting of the district’s board of directors. Back said during the meeting that he did not like working with Bolling and called on the board to hire another attorney to handle the legal work necessary for a proposed water hookup with the Wise County (Va.) Water District.

“Harold and I have never been able to communicate,” Back told the other board members while introducing a motion to hire Whitesburg attorney Jamie Hatton to perform the legal work necessary to bring Wise County water to the Upper Cumberland River area of Letcher County. “We have a difficult time with Harold.”

“He’s lying through his teeth,” Bolling said in reference to Back’s remarks. “He’s never made the first attempt to contact me.”

Bolling said his secretaries checked telephone and visitor logs this week and also could find no instance of Back attempting to contact Bolling by telephone or in person.

“Peewee has never called me or visited my office the first time about any water district business,” Bolling said. “And I’m in my office every day.”

Back made his remarks concerning Bolling after the water and sewer board was told that two sources of water may soon be available for Cumberland River residents who are now without any treated water at all.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told members that neighboring Harlan County has money available to follow through with an earlier plan to extend lines from the City of Cumberland’s water treatment plant to Letcher County.

Ward told the water board it would be in its best interest to make the connection with Harlan County as well as one with Wise County district to make certain there will be an adequate supply of water for the Cumberland River area.

Back introduced the motion to hire Hatton, which was approved unanimously, after being told by District Two Magistrate Archie Banks that Bolling told the Letcher Fiscal Court earlier last week that attorneys with the Wise County district were awaiting information to complete legal agreements required before the water connection could be made. Judge Ward also remarked to the board that Bolling was “covered up” with work on a number of other county projects.

Back has generated a number of controversies in the water and sewer district since assuming the chairmanship of the board of directors earlier this year. One of the district’s top employees, Jim Murtaugh, resigned his post recently after being demoted by the board of directors after Back said they had personality differences. A week after he quit, Murtaugh was honored by the Letcher County Chamber of Commerce for his work as a citizen volunteer.

Bolling has been involved in water and sewer issues since representing the Kenton County Water District in northern Kentucky more than 30 years ago. Bolling was instrumental in obtaining Kentucky Public Service Commission approval for the Letcher County district in 1998.

In other business, Magistrate Banks told the board that more than $1 million in funding which had been lost through the district’s inability to negotiate easements needed to build a sewage treatment plant in Blackey has been recouped through the Governor’s Office for Local Development and will be used for sewer projects elsewhere in the county.

Judge Ward asked the board to consider moving its headquarters to the old Letcher County Health Department offices. District secretary Jackie Joseph said her only concern was the ease of access customers now have to pay their bills, Ward said the new offices would have a payment window in the main lobby. He also said better parking would be available. Board members visited the site after the meeting and agreed to recommend the move.

The board also tabled discussion on terminating Bell Engineering’s participation in the Payne Gap Water Project, which was transferred to the City of Jenkins by order of the fiscal court at the court’s June meeting. Board member Billy Stamper said he objected to the change if it meant the county would lose potential customers, but Ward said the court had already voted to transfer the project and that Jenkins will sell water to the county through a “master meter” such as one now being used by the City of Whitesburg. Currently, the only county-generated water being used in the district comes from the Blackey Water Plant. Magistrate Banks said Jenkins has the capacity to serve the Payne Gap area, but the county does not until a connection with Knott County’s system at Carr Creek Lake is finished.

Stamper also expressed concern about the planning work Bell has already done on the project. Joseph told the board it would need to pass a motion to remove Bell Engineering from the project, but Back said the board needs to discuss the matter with its attorney and asked that the matter be tabled.

Bell Engineering representative Steve Caudill reported that the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands is examining a number of projects in Letcher County to see if they fall under AML guidelines for funding. These include water line extensions into Pine Creek and Cram Creek, Phase II and III of the Craft’s Colly project, and Beaver Gap. AML will also conduct a survey on the Payne Gap project.

Caudill said the Smoot Creek water project is complete, with some customers getting hooked up last week. Caudill said the Cane Branch project is finished except for repaving roads, and that plans for the Knott County interconnect at Carr Creek have been submitted to the Kentucky Division of Water for approval. Caudill said the DOW is currently reviewing the Knott County portion of the plan. He said both counties still must advertise for construction bids on the project, which will require at least one water tank.

Caudill also said the Premium/ Highway 160 water line layout is ready for DOW inspection, but cautioned that scheduled work is contingent on getting water from Carr Creek Lake.

Water Superintendent Tim Reed told the board there have been about 60 new customers added to the rolls recently and he expects more in the next weeks. Reed also asked the board if he could have district workers go ahead and repair damages made to Colson resident Louise Gregory’s property last winter when someone broke the lock on her meter and turned the water back on, causing extensive damage to her home. He said 39,000 gallons of water went through the meter.

Joseph told Reed the district’s insurance provider wouldn’t agree to water district employees doing the work and Magistrate Banks and Judge Ward both urged the board to go ahead and settle with Gregory for the $3,600 she has requested to repair the damages. Banks said he has seen the damage and it would be best for the district to settle. Board member Richard Carter made the motion to settle and the board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

In other business:

• The board voted to give district employees a two-percent raise, which is in line with county raises, and voted to give Tim Reed an additional $1 per hour raise for assuming the duties of superintendent.

• Jackie Joseph told the board they need to adopt a uniform personnel policy and said that former director Greg Pridemore had created one that could easily be adapted to meet the board’s current situation before he left.

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