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County judge questions Veolia’s response to crisis



The combination of a broken water line and a faulty valve on a water tank were largely responsible for a good portion of the water shortage that befell Letcher County Water customers last week. The Whitesburg City Council learned at its December meeting that a broken water line at Tunnel Hill and a valve that was stuck in the overflow position at the water tank located near Letcher County Central High School prevented the tank that serves Letcher County Water and Sewer District customers outside the City of Whitesburg from filling.

Todd Adams, local manager of Veolia Water Company, told the council that the two events combined to keep water from flowing into the tank, but said both are now fixed and water is once again flowing to county customers. The problems in Whitesburg did not affect customers of the Fleming-Neon Water System, which had a water shortage caused by a sudden drop in its main well.

Adams said Veolia workers had looked for the source of the water loss for quite a while before it was located in the Tunnel Hill main line. Once the Tunnel Hill tank filled, the overflow valve on the school tank stuck and that kept the tank that serves county customers from filling and caused the shortage. Adams said all the problems have been addressed and the city water plant has been running 11 hours a day to produce water for county customers.

Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward attended the meeting and asked a number of questions about Veolia’s response to the situation. Ward was particularly concerned that the county system was down for so long, notification was delayed, and nothing was done to provide any water to county customers. However, Adams answered that the Kentucky Division of Water expressly told Veolia not to do anything that would put the Whitesburg plant in jeopardy of not being able to supply enough water to fire hydrants in the event of a fire. He added that part of the delay in getting water started back into county lines involved backwashing the filtration system, which has to be done regularly.

Adams said the biggest problem that contributed to the delay was the amount of time it took to find the Tunnel Hill line break. He said he had walked the line himself and couldn’t locate the break until Kentucky Rural Water brought in equipment to locate it. Adams said the plant has now returned to its normal cycle of running 10 to 11 hours per day to produce water for county customers in addition producing water for city customers in Whitesburg.

In other business, Judge Ward administered the oath of office to Mayor James Wiley Craft and council members James Bates, Robin Bowen Watko, John Williams, Freda McFall, and Sheila Shortt. Larry Everidge, who was also reelected, did not attend the meeting. State Representative Leslie Combs, who represents Whitesburg as part of the 94th District, also attended the meeting.

Kevin Howard of Summitt Engineering reported that bids are in to install water lines to feed the county recreation center as well as extending lines to a pump station that will provide increased water pressure to Solomon Road water customers. H20 Construction, which has worked with the city on several other projects, submitted the low bid at $107,720. Howard said Summitt has checked the bid and recommended that the council accept it. The bid was approved unanimously.

Howard also recommended allowing Allied Chemical to proceed with the installation of a larger tank to provide a permanent solution for odor control from sewer lines on Maple Street. Mayor Craft asked for assurances that this would be a permanent solution to the problem and Howard and Todd Adams both said that the chemical solution would control the odor, but Howard said he wasn’t entirely sure whether higher doses would be needed in warmer months, which he said would make it more expensive to operate. He recommended going ahead because once a contract is signed the city will have access to Allied’s technical service. Adams said Veolia would take care of filling the tank until January if the council wanted to table it until residents of Maple Street could be interviewed to make certain no further odor problems existed. The motion was tabled.

Howard also reported that plans for renovations to the Walmart and Childers Oil sewage pumping stations are complete and asked that Mayor Craft be authorized to negotiate a final contract with H20 for the change order to allow for the repairs. Funds are already in place to pay for the renovations. The council voted unanimously to allow Craft to negotiate the contract.

In the Mayor’s Report, Craft asked the council to authorize the emergency purchase of a transmission for a city vehicle and the replacement of the city salt truck. He said that during the worst of the heavy snows, the city’s salt truck had literally fallen apart with the spreader falling off the bed and another had a transmission failure so he had been forced to make emergency purchases. The council voted to authorize both purchases.

Craft also reported that the Whitesburg Police Commission hasvoted to buy six Tasers for city officers.


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