Whitesburg KY

County water board surrenders pipeline project to Jenkins

Gambling that it will eventually be given back more than 400 muchneeded customers it will be giving up at least temporarily, the financially troubled Letcher County Water and Sewer District has voted to let the City of Jenkins to take over a project to build water lines to serve residents of Payne Gap, Kona, and U.S. Highway 119.

The decision by the water and sewer district’s board of directors should ensure that work on new lines begins by July 2010, said Matt Curtis of Nesbitt Engineering, the firm that is inheriting the project on behalf of Jenkins.

The project exchange was made possible after Nesbitt Engineering, which works for Jenkins, and Bell Engineering, which works for the water and sewer district, reached and agreement whereby Nesbitt would be given Bell’s partially completed plans for the project in exchange for Bell receiving $119,000 from the Letcher Fiscal Court for work it has already done on the project.

The agreement came after several months of discussions which began after the fiscal court voted to turn financing for the project over to Jenkins at the request of District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming. Fleming said allowing Jenkins to supply water to the Payne Gap area would decrease the time required to get treated water to Payne Gap, Webb’s Branch, Bottom Fork, Highway 119 (often referred to as Kentucky River), and Kona.

Fleming told the water and sewer district board at a special meeting in August that he had been working toward getting treated water for Payne Gap for 11 of the 12 years he has served as the Fifth District representative on the fiscal court. He said that as soon as he was elected to his first term, he began receiving requests for help with the water situation from Payne Gap residents.

Jenkins city officials have said they have no intention of keeping potential new customers who live outside the city, but are interested in selling treated water to the county.

The vote to turn the project over to Jenkins came after a long discussion on the merits of the exchange as well as which course of action would get water to Payne Gap sooner. Water and sewer district board member Billy Stamper posed the most challenging questions before the vote was taken and was the lone no vote on the question to allow board chairman Phillip “Peewee” Back to request that a memorandum of agreement between the district and the Kentucky Abandoned Mine Lands administration be amended to allow the $52,000 planning fund be turned over to Jenkins. However, Stamper was out-voted three to one. Board member Fred Webb did not attend the meeting. Members Richard Carter, Jim Flynn, and Back voted yes.

The vote came after Jimmy Vance of Bill Moore Branch told the board that wells in that area are nearly dry. Vance said a second source of “reservoir water” has been impacted by gas pipeline operations being conducted nearby. Vance told the board he is in charge of drilling operations for Perry County Coal Corp. and has been overseeing operations in Leslie County recently. He noted that even though Leslie County is more rural and poorer than Letcher County, it still provides treated water to most of its citizens. Neither members of the water and sewer district board nor members of the fiscal court attending the meeting pointed out to Vance that the district, started at the behest of former Letcher County Judge/Executive Carroll Smith, has been in operation for only 10 years.

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the board that when the Division of Abandoned Mine Lands makes a determination on which sections of the project are eligible for funding, county coal severance tax funds can be used for any section which is determined ineligible, if such a determination is made. The Payne Gap area was heavily impacted by prelaw mining, but Ward said if the connecting section from Gateway Industrial Park is determined to be outside AML’s funding scope, the court has over $1 million available in severance taxes to put into the project so they may be able to begin even before July.

In other business, the water and sewer district board heard a low key but emotional statement from Michael Joseph, husband of Jackie Joseph, who served as secretary to the district for three years until she resigned recently. Joseph said his wife had been treated with disrespect and rudeness and asked that the board extend an apology to her.

Joseph told the board his wife’s problem began when District Superintendent Tim Reed removed part of his personnel records from his file and took them out of the office. Joseph said his wife spoke to one of Judge Ward’s deputies about the matter and that Ward had told Reed he had to replace the personnel file in its entirety in his folder.

Joseph said that after the incident, Reed came into the water and sewer district office and became angry and verbally abusive to Mrs. Joseph and accused her of trying to get him fired. Joseph said he had spoken with Reed but was not satisfied with his response. He also said Reed had told his wife he would never step a foot into the district office again while she was still working there.

“He told her she was trying to get him ‘f-ing’ fired because he had bought the ‘f-ing’ truck,” said Joseph. “My wife is a religious woman. I don’t like anybody talking to my wife like that. I’ve been so upset I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Would any of you like for somebody to say that to your wife?”

The truck Joseph referred to was a Chevrolet four-wheel drive the board had approved purchasing at its August meeting. The cost of the truck was $22,700, which is $2,700 over the state-mandated amount of $20,000, after which all purchases must be submitted for bid. After Mr. Joseph left the meeting, board chairman Back acknowledged the state bidding process was not followed in buying the vehicle.

Joseph told the board that he works for a major coal company and said if he had spoken to one of his workers’ wives in the manner his wife was spoken to he would have been fired immediately. He said the vile language had offended his wife a great deal. He said Reed also accused Mrs. Joseph of being angry because Bell Engineering had been taken off the Payne Gap water line extension project. (However, the official vote to take Bell off the project had not been taken at the time of the incident.)

“It’s not right to talk to a woman like that,” said Joseph. “I’ve been real upset. It’s eaten at me. It will be a long time before I get over it.”

The board tabled any discussion of the Jackie Joseph incident in order to allow Board Attorney Jamie Hatton to research the matter in accordance with Kentucky laws governing open meetings and open records. The decision came after board members asked about discussing the matter in a closed session.

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