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Ex-Jenkins mayor says old ‘Beth-Elk’ site still a hazard

Almost three years after former Jenkins Mayor Charles Dixon brought environmental hazards associated with the old Beth-Elkhorn division shops to the Jenkins City Council’s attention, Dixon reports that very little has been done to correct the situation.

Dixon visited the council at its June meeting and told them that his wife, Lana, died from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare disease associated with environmental hazards, not long after his first attempt to alert the council. He said another Jenkins resident, Emmit McCullum, also died of the rare disease that only affects 20,000 Americans and added that another case has been indentified in Isom. Dixon said the odds against two people in a small town dying from such a rare disease in a nation with a population of over 300 million people are extreme.

Mayor G.C. Kincer told Dixon he and City Manager Todd De Priest had spoken with Gary Royalty, a former Beth-Elkhorn engineer and businessman who now owns the property. Royalty has since left Jenkins and now lives in Paris, Kentucky. He said he had asked about the possibility of the city buying the property so it could clean it up and that Royalty had told him to make him an offer. Kincer said that was when things began to move more slowly as he had trouble locating someone to appraise the property. He said he finally turned to 94th District State Representative Leslie Combs for advice and she gave him the names of several appraisers who specialize in commercial property.

Dixon likened Royalty’s stewardship of his property to that of absentee owners identified by Harry Caudill in Night Comes to The Cumberlands, who allowed the coalfields of eastern Kentucky to be ravaged. He said that cursory efforts at tearing down some of the structure had been started and then abandoned. Dixon said he felt that Royalty’s attitude was “I’ve got mine” and that he cared very little about the mess he had left for the city.

“He owes the people the courtesy of cleaning this area up,” said Dixon.

Dixon told the council that since his first efforts to have the site cleaned up, he has spoken to several former Beth-Elkhorn employees who had worked at the shops and they told him numerous tales of illegal dumping of hazardous material including dioxin and PCBs as late as 1980. He said the chemicals were bound to leach into Elkhorn Creek and then into the Big Sandy River, which supplies water for thousands of people downstream.

Dixon was also critical of the Environmental Protection Agency and said its efforts to determine whether the pollution existed had been limited to core drilling near the Community Trust Bank and Giovanni’s Pizza in Jenkins, several hundred yards above the old shop site. He likened the EPA tests to the police looking for money hidden by a bank robber at a different location than where it was buried, and asked, “Don’t you think you would dig where the money was buried?”

In other business, Police Chief Roland Craft answered criticism of the police department’s recent enforcement efforts of the city sticker ordinance as well as the much commented on “burnout” incident by a city officer at a recent cruise-in event. Craft said that he had been aware of the burnout and said it was part of his efforts to establish a better relationship between the police department and the citizens.

“Community policing is important,” said Craft, referring to a more holistic effort at police work that involves citizen participation with officers. “We haven’t had that in a long time.”

Craft said he had taken some criticism over the burnout but said he had also heard a good deal of support from a number of people. He added that the enforcement of the city sticker ordinance had been part of his efforts at doing his job to the highest degree and said it had been conducted as part of an overall safety check looking for seat belts and insurance. He said the ordinance specifies that the city stickers must be current and displayed in the car window and calls for fines of up to $500 for non-compliance. He said he instructed officers to write the minimum fine of $20 for no sticker and $5 for no visible sticker.

Craft told the council he intends to make the Jenkins department the best in the county and said he believes efforts he has made in that direction have been successful. He said he has instructed his officers to show no favoritism and pointed to an incident when a member of his own family was arrested and threatened an officer with the loss of his job. He said that when the officer contacted him, he asked if the arrest had been conducted correctly and when he was told it had been, he said he commended the officer on doing his job correctly. Craft also announced the hiring of the city’s first female officer. He said he had hired Crystal Damron, who he said is academy-trained. Damron will begin her duties soon.

Mayor Kincer praised Craft, saying he was doing a great job. Kincer added that after the recent meeting when Councilman Chuck Anderson had complained about excessive enforcement of the ordinance, it later become obvious that the council did not understand the scope of the ordinance.

“ You won’t be reprimanded for doing your job,” said Kincer. “We forgot some of our own rules. You have made a difference and we appreciate it.”

City Manager DePriest told the council that delays in getting various permits approved by state agencies have caused an overall delay of about a month in having the new swimming pool ready for an opening. DePriest said that much of the actual pool work is now done and state inspectors will be here soon, and if they give their approval, the rest of the work will move pretty quickly. He said lifeguards have been trained and pool furniture and other equipment are on order and will be here soon. He questioned some of the many inspections and permits, saying he had never heard of an electrical permit for installing rebar (reinforcing rods in concrete).

Whitesburg Architect Bill Richardson told the council that work on the bathhouse is also not on schedule, but said it is going well and will be complete by the end of the month. When asked about a concession stand by Mayor Kincer, Richardson said that was not part of the plans he had presented to the council for this phase of the work, but said it would be easy to get a concession trailer for the rest of the summer. Kincer said that was not his choice, but it may be the only course of action. Richardson and the council also signed an agreement on revisions of his contract for designing the Lake Walk.

Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who represents Jenkins on the Letcher County Fiscal Court, visited the meeting and asked the council to look for ways to make sure no children will be turned away from the pool if they cannot afford to pay the entry fee. Fleming said that regardless of why a child’s parents may not have the money to pay a child’s way in, it is not the child’s fault. Mayor Kincer said he had already spoken with Fleming on the matter and that the council will meet to discuss its options. Fleming also asked the council to direct the police department to monitor the Dunham Park closely, pointing to several incidences of vandalism. He added that new restrooms have been installed and said they should probably be locked up after dark and re-opened in the morning to prevent the fixtures from being stolen or destroyed.

The city produced 12,836,000 gallons of treated water in May and sold 4,508,000 gallons. A loss of 5,048,000 gallons of water was accounted for leaving unaccounted for water losses of 26 percent out of an overall loss of 57 percent. In his report, City Manager DePriest said that there are no leaks in the new lines. DePriest also reported that 93 tons of garbage were hauled to the landfill and 667 “blue bags” of recyclables were picked up in May. The fire department made 13 calls including one vehicle fire, responded to four vehicle accidents and made three EMS runs.

Fire Chief Rick Corbett introduced fire department members Todd DePriest and Chris Taylor, who have completed 400 hours as firefighters. Corbett said the 400-hour level is the third state recognized level of achievement for firefighters and Mayor Craft read commendations and presented each man with a certificate of commemoration.

Paul Nesbitt, of Nesbitt Engineering, told the council that Phase III, the Lakeside Phase of the city’s Waterline Replacement Project, is almost complete, with some repaving and clean-up left. He said that there are some funds left over and they will be enough to pay the city’s portion of revamping filters on the city water plant, as well as some other needed repairs. Abandoned Mine Lands (AML)has committed to pay 40 percent of the filter replacement costs because Jenkins will supply water to the Payne Gap Water Project when it is complete.

The Payne Gap Water Project is totally financed by AML, except for $600,000 in start-up funds appropriated by the Letcher County Fiscal Court. Nesbitt said the city will have a Memorandum of Agreement to accept the funds for Phase III of the Payne Gap project within the next couple of weeks and the money will be available after July. The city has agreed to administer the Payne Gap project and turn the entire thing over to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District when it is complete. It will sell water to county customers through a master meter located near the junction of US 23 and 119. AML funds the project and the funds pass through the city.

In other city business:

• The council approved the second reading of the Fiscal Year 2013-2014 budget for $1,994,669.

• The council voted unanimously to accept MicroTec’s bid for the city’s 10-year cable television franchise. MicroTec is the current franchise holder and Kincer said it was the only bid and will provide about $45,000 to the city in donations and in-kind service from MicroTec, including “the new “Channel 99” city cable channel.

• The council discussed adding a 401K savings plan for city employees with a three percent match by the city. In order to qualify for the match, an employee will have to save three percent of his or her salary as well. Councilman Chuck Anderson said he doubts many will participle unless it is mandatory, but Finance Officer Robin Kincer said it is not a state retirement plan and cannot be made mandatory.

• Several council members expressed concern about excess speed around the lower end of town near the “God’s Love in a Diaper Bag” ministry. Police Chief Roland Craft said the department doesn’t have the staff to assign an officer to stay there, but he parked an unused police cruiser there with the blue lights on and it helped some.

• Magistrate Fleming also suggested closing the road that runs beside the Jenkins Middle High School to large trucks. Fleming said the hill is hard on trucks anyway and doesn’t save them any time, and the trucks entering US 23 there makes the intersection dangerous. He also said if a truck going toward Jenkins ever lost its brakes when school was letting out, it would be disastrous. Kincer said he will speak with the state highway department about the possibility and added that the new entrance to Jenkins, which will start construction soon, will have some effect on the situation too.

• Councilman Anderson told the council that the Jenkins Homecoming Festival is scheduled for August 22-24 and that Kentucky band Exile will be the headliner. Anderson said the festival committee wanted to add more local entertainment to the festival this year and local bands will featured as well. The schedule will be finalized by the end of June.

• Mayor Kincer thanked Big John Hall, formerly of the du wop band The Heartbreakers, for a donation of $1,000 to the festival committee and said Vernon Hall has also made a generous contribution as well. Natural gas company EQT also donated $2,500 to the festival.

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