After years of speculation, the City of Jenkins may soon learn the extent of toxic waste pollution from the old mine repair shops which remain in the city center.
At the March meeting of the Jenkins City Council, Mayor G. C. Kincer said he had spoken with 93rd District State Representative Keith Hall of Phelps in Pike County, who Kincer said is very concerned about the possibility of a toxic waste in Jenkins draining into Elkhorn Creek. Hall co-chairs the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee and was set to be the city’s new representative under the now-defunct redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.
Kincer said Hall’s concern is the result of a letter sent to Hall and other officials by former Jenkins Mayor Charles Dixon, who believes that toxic waste has destroyed the health of his wife, Lana. Kincer said he is very concerned too after learning the extent of the situation surrounding the site that houses the old Beth-Elkhorn Coal Company “division shops.” Kincer asked Jenkins Utilities Commission Chairman Ked Sanders to read Dixon’s letter into the public record.
The copy Sanders read from was addressed to the Division of Waster Management in Hazard and dated February 17. Dixon said he has lived at his current address on Main Street across from the old shop site which is now owned by Gary Royalty since 1970. He specifically referred to several old World War II Quonset Huts which were placed there in the 1950s for use as the division shops and have been used by Royalty for storage since he acquired the property when Beth-Elkhorn sold out in 1988.
“I am writing concerning what I believe to be an environmental hazard in my neighborhood,” wrote Dixon. He then identified the property and told its timeline up to the present and said that the soil behind the huts “is known to be saturated by various oils, greases, fuels, and solvents.” He also wrote that the shops were also used to repair transformers containing PCBs (dioxin) before it was determined that exposure to PCBs could cause cancer. The PCBs were dumped behind the shops with the other liquids. This was the general practice and was common in most mining and industrial facilities in the Appalachian region prior to reorganization of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972, which is commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act.
Dixon also wrote that he understands that at one time the area was used to store diesel fuel for trains that hauled coal from the Consol (Cavalier) Preparation Plant in Dunham on a daily basis. He said that recently, the shops have been used by a local trucking firm owned by Gary Barnett and that many kinds of machinery are strewn throughout the shops and that various oils, greases, and solvents continue to saturate the soil draining into Elkhorn Creek, which is a tributary of the Big Sandy River. The Big Sandy serves as the primary source of drinking water for a number of cities in its watershed including the Mountain Water District which serves Pikeville. With the exception of the Pike County mines (Mines 25, 26 and 29), and Mine 22 in Deane and Thornton, all of Consol and Beth-Elkhorn’s mines sat alongside Elkhorn Creek, which drains into the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy in Elkhorn City. Bethlehem Steel created the Elkhorn Division ( Beth- Elkhorn) in 1956 when it purchased Consolidation Coal Company’s holdings in Letcher and Pike Counties.
Dixon wrote that during his term, 2007-2010, the city had undertaken Phase I of its water project to replace all the old worn out water lines in Jenkins, but the work had to be delayed when pipeline was laid in the shops area while special gaskets were ordered and installed to ensure that the pollutants did not get into city water lines. Dixon said some of the workers on the line project told him the soil there was so toxic it hurt their eyes. He said he invited representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield Program to come to Jenkins to explain in detail to Gary Royalty what could be done to clean up the shop area, but added that to his knowledge, Royalty never responded to the agency’s offer to clean up the site and that he (Dixon) was accused of harassment by Royalty’s wife, Cheryl.
Dixon wrote that when Kincer took office in January 2011, Royalty came to Jenkins and said he planned to tear down the metal buildings and have the junk removed. He said that was over a year ago and no effort has been made to clean up the property. The Royalty property has been the subject of several nuisance complaints brought before the Jenkins City Council dating back to the administration of Robert “Pud” Shubert, but the city has been unable to get any action taken to clean up the property. Royalty has since left Jenkins and moved to central Kentucky.
Dixon said he wrote his letter because his wife has been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, which is a disease of the Parkinson family but she does not have the trembling associated with Parkinson patients. He said that Mrs. Dixon is a subject of study at the University of Louisville Medical Center by Dr. Irene Litvan, one of the few physicians in the United States who specializes in the disease, and added that it is Dr. Litvan’s theory that Mrs. Dixon’s condition is environmentally caused. He said that due to her condition, Mrs. Dixon is an invalid and requires 24-hour care and is unable to hold her grandchildren. At this point, only about 20,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy.
Mayor Kincer said he told Representative Hall he would like to have a vote from the council to initiate a formal process with the state in cooperation in getting the site evaluated with the eventual aim of getting it cleaned up under the federal Brownfields Recovery Act. The council voted unanimously to approve Councilman Chuck Anderson’s motion to allow Kincer to proceed with the necessary procedures to have the site studied.
Kincer also told the council he had spoken with Jenkins resident Mike Gibson who told him he had hauled some scrap metal from the Royalty site to a recycling center in Tennessee. He said Gibson told him he had stopped at a weigh station on the way and during a routine inspection, a Geiger counter had been passed over the scrap metal and had “pegged” or gone to the highest level on the meter. Kincer said Gibson told him the load was quarantined for three weeks until it could be decontaminated enough to proceed to the recycling center.
Council member Rebecca Terrill-Amburgey told the council her father, former Jenkins Mayor Bill Terrill, had worked at the Jenkins shops all his life and had died from cancer. Terrill-Amburgey, who is an administrator at Mountain Comprehensive Health Care, added that this area leads the nation in cancer deaths of all kinds.
“Our kids are growing up here,” said Terrill-Amburgey. “They are exposed to terrible things. We have a lot of strange illnesses in the area. He (Royalty) got that property from Beth-Elkhorn and they practically gave it to him. He made his money here. He should clean it up or have it cleaned.”
“The state is on a high level alert,” said Kincer. “It worries me that our city might be in jeopardy. The state is very concerned.”
In other business, Councilman Terry Braddock once again questioned a financial report concerning water and sewer revenue from 2006 to 2008. Lexington Auditor Rodney Welch has come to Jenkins several times in an attempt to help Braddock understand the accounting procedures used to come to the conclusions in the report, but Braddock continues to maintain that some impropriety has taken place.
Finance Officer Robin Kincer volunteered to explain the report to him, but Braddock declined her offer, saying he demanded Welch’s presence to explain it yet again. Kincer also told Braddock that she had started working for the city when Mayor Dixon was elected partway through the 2006-2007 fiscal year and the reports she had given to Braddock only went back that far as new accounting software was installed then as well.
“He made the audit,” said Braddock. “Now he is the guy who has to come stand by it. Otherwise there will be legal action taken. The numbers don’t add up.”
Braddock received little support from the mayor or from other council members in his quest to have Welch attend another meeting to explain figures he has already explained several times. Mayor Kincer told Braddock he has looked at the numbers and the math balances out and Councilman Rick Damron, who is an electrical engineer, told Braddock he had looked closely at Welch’s figures and is satisfied with them.
“They match but he may have just been here for a paycheck,” said Braddock. “The city council is the people and we want answers. All the money comes from the people and nowhere else.”
“ What people?” said Mayor Kincer? “Can you bring them here? We ask them to come here if they have questions.”
Kincer’s statement is a reference to instances dating back into Mayor Charles Dixon’s administration of Braddock telling the council that he represents a signifi- cant contingency in Jenkins who feel they are being overcharged for city services but who are too intimidated to come to council meetings.
“ They will come but a lot of people have been intimidated,” said Braddock. “They are afraid if they complain they will have a double or triple water bill the next month.”
Braddock said that after several efforts to have the matter introduced into the judicial system, Commonwealth Attorney Edison Banks has agreed to look into it. Braddock said “the people” will be going to see Banks and that “his job is of the people, by the people and for the people.”
“I think we need to hear from the people before we ask him (Welch) to come,” said Terrill-Amburgey.
Mural Still Missing
Council member Carol Ann Litts asked about the replacement of the Cavalier that was painted on the railroad trestle leading to the Little Shepherd Theater and was painted over by Terry Braddock at the request of Don Amburgey of the Little Shepherd Amphitheater (LSAT). Rick Damron, who is on the Little Shepherd Committee, said the committee doesn’t have the money to re-do the Cavalier at this time and said it is a matter between the school and the Little Shepherd Committee. However, the LSAT does receive coal severance funds through the Letcher County Fiscal Court and is dependent on the City of Jenkins for getting water lines run to the amphitheater. In a June 2011 email to The Mountain Eagle, Amburgey said the Cavalier would be repainted.
“The Cavalier will be repainted on the rock wall,” wrote Amburgey. “The wall is on highway rightaway. Terry Braddock did the painting — he said he had talked it over with Jarred Tackett and some school officials in the past. He said no one had objected. But, in any case it will go back on the wall — same size and color.”
Litts said the furor over the mural has not died down and that she still gets a number of phone calls asking about it. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming, who represents Jenkins on the Letcher County Fiscal Court, said he was amazed at the intensity of feeling when the Cavalier was painted over and said he still hears about it as well.
In other council business:
• Mayor Kincer presented Jenkins Middle High School eighth- grade basketball star Whitney Creech with a plaque commemorating her for scoring 1,000 points in her young basketball career.
• After hearing reports from Eileen Sanders and Donna Boggs representing the Centennial Committee, Mayor Kincer asked the council to authorize a $5,000 appropriation as seed money for the committee’s fundraising efforts for banners, city walking tour maps, and a number of other Centennial projects. The council unanimously approved his request.
• The council emerged from an executive session held to discuss property acquisition to authorize Mayor Kincer to negotiate a land purchase with TECO Coal for property to build a new city swimming pool this summer. Kincer said the council is enthused about the pool and likes the site.