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Fiscal court learns of progress, delays on county water projects

Call it the tale of two water systems — one that is growing much closer to completion and the other that is being delayed longer than expected.

At its October meeting this week, the Letcher Fiscal Court learned that construction contracts for the Payne Gap Water Project could be in place by early November, while the Thornton water line extension project will have to be rebid before construction can resume.

The fiscal court also heard this week from a citizen upset by the changing of community names for 9-1-1 mapping purposes and from a group of Millstone residents who remain concerned about a waste-reduction system being located there.

Engineer Paul Nesbitt told the court that obtaining two property easements is the only work that remains before the Payne Gap Project can be advertised for bids and said he expects the easements to be settled soon. The water line extension project, which will eventually reach the Bottom Fork area, will be administered by the City of Jenkins and when complete turned over to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District. Jenkins will supply water to county customers along the new lines, but billing will be handled by the county water and sewer district. Jenkins will sell water in bulk to the county through a master meter located at the main tank.

Nesbitt said that Phase I of the project will be paid for with a com bination of $600,000 in coal severance tax funds made available through the fiscal court and $800,000 from Kentucky Abandoned Mine Lands (AML), which will also fund the remainder of the project.

Phase I will take the construction slightly past Fishpond Lake and could go as far as Webb Branch, including the main tank which will be located near the Gateway Industrial Park at Jenkins. Phase II will be completely paid for by AML and will take lines through Bottom Fork and on to Mayking. Phase III, also paid for by AML, will extend lines alongside U.S. 119 to Kona where they will be connected with lines already in place that are owned by the county water district and will also hook into other lines owned by the City of Fleming-Neon.

Kentucky River Area Development District representative Benny Hamilton told the court that Phase II of the Thornton Walter Line Project will have to go through the construction bidding process again. The district had hoped to include the Phase II work as a change order to get work underway as soon as possible. The funding for Phase II is coming from coal severance funds the court had left over from other projects and was supposed to extend lines from Gazelle Drive on KY 1862 to Sergent Loop. Hamilton said the state canceled the change order because the scope of the original project would be substantially altered by the extension.

In a related matter, Hamilton told the court that water line extensions to Red Star are about 95 percent complete and await CSX Railroad’s final approval of two bores needed to run pipelines under rail lines. He said contractors hope to be finished in November and urged people of the Red Star area to call the water and sewer district at 633-8550 to sign up for water service.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said the district should hold a community meeting in Red Star and in every other area when lines are finished to inform the residents how to go about signing up and to offer them the opportunity to sign up at the meeting.

Hamilton told the court the county water district has a hook-up rate of about 40 percent, a level that isn’t high enough at this time to allow the district to reach the breakeven point. Magistrate Wayne Fleming said one big obstacle homeowners face is the hook-up fee and asked if anything could be done to make it less painful. Ward said the $350 one-time charge can be broken down into payments that customers can manage by adding the payments to their regular monthly water bill.

Fleming also said that several projects that are ready to begin, including Payne Gap, will add many more potential customers to the district’s pool than a number of earlier projects that have cost quite a bit but only serve a few homes.

“We’ve spent a lot of money to get water to a small number of homes,” said Fleming.

Ward added that the work now being done by the district is funded by grants rather than financed by loans and said the district hasn’t incurred any new debt for quite a while. However, older debts to the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency have to be serviced and the court voted unanimously to use $359,000 left over from funds allotted through state legislation to service the debt to both agencies through 2013 and 2014 respectively.

District Four Magistrate Keith Adams asked about the possibility of using the Blackey Water Plant to produce water for the county system, but Ward said the cost is more than triple that of purchasing water from Carr Creek Lake through the Knott County Interconnect. Hamilton agreed and said the Blackey Plant is no longer economically feasible to operate. District Two Magistrate Terry Adams said one of the problems with the Blackey plant is the high rate of sewage pollution from straight pipes in the area of the plant’s water intake.

The court also heard a complaint from Richard Smith, a retired schoolteacher who lives along Route 7 between Blackey and Jeremiah. Smith said he had come to the meeting representing several others who are also angry because of changes made to the names of local areas to comply with 9-1-1 addressing regulations.

Smith charged that changing the names, some of which date back to the founding of the county, hurts the county’s tourism credibility. He also said he disliked changing the name of the Daniel Boone Parkway to the Hal Rogers Parkway. Letcher County 9-1-1 Coordinator Jim Revis attended the meeting and told Smith that the 9-1-1 names have been in place since before he took the job and that community meetings were held where residents were asked for their input for new names. Revis said the regulations state that no two areas can contain the same name. Address changes have been in effect since before 2003 and work on the changes started around 1997.

Revis said the purpose of the name regulations is to prevent confusion with first responders and said that several areas had the same name in the address, such as Caudill Road, Caudill Hill, etc., and had to be changed.

Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers agreed and said the changes have not been popular but have affected the entire county. Magistrate Adams said it is difficult to get a place name changed after its 9-1-1 address has gone into effect. Adams said it had happened in the hollow where he lived and everyone living there had to agree. Judge Ward said any change would affect mail and other services related to address.

In other business, the court voted unanimously to approve of Parks and Recreation Director Derek Barto’s request to set the salary for a director for the new Letcher County Recreation Center at $30,000. Barto told the court he has conducted interviews and has a candidate in mind who is also an accomplished grant writer. The director will be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the recreation center and will handle scheduling and supervision of between 15 and 20 part-time employees, some of whom will come from local high schools.

Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court the appointment would require the creation of a new administrative position at the $30,000 salary level, which was approved in a separate motion.

Barto will oversee the operation of the center in addition to his other duties and said he would like to go ahead and drug test several potential part-time employees. He said he will have online access to the 32 security cameras at the center and will have a zero tolerance policy for the workers if they don’t perform their jobs or otherwise commit malfeasance at work. After Barto said he expects to have a fairly high rate of turnover among the part-time employees, the court voted unanimously to allow Ward to hire part-time employees for the center without having to have court members act first.

The court also voted 4-2 to approve three change orders for the center with Magistrates Fleming and Adams voting no. Two of the change orders involve work done by a contractor other than the one who received the bid for the work. The other was for bleachers for the gym.

The court also voted to enter into a “memorandum of agreement” with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife to allow for the development of the Pioneer Horse Trail atop Pine Mountain. The horse trail has been in the works since 2007 and has been held up over requirements by Fish and Wildlife, which oversees the Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area. County Attorney Hatton told the court the changes in the agreement are mostly for clarification and recommended the court approve it so the project can get underway.

Millstone resident Doug Napier asked the court again this week not to locate a proposed waste reduction plant in Millstone. Ward told Napier that nothing has changed and there would be no point in revisiting the issue. Magistrate Fleming added that the only “cooker” similar to one proposed for Letcher County is being used to reduce wood waste from sawmills around Barbourville in Knox County.

Napier told the court he had contacted officials in Corbin and London and was told they have no waste reduction operations underway there. Napier said that as far as he can determine there have been no municipalities using the technology since 2004.

In other business, the court:

• voted unanimously to approve the second reading of an ordinance that leaves magisterial districts the same as they were before the 2010 Census. Redistricting studies are required after each U.S. Census and commissioners appointed by the court recommended making no changes.

• voted unanimously to set the speed limits at Gap Branch in Millstone and Dallas Drive on Cumberland River at 10 miles per hour each. The court also voted to have Seals Drive surveyed for a speed limit recommendation by County Surveyor Richard Hall.

• was told by Letcher Fire Chief Gary Rogers that as of January 1, 2012, ambulances will be required to have new computers and asked that 9-1-1 maps be up to date so they can be loaded in.

• voted unanimously to authorize an agreement with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to allow the court to accept $160,000 from the state to replace a low water bridge at Long Branch. Ward said that in high water, brush piles up over the bridge and makes it impassable even after water levels recede.

• learned from Judge Ward that blacktopping the road around Fishpond Lake is now complete. Ward said the entire court had gone to Frankfort to request funds for the paving and said each magistrate had contributed a portion of his district’s allocation to get the work done.

• authorized a certificate of appreciation for Curt Blair for his help with work on Crase’s Branch Road. Ward said Blair had given a lot of time and effort for the roadwork at no charge to the county.

• voted unanimously to allocate up to $200 per month to pay gas charges for Buddy Grubb of the Letcher County Veterans’ Center. Magistrate Fleming made the motion and said Grubb does a good deal of traveling on behalf of the center and receives no compensation. Fleming also asked the court to repair the soldiers’ memorial statue that stands in front of the courthouse. Fleming said the statue has fallen into disrepair and badly needs work. The court voted unanimously to approve Fleming’s motion.

• voted unanimously to name the following roads and bridges in honor of Letcher County veterans:

The highway starting at the junction of KY 113 at the state bridge going toward the Forks of Millstone from mile point one to mile point three for Lieutenant Commander Alex C. Baker, U.S.N. retired

Highway 119 South from mile point 16.4 to 15.4 for First Sergeant Harold D. Trent, U.S. Army

The bridge at the mouth of Defeated Creek and the junction of 1103 for Staff Sergeant Atlas Frazier, U.S. Army, and Private First Class Odis Frazier, U.S. Army.

Bank Balances for county agencies as of October 12, 2011

• General Fund $305,108.58

• Road and Bridge Fund $985,794.21

• Jail Fund $228,351.23

• LGEA Fund $375,133.21

• Senior Citizens Fund $12,053.64

• Forestry Fund $8,970.95

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $546,528.56

• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $64,136.42

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