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Gas firm says it will help pay cost of watching tank

Officials with natural gas producer EQT say the company is willing to help pay for regular inspections of a water supply tank located near its drilling operations in the City of Jenkins, but won’t pay the cost of relocating the tank.

EQT official Kevin West told the Jenkins City Council at its April meeting this week that seismograph testing conducted at the tank site shows that ground vibrations caused by the drilling of a gas well nearby are 200 times less than what is allowable under state law.

“We want to make sure we operate so as not to put anyone at risk,” said West, who is EQT’s managing director of external affairs. “We became aware of local concerns about the tank and we want to demonstrate that our actions are safe.”

Pittsburgh-based EQT, formerly known as Equitable Resources, is the largest producer of natural gas in the Appalachian region. West and EQT Government Affairs Director Maurice Royster attended Monday night’s council meeting to address the concerns of city officials and Woodland Trails residents who fear that drilling beside the hilltop tank might cause it to rupture and endanger the lives of those who live below.

On March 9, Jenkins businessman Jim Stallard and other Woodland Trails residents met with city and EQT officials to voice their opposition to the drilling operation. Stallard recounted the horrors he and his wife and children were forced to experience when their home was ripped from its foundation after a previous water tank ruptured in July 1979. The rupture, caused by a weakened foundation, released 300,000 gallons into Woodland Trails and caused the death of physician T.D. Perry, who was swept from the porch of his home.

Jenkins Mayor Charles Dixon said during last month’s meeting that city officials wouldn’t have approved of the drilling operation if they had known the well was going to be located next to the water tank, which was built as a replacement for the one that ruptured. night that seismographs show that ground vibrations caused by drilling and fracturing rock strata to allow the gas to escape (fracking) at the tank site did not exceed .001 deep particle velocities. Thunder creates .006 deep particle velocities, West said.

Engineer Paul Nesbitt, whose company works for both the city and EQT, told the council that the seismographer who conducted the study, Doug Smith of Lexington, is “the” expert on seismology in Kentucky and that he trusts his work.

Dixon told West that EQT paying for the tank inspections could constitute a “minimum on my part.” Dixon told West he still remembers the day the old tank collapsed and said the people who live there now are justifiably concerned about their safety.

“I understand their position,” said Dixon.

In other business, Utilities Board Chairman Ked Sanders told the council that water losses in March were at their highest level ever and that infiltration and inflow had so inundated the wastewater plant in Burdine that the plant had operated in violation of Environment Protection Agency and Division of Water rules the entire month. Nesbitt, the city’s engineer, told the council that plans for alleviating both situations are under development and said he hopes federal stimulus money can be used to take care of both situations in the near future.

Water Department Superintendent James “Bo” Hopkins told the council that water sales were also down considerably from previous months. Hopkins said that several major leaks had caused the department to produce four million gallons more than usual and that meters in the sewer plant were so inundated by excess flow their figures were not accurate. He said a leak at Smokey Row had caused a major loss.

In response to a question from Council Member Carol Anne Litts, Hopkins said the leak in Smokey Row is over 24 feet deep. Hopkins said it is not safe to put workers in a hole that deep because of the danger of collapse. He said another leak at Number One Bottom was 18 feet deep.

Water losses for March stood at 11,884,000 gallons, or 74 percent potentially lost. Unaccounted for water losses reached 7,893,334 gallons, or 49 percent, which computes at 177 gallons per minute.

In the Mayor’s Report, Dixon expressed disappointment over the lack of cooperation from some residents of Canes Branch and McPeeks Branch in obtaining easements for city water lines. Dixon said there are a few people who have no concern for their neighbors’ need for clean drinking water. He added that the city has the right of eminent domain but would rather have the disputes resolved before going to court.

Dixon cautioned that Ordinance Number 161 regulates drilling, digging, and construction on public property within the city limits and said that anyone who plans these activities must post a bond at City Hall. Dixon said city workers will show anyone the location of utility lines in the ground but that a fine of $1,000 could be levied for violations of the ordinance.

Dixon also praised Sarah Tackett-Brown of the Blighted and Deteriorated Property Committee for her work with the PRIDE city clean-up. Brown said the clean-up is scheduled for April 18 and that PRIDE has furnished t-shirts, awards, garbage bags, and gloves for volunteers. Brown told the council that Tackett & Bolling Law Firm of Whitesburg and Best Western Motel of Wise, Va., donated $200 each to the committee which can be used to pay youth groups to clean up the city.

Brown also asked the council to place two more houses on the blighted and deteriorated list. She said 15 dilapidated houses have already been cleaned up.

Council Member Terry Braddock told Brown he believes that blighted and dilapidated houses are really a “natural disaster” and not the result of man-induced actions. Braddock said he believes the city should approach the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with that in mind and ask for funding to clean up blighted property. Paul Nesbitt said that a more likely approach would be to try for EPA “brownfield grants” to clean-up asbestos and other contaminants from the houses.

In other council business:

• Jimmy Polly of the Planning Committee said the committee will sponsor four movies in the park in conjunction with the Letcher County Parks and Recreation Department. Polly said one film per month will be shown and that TECO has volunteered to pay the cost of sponsoring one movie along with popcorn. Paul Nesbitt told Polly that Nesbitt Engineering will sponsor another film and Polly said a coalition of citizens had agreed to sponsor another.

• Police Chief Jim Stephens reported that arrests were up in March. He said the police department responded to 121 complaints and made 25 arrests including 10 warrants, one DUI, five drug-related arrests and six for domestic violence. Stephens reported on aggressive enforcement of city sticker and occupational licenses ordinances. He said that officers with the Jenkins Police Department attended a training session with the U.S. Secret Service on detecting forged bills along with local business people, local school staff, and members of the Letcher County Court Clerk’s staff.

• Council Member Chuck Anderson, who also serves as webmaster for the city web site, reported that a new Jenkins web site is up and operating at www.cityofjenkinsky.com.

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