Whitesburg KY
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Letcher board to fix manhole

The Letcher County Board of Education approved design plans to replace electrical outlets located in a manhole where an explosion occurred in 2010.

Letcher school district maintenance employees Tim Miller, of Whitesburg, and David Young, of Kentucky River, had gone to the campus of Letcher County Central High School on March 30, 2010 to pick up a piece of equipment when they heard a sump pump running from one of the manholes, according to Miller’s deposition.

The area where the two manholes are located contained propane tanks, a boiler, a cooling tower and other components of the system used to heat and cool the building. Water gathers in the two manholes as a byproduct of the HVAC system’s steam boiler. When working properly, the sump pumps would kick on and off when water reached a certain level.

The sump pump hadn’t been working properly and Miller climbed down into a manhole and unplugged a pump and plugged it back into the electrical outlet. Propane had leaked into the manhole from a fractured line. When Miller plugged the sump pump back into the outlet, a spark was created, igniting the propane that was trapped in the manhole.

Miller and Lewis, who both suffered burns from the explosion, filed a civil action suit against Heritage Operating, Energy Transfer Partners, L.L.C., Energy Transfer Partners, GP, L.P., Elliott Contracting, Inc., Codell Construction Company, Codell Construction Company of Kentucky, Sherman-Carter-Barnhart, P.S.C., CMTA, Inc. and POAGE Engineers and Associates.

After the explosion, the district cut off the electricity to the manholes and has relied on a secondary method to remove water from the manholes.

The civil case has been settled and the board has approved plans designed by Whitesburg Architect Bill Richardson to move the electrical outlets out of the two manholes. A new system located aboveground will be built to include a switch to turn the sump pump on and off.

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