The first project undertaken by the Letcher County Water and Sewer District will soon be closed.
The Millstone Sewer Treatment Plant, a highly innovative system at the time it was installed in the late 1990s, is set to close because of excessive repair and rehabilitation costs — and the near total lack of payment by the 30 customers who are served by the system.
As reported in the December 23 edition of The Mountain Eagle, the sewer plant has a problem with “outflow,” or raw sewage leaking into the creek in Millstone. As a result, the Water and Sewer District faced the possibility of heavy fines being levied by the Kentucky Division of Water until the plant could be brought into compliance.
The plant was designed to direct its discharge into a leach field of peat that would clean the effluent before it reaches the stream that feeds the North Fork of the Kentucky River. However, the peat needs to be replaced and there are other maintenance issues affecting the plant, which when working properly treats the effluent with ultra-violet light before it is released into the peat.
At the January meeting of the Letcher County Water and Sewer Board, Kimberly Padgett, state director of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a non-profit organization that works on water issues with rural communities, told the board there are a number of options available for the plant, including turning it over to the Fleming-Neon Water Department, shutting it down, or turning it over to its Millstone customers, who would then have to establish a homeowners association to be in charge of operations. However, Padgett said the cost of bringing the plant back into compliance with state water regulations would be cost-prohibitive for either the City of Fleming-Neon or a homeowners association.
After considering the options presented by Padgett, the board of directors voted unanimously to notify the Division of Water that it would begin the process of closing the plant. The board also voted to notify the Millstone customers of its decision and give them the option of establishing a homeowners association to take the plant over.
The board will send two different letters to the Millstone residents now served by the plant. One will be sent to the four customers who have continued to pay the $20 a month fee and will inform them that the county can provide them with a compliant septic tank for their sewage disposal needs. The second letter will go to the other 23 residents who have neglected to pay their monthly fees and will inform them of the possibility of establishing a homeowners association.
Padgett said the Division of Water has been very generous to the local water and sewer district by waiving the potential $5,000 fine and subsequent $500 per day charges for the violations that now occur. She said the state’s main desire is to bring the Letcher district out of its “non-compliant” status. Padgett said an enforcement officer told her the state agency doesn’t want to financially harm the local district, but added “I can’t keep doing this” in reference to overlooking violations.
“If you’re going to close the plant, close it in a hurry,” said Padgett. “The board needs to decide. … (You) must act tonight.”
Board member Billy Stamper said voting to close the plant was a particularly painful decision because it had been the District’s first project and the one that had really gotten it started. However, he agreed there was little other choice but to close it. Stamper suggested the board send the separate letters to the customers who have continued to pay their bills to inform them the county does have the means to provide them with ongoing service.
Padgett said that if a homeowners association does decide to take the plant over, it would probably cost each member of the association around $150 per month in addition to the $300,000 it would cost to replace the peat bed the sewage is drained into.
Water and Sewer District Superintendent Mark Lewis said the district will have to pay the cost of physically disconnecting sewer lines leading to the plant and the cost of hiring a septic service to clean the plant’s holding area. The district will also pay the cost of installing the septic tanks for the four paying customers.
Lewis and Padgett both said the district is prohibited by law from using fees paid by water customers in the county to subsidize the sewer operations in Millstone. The letters will give the Millstone customers a 60-day window to decide what they want to do.
In other business, Lewis said the Kentucky River Area Development District has helped obtain funding for broadband services that will enable the water and sewer district update its office computer system. Lewis added that employees would begin installing “drop meters” one at a time to better monitor leaks in the hope of eliminating leaks almost completely. Lewis said that while other water districts had hundreds of customers without water during the recent subzero weather, only about 20 homes were without water in Letcher County. Service to those homes was restored within 18 hours, Lewis added.