Residents of the Payne Gap area will be gaining access to treated drinking water sooner rather than later.
The Letcher Fiscal Court learned this week that the City of Jenkins would sign a $3 million “memorandum of agreement” with the state Division of Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) that will allow for the expedited completion of the third phase of the “Payne Gap Water Project.” Jenkins has administered the project that will serve more than 500 potential customers and will turn the new water lines over to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District upon the project’s completion.
Project engineer Paul Nesbitt told the court Monday night that Phase III will “finish it out,” and that the contractor who receives the bid for Phase III will be instructed to make water available to all potential customers. In response to a question from District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming, Nesbitt said that some customers who live on the opposite side of the highway from the main line will be among the last to receive the opportunity to sign up for treated water because of the expense of boring under the highway. He said AML likes to be able to serve the greatest number of houses possible for the money it spends. Fleming said he understands, but the wait for treated water for many Letcher County residents has been long and hard.
“I told the people it’s coming,” said Fleming, who has long supported the project. “I know they’re tired of waiting.”
Nesbitt said that AML has agreed to fund an “interconnect line” between Jenkins and the City of Fleming-Neon that will join at Cromona. He said the project would allow Jenkins to supply Fleming-Neon with water in the event of an emergency. Nesbitt also said he believes the Letcher County Water and Sewer District will continue to receive significant amounts of funding from AML in the future because the need is great and so much of the county was impacted by strip mining before the passage of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act that established AML to fund clean-up and rehabilitation of areas impacted by the mining.
Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court he has spoken to Letcher County Water and Sewer District Superintendent Mark Lewis concerning a damaged City of Whitesburg water line that crosses the North Fork of the Kentucky River near the mouth of Craft’s Colly Creek. The line is exposed and in danger of breaking. Should that occur, water service would cut off for everyone who gets their water from Whitesburg between Ermine and Mayking, including Letcher County Central High School.
High waters from Craft’s Colly Creek flowing into the Kentucky River have eroded the bank and exposed the pipe. Whitesburg Water Maintenance Manager Chris Caudill has said it is only a matter of time until high water or heavy debris such as a log floating in the river strikes the line and ruptures it.
Ward said that while the cost of boring under the Kentucky River is currently prohibitive, Lewis believes he has a solution to protect the pipe in the interim and keep it from breaking. Nesbitt said the cost of boring under the river to lay a new line would be more than $25,000. He said it would cost even more to extend the bore all the way to Letcher County Central High School.
The court also heard from Fleming resident Bill Lewis, who commented on the lack of jobs in Letcher County. Lewis said that generations of absentee ownership and dependence on the coal industry as the county’s single economic engine have caused the problem and said the solution must come from the residents of the county. Lewis called for an expanded timber products industry here, and said the county should also explore the possibility of locating a power plant here that would be fueled by locally-mined coal.
In other business, the fiscal court honored Jacob Lucas, the former resident of Letcher County who registered as an organ donor before he died in a tragic accident, making it possible for others to live. Ward read a proclamation honoring Lucas, who was raised on Thornton, and gave several copies of the document to his family. Court members wore blue ribbons to the meeting in honor of Lucas.
The court also voted to approve an agreement with the Knott County Fiscal Court to allow Letcher County Road Department to maintain New Covenant Road, Deer Path, and Jent Mountain Cemetery Road. All three roads are located in the Carcassonne area between and move back and forth from one county to the other. Judge Ward said most of the people who live on the three roads actually have Letcher County addresses.
In other business, Ward asked Rick Hall of the Letcher County Government Channel to show the court a DVD presentation from a January 2011 meeting in which county administrative offices were established. The DVD shows that during that meeting, Ward had named an employee he recently fired as part of his staff. Ward said he hoped the presentation, which lasted a couple of minutes, would put to rest any question about whether he had the authority to discharge the employee. Fleming said he still feels Ward was not being honest about the matter and that Ward had not followed the county’s personnel policy when firing the woman.
Fleming then made a motion that Letcher County Attorney Jamie Hatton be directed to bring the relevant portion of the personnel policy concerning the matter to the next regular court meeting. District Two Magistrate Terry Adams seconded the motion, but it failed in a 3-3 tie vote. Ward, District Three Magistrate Codell Gibson, and District Four Magistrate Keith Adams all voted against the motion. Fleming, Adams, and District One Magistrate Bobby Howard all voted in favor of the motion.
In other business:
• The court voted to dedicate a bridge at mile point 16.74 over Rockhouse Creek in memory of Private First Class Dennis Profitt, U.S. Army/U.S. Air Force, and to dedicate Richard Adams Road in Bottom Fork in honor of Private First Class Wendell Mack Bates Sr., U.S. Army, 101st Airborne, a veteran of the Vietnam War.
• The court leased two new Mack trucks and returned the old ones. The trucks returned sold for $135,000 each after the county paid $124,00 each for them. Judge Ward said the new trucks are already in use.
• County Treasurer Phillip Hampton cautioned the court that money borrowed from the County Road and Bridge Fund and transferred to the General Fund will have to be paid back as soon as tax collections are in. Hampton added that the court should look to slash spending in large amounts rather than in small ones.
Bank balances for county agencies as of September 11:
• General Fund $31,058.91
• Road and Bridge Fund $1,073,475.92
• Jail Fund $70,374.11
• LGEA Fund $258,961.33
• Senior Citizens Fund $126,592.96
• Forestry Fund $12,079.40
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $608,987.99
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account $64,034.39