Whitesburg KY

Payne Gap, Kona may not hook into Neon sewer line

Plans to hook residents of Payne Gap and Kona into the Fleming- Neon sewer system, which have long been seen as a viable option by county officials, may not be acceptable to the Fleming-Neon Water and Sewer Department, or to the city council. At the June meeting of the Fleming-Neon City Council, Water and Sewer Superintendent Carlos Phillips told the council he had not discussed the matter with anyone from the Letcher County Water and Sewer District or with representatives of the Letcher County Fiscal Court and had only heard of the plan in newspaper articles or through broadcasts of meetings of the fiscal court or Jenkins City Council.

The plan calls for the City of Jenkins to provide water to Payne Gap and Kona from a tank set at Gateway Industrial Park through lines belonging to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District. The city will sell the water to the county water district. The Jenkins City Council has taken part in the planning and discussion and voted last week to seek funding to upgrade city water lines and eliminate the leaks which have plagued the city for years. Jenkins City Engineer Paul Nesbitt said that by replacing city lines the city will add enough capacity by eliminating water loss to provide water to the Payne Gap/Kona project. The other part of the plan calls for Fleming-Neon to provide sewer service. However, Phillips told the council that when new projects at Haymond, Hemphill, and Jackhorn are added to the system, it will double the current number of sewer customers and may make it impossible to add the residents of Payne Gap and Kona.

“We need to see how much we are already about to do with Haymond, Hemphill, and Jackhorn,” said Phillips. “We’re obligated to our own water district first.”

Phillips’s statement came in response to a question from council member David Vanover, who asked if rumors were true that the Payne Gap and Kona residents were to be added to the Fleming-Neon customer base. Phillips told the council that the sand filter type of sewer system the city operates is particularly susceptible to changes and any environmental change would make it necessary to make alterations to the system. He said the sand filter system is unusual for the area, and climate as well as water flow can cause problems.

“That sand filter plant is the only one in our area,” said Phillips. “They run well in the Gulf Coast region but it should have never been built in Kentucky.”

Phillips said the plant needs a continuous water flow and operates at its ideal capacity with a flow of .9 feet per second. He said he didn’t want to comment on why the plant was built for the Fleming-Neon system because he didn’t want to read his comments in the newspaper. However, he said that any variable can lead to a need to change plant settings. Mayor Susie Polis said she has not been contacted about the possibility of adding the Payne Gap and Kona customers either.

Phillips’s comments came during the Utilities Report, which raised another concern from council members. Cheryl Furby said that although the May Utilities Report had been tabled with no discussion, a front page story had appeared in the Letcher County News Press indicating the city had experienced a 43 percent water loss for April. Furby said that not only was the statement untrue, but the Utilities Report had been tabled for May and had not been discussed at the meeting at all. News Press reporter Mike Vanover, who attended both meetings, told the council that he did not write that the city had a 43 percent water loss. However, Vanover said it is not uncommon for News Press editor Tina Whitaker to add things to the articles he writes. His brother, council member David Vanover, who also writes a column for the News Press, said Whitaker adds things to his column as well. Furby told the council she has documentation to prove the article, which appeared on the front page of the Letcher County News Press, is untrue.

Phillips told the council that water losses had returned to normal for May, about 34 percent from a surprising low in March of 21 percent. He said he had been unable to determine why the water losses had dropped or why they returned to normal. Phillips told the council that representatives of Kentucky Rural Water were coming to Fleming- Neon soon to work with his department to try to locate leaks and repair them. He also said the water levels in both the city’s wells are holding well and gaining slightly, with the main well gaining about an inch and a half.

Phillips said there have been a few necessary repairs at the sewer plant and that a clarifier has been “giving us fits,” but the problem has been identified and fixed and the sand filters have been cleaned out as well. He said the plant is still putting out clean water into the Kentucky River and tests taken by the Kentucky Department of Water had come back good.

In other business, the council voted to donate two old handheld police radios to the Neon Days Committee providing they can be re-programmed so they are no longer on the police band. Council member Karen Hall said sometimes it is difficult for committee members to communicate using their current walkie-talkies and, particularly during the parade, it is important to maintain communications.

The council voted unanimously to pay half the cost of a Fourth of July fireworks display. Council member James D. Collins told the council that because of natural disasters in China, he hadn’t been able to get the fireworks from the usual provider, but had purchased them from other sources. Collins said the council and the Neon Days Committee will also provide inflatable slides and games, and food will be available.

The council discussed placing several houses in Fleming on the blighted and deteriorated list. Mayor Polis said two houses in Fleming which stand side by side are falling down and are dangerous as well as being an eyesore. She said placing them on the list will give a heads-up to property owners that the situation must be corrected or the city will be forced to take action.

The council discussed possible uses for a youth worker from the Letcher County Schools Resource Center. Police Chief Henry Day, who will supervise the youth, said there are a number of places in the city where grass, brush, and limbs need to be cut. The council also discussed a vacancy in the Sanitation Department and decided to start the position at half-time.

Karen Hall told the council she has received a number of complaints from Fleming residents about mud and dust from coal trucks hauling from mines working in the Fleming and McRoberts area. Hall and Mayor Polis said they knew several residents had taken their complaints to the fiscal court but this was the first time anyone had brought them to the council. Polis said she would contact Judge/Executive Jim Ward to see if the court had been able to resolve the situation. Hall said she would contact TECO, which owns the coal and leases it to sub-contractors. Hall said while she is happy more people are working, it is also the council’s job to stand up for the community.

In other council business:

• David Vanover told the council he wanted to discuss a possible pay raise for council members. He said members of the Fleming-Neon City Council were the lowest paid in the county. James D. Collins said the matter can only be introduced at a certain time of the year, and he would make sure when that is and Vanover could bring it up then. Council member Hall added that most members of the Jenkins and Whitesburg councils donate their salaries back the city.

• Vanover also mentioned a beaver dam in Fleming which could cause the road to flood if the heavy rains which have been predicted for later in the week arrive. Mayor Polis said she would ask the Water Department to use its backhoe to remove the dam.

• The council voted to table a bid on a surplus police car with lights until the next meeting.

• The council voted unanimously to accept the second readings of the city budget and water department budget for 2008- 2009. The city budget has projected revenues of $325,379.75 against expenses of $506,164.77. The city had a balance carried forward from last year of $181,086.95, giving it total projected revenue of $506,466.70 and a surplus of $301.93. The Water System Budget had a balance carried over of $31,000, projected expenses of $331,000, projected revenue of $321,050, and a surplus of $40,950. The Sewer System had a balance carried over of $23,000, revenue of $169,900, expenses of $165,972, for a surplus of $26,928.

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