Whitesburg KY
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Teacher, students urge court to stop use of river water

A group of high school chemistry students and their teacher are recommending that the North Fork of the Kentucky River, whose headwaters lie in Letcher County, be abandoned as a source of public drinking water.

Letcher County Central High School chemistry teacher Regina Donour and several students under her tutelage attended the Letcher Fiscal Court’s March meeting Monday to talk about the results of river water tests they say indicate serious problems with the current water supply for Whitesburg and water customers served by the city through the Letcher County Water and Sewer District.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that the North Fork of the Kentucky River is not a good water source,” said Donour. “Fecal coliform, abandoned mine drainage, heavy metals. We’re destroying our environment, and even worse we’re destroying our water.”

Donour pointed to the high incidence of cancer in the county and said that as a cancer survivor she is very concerned about the quality of the water. Letcher Central student Meg Adams, whose younger sister is a leukemia survivor, told the court that she doesn’t think most people are aware how badly polluted the river is. Adams said if the situation existed in a different area of Kentucky she believes action would have already been taken to improve the water quality.

“If it was in Lexington or Louisville, the situation would have been a bigger deal,” said Adams.

Donour expressed her frustration with the tactics of the Kentucky Division of Water during a non-consumption water advisory that lasted for about a week last month, saying it was very difficult to get information or cooperation from the agency.

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward told Donour he understood her frustration and said DOW officials also kept the county government in the dark for much of the til elected representatives in Frankfort started calling DOW supervisors, no information on the situation at all was made available to the county.

District Two Magistrate Archie Banks said much of the county’s fresh water is badly contaminated from the dumping of toxic materials during the last 100 years. Banks cautioned that residents who use water from “springs” from abandoned coal mines are exposing themselves to oil and other fluids used during the mining and dumped onto the ground as well. Judge Ward added that coal itself can be as toxic as oil since they are similar fuels in different forms.

The court also heard from Mayking resident Richard Craft who appeared to complain about an excessive amount garbage along U.S. 119 and much of the rest of the Mayking area. Craft said that several homes in Cram Creek are responsible for much of the garbage and said that one particular home on Crossover Road is the source of an amazing amount of trash.

Letcher County Attorney Harold Bolling told Craft he prosecutes every case brought to him and works with Litter Warden Darrell Banks weekly to prosecute violators of state litter and sanitation laws. Banks told Craft he regularly spends entire days cleaning out creeks and whenever he finds any evidence to indicate who dumped the trash, he furnishes the name to Bolling for prosecution. He said his efforts sometimes fall short, however, because of repeated dumping or lack of evidence.

“It will take citizens to tell us who is dumping,” said Banks. “Nobody wants to prosecute it more than we do. I don’t know how we will ever get these people to stop throwing their trash in the creeks.”

Two resign

In other business, two members of the Letcher County Tourism Committee submitted letters of resignation to the court.

Ked Sanders of Jenkins and Doris Adams of Jeremiah both resigned from the commission citing the group’s inability to convene a legal quorum for meetings and what they said were difficulties working with Commission Chair David Narramore. Adams said she felt she had no other option but to resign because of a lack of support, while Sanders accused Narramore of intentionally moving meetings and canceling them without notifying him or Adams.

“At last week’s regular meeting, Doris and I were the only ones who went,” said Sanders. “The meeting was canceled and moved to Seco tonight deliberately to conflict with the Fiscal Court meeting.”

Sanders said that fellow commission members Jack Looney and Lee Michael Caudill had both been called and informed about the change, but that neither he nor Adams were called. He also said that Narramore had changed a committee approved logo and slogan to suit his own wishes without proper input from the committee.

Ward said he had reluctantly accepted the resignations and that he hated to lose both Sanders and Adams. He acknowledged their hard work and asked them to consider continuing to work on behalf of other county efforts.

School funding sought The court voted unanimously to request $2 million in multicounty coal severance tax funds to build a vocational school on the campus of Letcher County Central High School. School Board Attorney Darrell Hall told the court he was filling in for Superintendent Anna Craft in making the request. Hall asked the court to request Pike County, Knott County, and Harlan County to join in the request. He said the high-tech school could serve students in each county.

Mayor appears

Whitesburg Mayor James Wiley Craft appeared before the court to ask its cooperation in applying for a Rural Development grant to buy a tanker truck for the Whitesburg Fire Department. Craft told the court that recent annexations and a request for further annexations in the Dry Fork area had prompted the city to establish a satellite fire station. Craft said that because of the prevailing per capita income in Whitesburg, the city will only be eligible for 15 percent of the cost of the tanker but if the court applies, with the lower income in the county, the county will be able to get a grant for 75 percent of the cost.

Craft said Whitesburg would pay the other 25 percent and asked the court to transfer the truck to the city after the grant period is up. He added that it would not affect any future or existing grants with RD for the county. Craft told the court the new fire station and added tanker truck for areas with low water pressure will improve the city’s fire protection rating and lower insurance rates.

Craft mentioned sewer line extensions made by the City of Whitesburg in recent weeks to allow for the county to hook on to the city’s sewer lines to provide sewer connections for residents living outside the new city limits if the county runs lines. Craft said several residents around the area where Dry Fork Market is located have also asked for annexation.

Craft said the city has applied for federal stimulus money to install sewer lines in the Craft’s Colly area. Removing the effluent from straight pipes in the Craft’s Colly area would save the city money in water treatment costs, Craft said.

Other business

In other business:

• District Highway Engineer Kevin Damron presented the road list for the Rural Secondary Highway Program to the court and asked that each magistrate examine it and make any additions he thinks necessary. Damron also said that the pre-construction conference for the initial phase of U.S. 119 running from the Harlan County line went well and that construction will begin this spring.

• Magistrate Banks announced that work on leveling the site for the new animal shelter in Cowan is going well and the next step of designing the center will begin soon.

• The court voted to approve the $1,046,463 estimated budget from Letcher County Jailer Don McCall for 2009. McCall told the court it should consider the amount as an estimate and that his budget estimate from 2008 exceeded actual expenditures in every line item. Judge Ward praised McCall for his cost saving measures and said that McCall had been exceptionally good at lowering costs though looking for the best value whenever making purchases.

• The court voted to approve the annual financial statement of excess fees from Sheriff Danny Webb. Deputy Lashawna Frazier presented the budget which provides excess fees of $1,803.92, pending audit.

• The court voted unanimously to accept the $100,000 Parks and Recreation budget.

• The court conducted the second reading of an ordinance to approve financing the new county recreation center through the Kentucky Association of Counties. The vote was five to one with Magistrate Fleming casting the lone no vote. Fleming later said he wants the young people of Letcher County to have what other counties have, but that he has concerns about how the county will be able to pay for the center in light of recent attempts by the state to alter the existing arrangement for returning coal severance tax refunds to coal producing counties.

• The court voted unanimously to approve a budget amendment to accept more than $800,000 in severance tax funds. Judge Ward said a substantial amount of the severance tax is from natural gas drilling operations in the county.

• The court voted to accept an initial offer made by Equitable Resources representative Maurice Royster to pay between $26,000 and $30,000 for right of way for approximately 2,000 feet of gas line and a gas well on county property. Royster said he would have the area surveyed to determine the actual amount of pipeline needed.

• The court voted to allot up to $20,000 to obtain the services of trail development specialists for the Pioneer Horse Trail to make certain they are in compliance with all state and federal environmental laws.

County bank balances as of March 16, 2009 were:

• General Fund — $625,749

• Road and Bridge Fund — $1,458,779

• Jail Fund — $290,036

• LGEA Fund — $1,205,651

• Senior Citizens Fund — $74,568

• Forestry Fund — $7,354

• Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation reserve Account — $455,108

• Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service Account — $64,172

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