Bad weather and theft contributed to the Letcher County Water and Sewer District’s problems in January, when 97 checks written for bill payments were stolen from the district’s office and freezing conditions halted work on the Knott County Interconnect. Board Chairman Phillip “Pee Wee” Back told the Board of Directors at its February meeting that 97 checks totaling more than $5,100 were taken from the board office. He said Board Secretary Tiffany Collins had written a letter to customers explaining the loss, and about $1,755 has been received from people who canceled their old checks and wrote new ones to the district. Back said the investigation is ongoing.
Like everything else in the area, work on water projects in Letcher County was negatively affected by cold weather and heavy snows. The board learned that everything from the vital Knott County Interconnect to looking for water leaks had to give way to Mother Nature.
Several board members expressed concern about an unaccounted for water loss of 22 percent for January. Board member Bill Stamper said he was particularly concerned because the district purchases most of its water so every leak reflects a loss of water which has been purchased rather than treated. Board Attorney Jamie Hatton said the figures in Superintendent Tim Reed’s report might not reflect the actual cost to the district. Reed’s report estimated losses for January at $6,313, with 2,176,821 gallons lost at $2.90 per 1,000 gallons.
Reed told the board he isn’t certain where the leak is, but he didn’t want to put his workers in danger by having them walk along the highway following water lines while wearing headphones in an attempt to locate leaks. Reed said it was just too dangerous and would have to wait until conditions improve. He said there have also been a number of water meters and pressure reducing valves that have frozen and burst as well. Reed said as soon as conditions permit, his work crews will start looking for leaks and added that he may ask Kentucky Rural Water for assistance. Board Secretary Tiffany Collins said she has received quite a few calls reporting burst water lines.
Steve Caudill of Bell Engineering told the board that frozen ground and bad road conditions had caused work on the Knott County Interconnect to grind to a halt although equipment and pipeline are in place, and as soon as the weather improves the contractors should be able to resume work. Caudill also told the board that the Kentucky Department of Water has completed its survey of the Thornton Water Project and as soon as letters of agreement from the cities of Fleming Neon and Whitesburg for hooking-on to the county system are received, the project should be approved. He estimated approval will come within three weeks.
Matt Curtis of Nesbitt Engineering reported good news on the Payne Gap Water Project, saying it looks like the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Abandoned Mine Lands Division will fund the entire project. Curtis said he has spoken to an AML engineer who has been conducting testing and was told that although the ground water improved briefly as testers started up the hill, it got dramatically worse as they got higher. Curtis said the AML study should be complete by the end of February and the hydraulic studies are prepared. He estimated the $5 million project will be ready to go to the Kentucky DOW for approval in March, although he added that he doubts AML will release the entire $5 million at once but will fund the work in several phases. The board vote unanimously to give Nesbitt a letter agreeing to accept the Payne Gap system into the county’s water system when work is complete. Curtis said the Payne Gap lines will terminate where the Bell Engineering work at Millstone ends and the two pipelines will be connected.
The on-again off-again relationship between the district and the City of Cumberland to supply water to the Kentucky River Water Project in Letcher County is on hold again, pending an engineering study concerning the City of Cumberland’s capacity to supply the Letcher County residents. First District Magistrate Bobby Lewis said he had spoken with Harlan County officials who told him Cumberland had requested another study to assure its ability to provide the needed water while supplying the needs of its existing customers. Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he would get in touch with Harlan Country Judge/ Executive Joe Grieshop immediately, but the issue is in the hands of the City of Cumberland. The board will also look into reopening discussions with the Pound, Va. Water District about supplying Cumberland River.
Benny Hamilton of the Kentucky River Area Development District told the board several grant agreements are about to expire and if the board can arrange to draw the remaining funds down, it can use them on existing work. He said there is $3,200 left in the Pine Creek Cram Creek grant and $270,185 left in the Thornton engineering grant. Steve Caudill said it would be no problem to apply the money to existing work. An additional $56,150 is also left in the original Cumberland River grant. Hamilton said the Highway 160/Red Star project also needed a resolution on a draw down. The board voted to recover the funds.
Board Attorney Jamie Hatton told the board he has received a complete packet of information on the proposed rate increase the City of Whitesburg has sent to the Public Service Commission. Hatton said he has the report in his office for board members to examine.
Superintendent Reed reported concerns about the production capacity of the Blackey Water Plant. Reed said his crews are working to install a “static mixer” on the plant and he hopes it will improve production. He said the Blackey Plant is designed to produce 100,000 gallons per eight-hour shift of treated water, but it is actually only producing 65,762 gallons per shift. Reed added that he plans to install several master meters to help determine where water losses are taking place.
In a summary of work underway or pending from Bell Engineering, the Knott County Interconnect has begun construction and the Garner Mountain Project is ready to go to construction at the district’s directive. The Elk Creek, Bull Creek, Pine Creek, Pert Creek, and Cram Creek AML study is complete and AML advised that it will fund the work. Construction will be dependent on AML’s funding arrangements and probably will be done in phases.
The Premium/Highway 160 Water Project has been approved and plan revisions requested by DOW are nearly complete. The district plans to advertise for bids the week of March 1. The Thornton Project will go to bid upon final receipt of DOW approval, as will the Loggy Hollow Project and Red Star/Ulvah/Hallie projects. All AML projects await AML’s decision on the timing (phasing) of the funding. The Millstone Project is still under design as is the Deane/Beaver Gap project.