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Water from Pound, Va., may be used to supply Letcher project

Water from Pound, Va., may be used to supply Letcher project 

The Letcher County Water and Sewer District has authorized an engineering firm to examine the possibility of using water from neighboring Virginia to supply residents of the Cumberland River while abandoning an earlier plan to buy the water from Harlan County.

Mitchell Brumsa, a representative of Vaughn and Melton Consulting Engineers, told the water and sewer district’s board of directors that the Cumberland River Water Project has been delayed because of the City of Cumberland’s inability to supply water to Letcher County customers on the Cumberland River side of Pine Mountain.

Brumsa told the board that because Cumberland’s water treatment plant lacks the capacity necessary to fill its own needs there is little chance that city will be able to supply customers living in Letcher County. Brumsa said a pipeline leading from Cumberland to a location near the Harlan-Letcher county line is much smaller and offers much less water pressure than planners working for Letcher County originally believed. He said the water pressure is so low in the area around the old Maloney’s Discount store between the county line and Cumberland that it would be impossible to even fight a fire in that area if one began.

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward confirmed the bad news being delivered by Brumsa, telling the board he had been told directly by Harlan Judge/Executive Joseph Grieshop that Harlan County would not spend its coal severance funds on a water project that would essentially only benefit Letcher County. Several alternatives are now being considered by the Letcher water and sewer district, including building a pumping station just inside Harlan County, or getting water from the old Scotia mine. The third option of buying water from Virginia was also presented.

Brumsa told the board that building a pump station in Harlan County was not the best option for Letcher County. Dan Hall, also of Vaughn and Melton, said the Scotia deep mine option would probably require the construction of a treatment plant.

Ward said he had spoken with representatives of the Pound, Va., Water District and was told that agency’s original plan for servicing the Flat Gap area had been to sell water to customers on the Kentucky side as well. Ward said he was told the Pound district has more than adequate capacity in place with an eight-inch line already in the ground to the state line.

The board voted to have Vaughn and Melton examine the possibility of extending water lines from US 119 at Oven Fork to the Virginia line at Flat Gap. The estimated cost of extending the pipes to the Virginia-Kentucky line would be approximately $5.5 million. However, the county would be able to add at least 100 households along the route as paying customers as well as providing a stable source for the other customers on the Cumberland River.

Last week’s meeting was only the second held by the directors of the Letcher County Water and Sewer District Board since the Kentucky Public Service Commission approved the appointment of new members. Philip "Pee Wee" Back was chosen chairman of the board at a special meeting held earlier in February and Fred Webb was chosen as secretary.

In response to a question from Back, District Operations Manager Jim Murtaugh told the board the $650 tap fee for those who do not get connected during the construction process is the result of a $350 fee for the required meter and barrel plus the cost of having the connection made by Breeding’s Plumbing and Electric.

"We need to do it ourselves," replied Back. "Tim Breeding will never do anything for free."

Back’s questioning of Murtaugh began after Murtaugh presented the board with updated regulations from the Public Service Commission. Back told Murtaugh he should be spending more of his work time in the field and less in the office gathering regulations.

In defense of Murtaugh, Office Manager Jackie Joseph told Back that sometimes she had to be out of the office on business matters such as going to the post office and that it was necessary to have someone in the office at all times. Asked by Back why the mail couldn’t be delivered to the office, Joseph told him it would take many hours of extra work to make such an address change that would affect every customer in the district who pays a water bill.

Back continued to press the matter of the address change and asked for a vote on the matter. After initially casting the lone yes vote, Back persisted on the question until board members Fred Webb and Jim Flynn also voted yes. Billy Stamper and Richard Carter voted against changing the address.

Back also criticized Murtaugh by commenting that he saw a district owned vehicle Murtaugh uses parked near the water and sewer district’s office for several days recently. Though Murtaugh and Joseph didn’t respond to the criticism, The Mountain Eagle has since learned that Murtaugh was keeping the office open for a couple of days so that Joseph could comfort her mother after the recent death of Joseph’s stepfather, James Breeding, a highly decorated World War II veteran and former prisoner of war. Breeding died on February 12 after a long illness.

In other business at last week’s meeting, Murtaugh presented the board with a previously-approved order authorizing a change in the district’s wireless communications provider. Murtaugh told the board that good wireless service is necessary to turn pumps and other plant equipment on and off at the Blackey Plant and in pumping stations in Millstone and other locations. He said that Tri-State Communications had the original contract, but that it had been switched to Mega Communications, owned by former District Four Magistrate Randall Caudill. Murtaugh told the board that since the switch took place wireless communications had been poor and the board had voted to switch back to Tri-State before former district board chairman Seth Long left office.

Caudill attended the Feb. 26 meeting and told the board his towers are in good shape and that there are no problems with them. However, Back said if the decision had already been made there was no point in reversing it, so the decision held.

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