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Water, sewer projects focus of tour

More than 10 years of progress seen between Blackey and Millstone


New commissioners for the Letcher County Water & Sewer District were given a site tour of past and current projects the district has carried out.

Evan Smith, coordinator for the “Letcher County: Head of Three Rivers Project,” organized the August 16 tour which visited sites ranging from Blackey to Millstone.

The two new commissioners are Phillip “Peewee” Back from Colson and Lonnie “L.R.” Buchanan from Partridge. They replace Donald Profitt from Camp Branch and Jack Martin from Partridge, who recently resigned. The other three current commissioners are Seth Long from Craft’s Colly, Jim Flynn from Blackey, and Pat Gish from Thornton. Mrs. Gish was not able to attend, but the other four commissioners attended along with Donald Profitt, immediate past chairman of the district; Pat Wooton from Hal Rogers’s office, and three guests from Virginia that would like to emulate some of Letcher County’s successes.

The Letcher County Water & Sewer District was formed in 1997 to serve areas of the county outside of the city limits of Whitesburg, Jenkins, Fleming-Neon, and Blackey with water and sewer service. Now that Donald Profitt and Jack Martin have resigned, none of the founding commissioners are still active. The tour was given to help with this transitional process and ensure that all the commissioners understand the exact location of past and current projects.

The first stop on the tour was the site for the upcoming Blackey Wastewater Plant that is going to be built below Blackey. Funding has been secured for this project with major grant funding from the Army Corps of Engineers Section 531 monies administered by PRIDE. The second stop was the Blackey Water Plant. The district has taken ownership and management responsibilities for this plant, which now supplies water not only to Blackey, but to Isom and Jeremiah as well.

After Blackey, Evan Smith pointed out Blair Branch as a stream that has documented bacteria levels that are out the roof year after year because of dense housing and inadequate sewer systems. Perhaps in the future sewer lines could be extended from the Blackey Wastewater Plant to treat the sewage from Blair Branch. However at this point there is no formal plan.

From Blair Branch the tour drove to Little Colley/Sandlick Gap to see the site of the Blackey/Whitesburg water connector that will bridge these two systems and allow water to be pumped in either direction, adding security and flexibility to the county’s and the City of Whitesburg’s systems. This project will also bring water service to approximately 20 homes.

The third stop was at Stinking Branch, a fittingly named creek on Camp Branch where pollution from raw sewage is a major problem. The district has money from the Environmental Protection Agency’s 319 grant program to help landowners install alternative sewer systems that will prevent sewage from entering the creek and creating a public health hazard.

The final stop of the site tour was the Millstone wastewater system the district constructed approximately six years ago. This is an innovative system that collects the sewage from 29 homes from the old coal camp in Millstone bottom and treats it using peat moss. Before this system was constructed, all of the sewage from these homes was discharged directly into the North Fork of the Kentucky River, the water source for 650,000 Kentuckians.

After this tour everyone went to the Southeast Community College auditorium where Judge/ Executive Jim Ward and Greg Pridemore from Kentucky River Area Development District joined the group for presentations about the history and current state of the district.

Presentations were given by engineers from Howard K. Bell (the firm that has most of the district’s projects) and Vaughn & Melton (the firm that is conducting the Partridge water project), Jim Murtaugh (manager of the district who oversees many of the day to day tasks), and Evan Smith. In addition, there was a screening of a short film that Appalshop produced for the North Fork Clean Water Project about the sewage problems at Millstone.

Donald Profitt talked about how this video with its footage of the old straight pipe at Millstone helped convince the Public Service Commission that there was a need for a countywide water and sewer district to be formed.

“Much knowledge was shared and all participants got a good lesson in progress that has been made as well as needs that still remain,” said Smith. “These projects are slow and expensive but are essential for the health and development of the county. Ten years ago, none of these projects were underway and the district had just been formed. Now a new group of commissioners is in place to bring water and sewer service to the county. Ten years from now hopefully we can look back and see the same kind of progress.”


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