UPDATE: Bullitt Utilities forced into bankruptcy
It's the next chapter in the story surrounding a private utility company that basically went out of business after leaking waste into public water.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's the next chapter in the story surrounding a private utility company that basically went out of business after leaking waste into public water.
Bullitt Utilities is being forced into bankruptcy by Pecco Inc and Veolia Water Solutions Technologies. The environmental companies are owed more than a million dollars for their response to the Hunters Hollow sewage plant collapse of 2014.
"It's been a nightmare, an actual nightmare," said Hunters Hollow Mayor Linda Parker.
Pecco and Velolia want Bullitt Utilities customers to pay for the utility company's default with an extra surcharge on their bills.
"The understanding is not out there on what we did and the importance of it. It's very disheartening," Pecco owner Scottie Perdue said.
Bullitt Utilities abandoned its Hunters Hollow sewage treatment plant last summer, but it still had pending issues before Kentucky's Public Service Commission -- specifically a request to raise customers bills 120 percent. The surcharge was meant, in part, to pay the disaster response companies who came to clean up when the treatment plant collapsed.
The new operator -- Bullitt County Sanitation District -- said it didn't need to raise bills and the Public Service Commission closed the case.
"They (customers) didn't cause the problem," said Bullitt County Sanitation District Director Jerry Kennedy. "There's just no need right now to put a surcharge on these customers over here when you don't know how big or what and where we're going to have to build."
The sanitation district is planning to roll Bullitt Utilities customers into larger sewer upgrades in Bullitt County throughout the next two years.
Bullitt Utilities Debt
WDRB obtained stacks of unpaid Bullitt Utility invoices from bankruptcy court files. The estimates on the companies total debt varies in state records from about $1.5 million to $3 million.
"This event will cost us about a years worth of profit." Perdue said. "It's a big chunk for us to swallow."
Part of the struggle centers on who really controls Bullitt Utilities. The elderly and ill owner Carroll Cogan gave power of attorney to his son, Chris Cogan who lives in Florida.
When he abandoned the plant a judge appointed the Bullitt Sanitation District as the receiver to take over operations. But now that there's a bankruptcy, the federal court-appointed trustee says he's charged with sorting out Bullitt Utilities assets -- most importantly, that dismissed surcharge.
"What the PSC has done is reopened the proceedings in the surcharge to examine a very limited question," said Andrew Melnykovych, a Kentucky Public Service Commission spokesman. "And that is whether the bankruptcy trustee for Bullitt Utilities still has any rights that can be asserted before the PSC."
"I have people that if they put a 120 percent surcharge on this bill, that they're going to sit up and say, 'Do I buy my medicine, or do I pay my water bill?'" said Mayor. "That's a decision they should not have to make. They had nothing to do with that plant blowing up."
"If I was one of those customers, I wouldn't like it either," said Perdue, "but we kind of got stuck."
Both sides are victims of circumstance.
"We didn't want the water to go back into the creek. We felt an obligation to the environment to not pull out," Perdue said.
The state is now deciding who will ultimately pay.
"It just makes you so angry and so frustrated to think it's done, it's over...and then all of sudden, here you go again," Parker said.
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