Kentucky lawmakers seeking solutions to problem-plagued sewer plants polluting public water
They polluted public water, abandoned a failing sewage plant and stuck taxpayers with the bill -- and it's all legal. Now there's a movement to get the state law changed.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- They pollute public water, abandon failing sewage plants and stick taxpayers with the bill -- and it's all legal.
Kentucky established statutes for a utility company to abandon sewage plants decades ago as the state's population moved into suburbs and towns where infrastructure and services had not been established. But old laws and outdated facilities have created a perfect storm for residents.
When Airview Estates resident Lesa Ammons learned Airview Utilities wanted to abandon the plant spewing black sewage water into a creek near her Hardin County home, frustration grew to anger.
"When it's hot out, you get a terrible odor out here," Ammons said. "I mean, it's like something dead. It's nasty."
She said she can't understand why the company's actions don't break the law.
"I mean, if it was you or I, they wouldn't let us just walk away," she said.
The smaller sewer treatment plant serving Ammons home is more than 40 years old, and like many throughout Kentucky, it was never intended to last this long. In state filings, representatives for Airview Utilities said the company can no longer afford the cost of maintenance and repair. The Kentucky Public Service Commission has scheduled a hearing on whether to allow the company to abandon its properties for Wednesday, Oct. 12.
"It's a private company, and just like any company that decides to go bankrupt or stop operating, they can walk away from it," said Representative Steve Riggs.
Kentucky established the abandonment process to provide an orderly way to keep homeowners in service, while finding a new utility provider. But often the cost for a fix goes to taxpayers.
The PSC has examined cases for 11 abandoned sewer plants in Kentucky since 2011, and the "walk away" trend is growing. Five of the eleven plants are tied to 2016 cases.
Riggs said he doesn't believe state statues provide too easy of an exit. "I think what the statutes do is allow the PSC to be less responsive than it needs to be," Riggs said.
Riggs sits on a joint committee investigating possible solutions. Last year the state passed a law requiring insurance or a bond for any new sewer systems. He says this year lawmakers will address regulatory failures.
"It seems like every time we look into this, that the rates were not adequate for the owner to run the sewer system and the Public Services Commission did not grant the rates that were needed," Riggs said. "They don't manage the problem. They wait for it to come to them first. The Division of Water and the PSC both need to work together a lot more closely. They don't work together well right now."
PSC Spokesman Andrew Melnykovych released a statement Wednesday:
"We are continuously improving our Alternative Rate Filing (ARF) process to enable small utilities to submit the information that is required but in a simpler format." He said the agency is also working with the Division of Water to "improve the inspection process." Melnykovych said, "We are streamlining our process and developing a more efficient way of processing the inspection reports internally."
With 200 small sewer plants still in operation, the state needs a fix before there are more frustrated and angry neighbors like Ammons.
"I've not seen anyone out here for probably six months to a year." Ammons said.
There were once 300 of these problem-plagued sewer plants just in Louisville. MSD has slowly been taking them over.
The last one in the city was torn down in June.
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