Commission meets for first time to identify at-risk sewage treat - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Commission meets for first time to identify at-risk sewage treatment plants in Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Monday marked the first step in the Commonwealth of Kentucky's attempt to fix a statewide problem with sewage in public water. 

The Small Wastewater Treatment Plant Risk work group had its first meeting in Frankfort. The subcommittee was formed out of HJR 56, a resolution which passed the Kentucky legislature in March of 2017.

Jory Becker with the Kentucky Division of Water was joined by about a dozen other stakeholders Monday, including representatives from the Kentucky Public Service Commission and the Attorney General's office. They're tasked with identifying the small sewage treatment plants at the biggest risk of failure or being abandoned throughout Kentucky.

"We need to get this in the hands of county judges, where these things are, because in a lot of cases -- all the ones I've been involved with so far -- it just kind of fell in their lap," Becker said.

WDRB News has reported on problem-plagued sewers in communities like Bullitt, Hardin and Franklin Counties for the last two years. Our cameras often caught raw waste from these failing sewer plants being dumped into nearby streams and flowing out to public water. 

Aging infrastructure, bad operators and mounting violations have private utility companies abandoning sites in Kentucky at an alarming rate. According to the Kentucky Division of Water, eight utilities closed up shop in the last two years, compared to only five in the 20 years prior. 

The work group must determine a criteria for scoring risk based on things like the age of the sewage facility, the owners or operators and their history of compliance. 

"Violations should be looked at for sure," said Elizabethtown City Engineer Thomas Sanders. 

Sanders knows the problem well. Elizabethtown is poised to take over a failing Airview Utilities. The site has racked up hundreds of violations over the years. Its operator has been under heavy scrutiny and sanctioning from the state. 

"It's hard to handle," Sanders said. "We live in the community. Anybody who lives in a community where a package treatment plant is being abandoned is going to be impacted."

There are roughly 200 small sewage treatment plants in Kentucky. Many have surpassed their life expectancies. The so called "risk list" is not official yet, but DOW officials already flagged a problem sewer in Mason County with potential for "catastrophic failure."

The state used that same phrase to describe the Hunters Hollow sewage plant in Bullitt County which collapsed in 2014. The list contained 15 others sites with a worse score than the one flagged for failure in Mason County.  

"What I hope we can do is come back to legislature ... tweak legislation so anybody who owns one of these systems where it's public or private has to maintain that regimen so that the customer will not wake up one morning without service," said Roger Rechtenwald of the Kentucky Association of Counties. 

On Monday, the subcommittee agreed to meet weekly. The report is due to lawmakers in August. 

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