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HomeLocal NewsLocal GovernmentWorrying about wastewater

Worrying about wastewater

Mayor was unaware of issue, but incorrect in blaming Sparks

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Mayor Jerry Callihan was correct when he said the city didn’t receive any notification of their latest sewer tap ban. An email from the energy and environment cabinet, in response to an open records request, confirmed that the letter was never sent. Though they previously stated it had been sent to Kenny Fankell, after waiting several weeks for a copy of the letter, John Mura, executive director of the office of communication, wrote back to explain why a copy hadn’t been sent along yet.

“Simply put, we couldn’t fulfill your request because we found that the letter you requested had actually never been sent. We’re not sure why,” Mura wrote.

But while Callihan was correct that the city hadn’t been informed of the current tap ban until a variance was granted for a shaved ice business, he was not correct when he placed the blame on former mayor Danny Sparks. In council’s September meeting Callihan said no one knew about the issue except Sparks, and said Sparks accepted a tap ban rather than pay a fine.

Looking through the records received from an open records request, however, shows that Callihan was mistaken in that assumption.

There was a ban under Sparks, who was elected in 2002 and served until 2012, but it was lifted completely in 2006. That ban had been issued in 1998, before Sparks began serving as mayor.

After requesting a variance in November of 2005 for the McDonald’s location, the Department for Environmental Protection sent a letter to utility clerk, Christopher Greene, dated September 1, 2006, advising him that, “the sewer sanction imposed on the City of Olive Hill September 3, 1998, is lifted, effective this date.”

The letter continues, stating the agency had “been advised by Fred Cooper, of the Division of Water’s Morehead Regional Office that the conditions no longer warrant the sanction.”

While the city would still be bound by construction approval “as may be required by 401 KAR 5:005” the letter states “it is no longer necessary to request an exemption to the sanction prior to construction approval.”

This followed a number of variance requests granted between 1999 and 2005, and a letter addressed to Sparks, dated July 18, 2005, advising the then mayor that the Division of Enforcement had “determined that Olive Hill (Wastewater Treatment Plant) has complied with the terms and conditions of the Agreed Order issued on June 4, 1999,” and declaring the case “resolved and closed.”

That letter was signed by Susan Rose Green, Director, Kentucky Division of Enforcement.

Though another ban was issued later, in the letter to Fankell which the division never sent, no further variances were requested until the September 2022 variance for the shaved ice operation.

The letter informing Callihan of the current ban was sent to the city on October 27, 2022 – a full month after the September meeting where Jeremy Rayburn sought clarification on whether his car wash business would be allowed.

That letter informed the mayor that the treatment plant had “been placed on the Division of Water’s Municipal Water Pollution Prevention Program List.”

The reason for the listing, the letter continued, was because their “records indicate that Olive Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant has been hydraulically loaded at greater than 90% of its rated design capacity for the period of August 1, 2021 through July 1, 2022.”

While that flow is excessive, Eric Patton, water/wastewater and GIS planner with FIVCO, told the mayor during the October meeting of city council that he believed a great deal of that flow came from infiltration from storm water and Tygart Creek. Patton detailed a plan to smoke and replace or repair broken pipes to alleviate the strain on the system and bring the city back into compliance.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com

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