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SEWERS...Regional approach back?

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By Thomas Barr

 LOUISVILLE – It is an issue that will not go away for local communities. And the environmental standards are only going to get more strict.

But should communities such as Bullitt County decide to be part of a regional waste water program.

That is a question posed to local officials during a recent meeting of possible participants in a program approved by the General Assembly in 2011.

State Sen. Dan Seum led a discussion on House Bill 26, which was sponsored by then-state Rep. Linda Belcher of Bullitt County. The Jefferson County senator led the charge in the state Senate.

The legislation allowed for a pilot program where various entities could work together to tackle waste water issues on a regional basis.

By the time the bill was approved, Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham, Meade and Hardin counties were possible participants. 

Other counties who were in the original legislation but opted out were Spencer, Shelby and Nelson.

During the discussion, hosted by the Louisville Home Builders Association, Greg Heitzman, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District and long-time leader of Louisville Water Co., said that nothing is concrete. Participation is voluntary and members could join or drop out at any time.

A plan was proposed and discussed several years ago with local officials. The talks broke down.

Such a plan would build a large sewage transmission line from Jefferson and surrounding counties.  The sewage would flow with gravity through Shepherdsville and be collected at a treatment plant on Fort Knox property.

Heitzman said the treated sewage would then be discharged into the Salt River and directly into the Ohio River.

The beauty of the project is that no new treatment plants would be needed along the path of the pipeline. There would be no requirement for any community, which might a treatment plant that is adequate for the current time, to do anything.

However, he warned that in the future, the federal standards to meet the Clean Water Act would only get more stringent.

In Jefferson County, over 300 treatment plants have been reduced to 17 with the goal of reaching five. All are under the operations of MSD.

Having come on board to lead MSD through tough times after a scathing state audit, Heitzman said he knows that standards are very tough and will only get tougher.

A regional approach, said Heitzman, could serve the entire area well and could be a key for growth to continue.

“How do we want the entire region to grow?” asked Heitzman.

As part of the water company, Heitzman related some of his first-hand knowledge of partnerships with Bullitt County.

Then-county judge John Harper started meeting in the late 1980s with LWC officials about some type of partnership. The water entity would later merge with Kentucky Turnpike Water District and that led to hundreds of new customers receiving service that probably would not be possible with the partnership.

“There must be a trust,” Heitzman said of any partnership to make it successful.

He recounted the plan in which a local advisory group worked with LWC to make the Bullitt County acquisition successful and beneficial to the residents.

With the commission, Heitzman said that same partnership approach would be needed.

He said that although MSD wanted to be a player in such a project, each participant would have a say and that no one would dominate the plan.

Offering for MSD to take the lead and to get some things rolling, Heitzman said his first suggestion would be to take inventory on the existing sewage treatment plants in the region. That list would include the capacity of the facilities and any operational issues which may exist.

Once that is done, a work group and/or the commission approved in the legislation, would have to decide on hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the needs and present conditions.

He estimated it might take $75,000-$80,000 to tackle that phase of the project.

Heitzman said MSD would pay half of that cost and the participating counties could also pay a part. With that expense would come the right to see the data collected and the recommendations.

There might be some possibility of grants, although Heitzman said those opportunities are drying up.

Comments from some of the participants varied on what the next step should be.

Seum felt that the legislation was very important two years ago to entities such as the homebuilders. He felt the regional approach was more than legislation, it was the ability to continue growth and provide more jobs.

Plus, it is a way to deal with EPA issues.

George Miller, a Bullitt County developer and member of the local homebuilders council, said that his concern that it will look like a MSD project. He was also concerned that the public needed to be educated on why the issue was being discussed and how important it is to the community for future growth.

Heitzman said that MSD is only a partner in the project. There is no requirement that anyone else participates. However, he said if a transmission line is built, there would only be so much capacity and that those who aren’t on board in the beginning may be limited in the future.

“This is a long-range plan,” said Heitzman, who said the scope may look 50 years down the road.

Several members of the Metro Louisville Council were very much in favor of moving forward as quickly as possible.

But Bullitt County Judge/Executive Melanie Roberts said that she felt it would be important for Heitzman to put together a presentation for fiscal court members to explain the proposal.

Roberts, who was also joined by state Rep. Russell Webber at the meeting, said that she believes in the regional approach but she didn’t want to make any commitments of support without fiscal court’s approval.

Heitzman said he would be very willing to make such a presentation. He said that education process was instrumental during the water mergers over a decade ago.

The only other county judge in the meeting was Shelby County’s Rob Rothenburger.

While Shelby County opted out of the original legislation, Rothenburger said he felt it would be important to be part of the process.

Not speaking for fiscal court members, Rothenburger said there will be many data-driven questions from elected officials. 

He mentioned past mistakes made by not having proper planning as one driving force to make sure this plan is correct.

Rothenburger said issues, such as rates, would be vital.

He felt Shelby County would want to be a player and to help fund some of the studies.

Heitzman said it might be 6-9 months to get data from the consultants.

He added that the goal of the entire project is to help communities meet the EPA standards, to improve the environment and to also maintain local control over rates and participation.