State: Operator of failed sewage plant has history of violations - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

State: Operator of failed sewage plant has history of violations

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Connie Freeman Connie Freeman

BULLITT COUNTY, KY (WAVE) - Operators were set to bring a temporary facility on line to replace the sewage treatment plant that failed in Bullitt County's Hunters Hollow community Saturday evening, but regulators are advising customers to keep conserving water. And they reveal that the plant owner has a history of violations.

Lime covers the banks of the stream that flows only yards from the Hunters Hollow Waste Water Treatment plant, but Sanitation District director Jerry Kennedy is certain it hasn't prevented contamination.

"There's no chlorination," Kennedy said Wednesday. "It's all raw wastewater going down the stream ."

By his estimates, more than 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage has seeped into the ground and stream that feeds Brooks Run since the privately-owned treatment plant failed Saturday night.

"The smell is what's very unbearable," said Connie Freeman, whose mobile home sits two blocks upwind. "It's very bad."  Freeman's properties are on septic tanks, so she's not subject to the same restrictions as her neighbors regarding bathing, laundry and flushing.

"I'd move, but I own these homes and land," she said. 

Relief was on its way Wednesday afternoon in the form of three self-contained holding and processing tanks, designed to manage the same volume of waste as the failed treatment plant. The facility was expected to be operational by evening and at full capacity by late Thursday.

"It may not be perfect, but it's clearly better than what's going on right now," project overseer with the Department of Environmental Protection in Kentucky's Division of Water. "There was more flowing into this than what needed to be in the first place."

Bullitt County's Sanitation District had been in negotiations to buy the Hunters Hollow facility from Bullitt Utilities, its private owner-operator.

"But as of January, we rejected their last offer to purchase it," Kennedy said. "Or this could have been my mess."

The mess has been ongoing since October 2009, according to Dick Brown, public information officer for the Division of Water. The plant has received seven Notices of Violation, the most recent, June 15, 2013.

"The violations were consistently failing to report bypasses (system overflows), improper operations and maintenance, and degradation of the waters of the Commonwealth," Brown wrote in an email to WAVE 3 News.

"The Division of Enforcement was actively attempting to set a follow-up meeting to attempt resolution of the case in the weeks leading up to the current incident," the email continued.

Bullitt Industries could have washed its hands of the 40-year-old facility had it accepted the Sanitation District's $550,000 offer, Kennedy said. The temporary treatment plant requires a technician on site and will cost about $3,500 per day to operate.

"Hunters Hollow has only about 600 customers," Strohmeyer said. "And the responsible party is looking for ways to get out of running this system as soon as possible."

Not necessarily, according to Bullitt Utilities executive Larry Smithers.

"These could be in place longer than two or three months," Smithers said, when WAVE 3 News contacted him by telephone. Smithers referred all other questions to the company attorney, who has not returned calls.

"Build a new treatment plant, how long is that gonna take," Kennedy asked. "Do we abandon the plant? Build another downstream?"

Typically, design, impact studies and state approval would take two to three years, Strohmeyer explained.

"A permanent rate increase would require approval from the Public Service Commission," Strohmeyer said. "A short-term surcharge would be less difficult."

Regulators and operators are more concerned about the effects of more rain forecast for the weekend.

"Could be good and bad," Strohmeyer said. "It would put more into the system, but it would help dilute (the sewage) what's already spilled." Translation - customers should not assume that the fix means it's no longer necessary to conserve water.

"Don't flush to excess," Strohmeyer said.

Connie Freeman expects most neighbors will comply.

"We still try to maintain our lives," she said. "But I would hope that they would consider not doing five loads of laundry a day."

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