By SHARON K. HALL
Residents from Potato Branch off Right Beaver Creek in Topmost filled the boardroom of the Knott County Water and Sewer District last Wednesday. The residents were concerned their private wells were producing low volumes of water or no water. Failing water wells were said to be a result of gas well drilling. As discussions proceeded between the residents and KCWSD officials, two factors were identified as obstacles to homes being supplied by public water service — funding and permitting. Residents were appealing to the water board for help.
Getting water from Knott County would mean boring lines beneath the railroad tracks. Special permitting is required for any organization to cross the railroad company’s right of way. A permit from the railroad generally takes a year or more from the time a permit application is initiated. Then the job is extremely expensive.
Calvin Waddles, Knott County magistrate also of Topmost, explained the citizens concern. “[I am speaking] on behalf of Potato Branch. A gas company is drilling in the area and now several homes are losing water. Is the railroad an entity that we can’t force eminent domain? Plus, this is an area that will take county water, we are willing to sign up.”
Most of the public water system in Knott County has been funded through Division of Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) and has totaled into millions of dollars. An AML-funded groundwater supply study of Knott County indicated groundwater in parts of the study area had become degraded primarily due to pre-law coal mine operations. This made the areas eligible for AML funding to supply water lines into areas where water wells were contaminated by coal mining.
Potato Branch was not included in the areas to be funded by AML money.
Knott County Deputy Judge Larry King relayed, “I talked to Ron [Johnson of RM Johnson Engineering] and he said AML will restudy Potato Branch. As far as I know that is the only one that is not AML. This was mined back in the 40’s and 50’s and for some reason Potato Branch was the only one that came up showing clean water.”
Board member Dale Hamilton stated, “It could be another two years. Something needs to be done now for those residents.”
Chair Alice Ritchie said, “Even if we could move the railroad [to approve permits], right now we don’t have the funds to get you water.”
Curtis and Sherry Slone shared their story about their home in Potato Branch. “EQT is drilling wells on both sides of us. That sunk my water well and four other homes. I have 13 head of horses and today made 10 weeks of no water at my home. Water seems to have been rerouted. We are desperate. I am doing all I can as a resident.”
Ritchie advised, “We have asked AML to restudy and see if it is eligible for AML funding. They have agreed to do that. If they have funding we have to get the railroad to approve boring underneath the tracks as we are a public entity.
“AML has money but they have to approve it and give it to us for a specific project,” Ritchie continued. “Where we stand right now you will have to work with the gas company and we will have to work with AML… We are on your side.”
The Slones mentioned a possible solution to take the railroad company “out of the picture.” Slone said, “Since we have issues with the railroad — I own the head of Potato Branch and Dry Creek is there. Can you come down Dry Creek to us? Dry Creek goes around my property. I would be happy to let you come through my property.”
A paper containing the signatures of all the homeowners on Potato Branch expressing water concerns was submitted to the water board.
Magistrate Barry Watts asked about Vance Mountain, Pinetop Lane and Arch Rock Hollow. Jarrod Salmons had talked to the inspectors about the water line on Vance Mountain. The inspectors recalled the homeowner wanted a meter set at the bottom of the hill and the homeowner would get the water. AML indicated that they would not redo that now because the meter was already set.
King said the homeowners were telling him a different story. He asked to see the AML report where the family had signed to put the meter at the bottom of their hill. Board member Jim Childers said they would do everything they could to get it resolved. Ritchie and Salmons said they would address AML.
In a project update report, Salmons said the Carr Creek Water Treatment Plant was 70 % complete. A lot of the manufactured parts are expected by the end of the year.
According to Salmons, project 582 branch lines and the Big Smith Branch project are ahead of schedule. The engineer speculated all of 582 branch lines would get water service by the end of the year, depending on weather conditions.
Branhams Creek is the next big project. The state gave approval to bore in the area.
Lee Roy Lackey of Phoenix Place was interested in the future plans of Ball Creek Treatment Plant. Lackey has been developing the Phoenix Place subdivision just off Hwy. 80. There are 35 to 40 homes in Knott County and the other homes are located in Perry County. If the treatment plant serviced Highway 80 into Perry County there would be 100 potential customers — 35 to 40 new customers at Phoenix Place and 75 new customers at Jamestown. Ritchie said that the Troublesome Creek Environmental Authority (TCEA) was looking into that project. The challenge is finding funding, said Ritchie.
An amount of $804 for parts was submitted to KCWSD from TCEA. Childers said the insurance claim for repairing the plant was denied due to lack of proper maintenance. The insurance company said the damage to the plant was caused by human error. That invoice and all the claims on the list were approved.
The board went into closed session to discuss potential litigation.
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