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June 2012
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Lovelaceville water district customers may have to dig deep

BY DAVID ZOELLERdzoeller@paducahsun.com

LOVELACEVILLE - The approximately 55 customers of the privately owned Lovelaceville Water Company may have to dig their own wells now that the firm's owner has asked the state to allow him to abandon operations because of financial hardship.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Lovelaceville United Methodist Church fellowship hall, 143 N. Broadway, to explain the process in more detail and discuss options. Water customers received notice of the meeting with their May bills, according to Andrew Melnykovych, director of communications for the commission.

When he became owner of the water company in 2010, Eric Young said he intended to make needed improvements to the aging system. Receiving financial help to do so has proven difficult.

"I didn't know when I took ownership that as a private entity, I wasn't eligible for any type of state grants," Young said.

In his letter to the commission seeking permission to cease operations, Young outlined some of the problems that led to his decision. They included paying for infrastructure repairs and a badly needed generator, and not being able to shut off water to customers who have not paid their bills because there are no locks on the meters.

Young, a certified operator, has to do all of the work himself, including water treatment, taking samples and conducting tests, billing, maintenance and filling out all the required reports.

"I've been fighting it for four years," Young said. "I keep thinking it will get better ... but it never does."

According to Melnykovych, all options will be explored to find a solution, including finding another utility or water district to take over the system or having customers form a water association. None of the options is particularly easy given the condition of the existing system and its location.

"Part of the problem is geography, being in the far southeast corner of Ballard County," he said, noting any other water district would have to extend its lines a long way to connect to a system for only 55 customers. To form a water association, customers would have to get an attorney and go through the full legal process of establishing rates and trying to obtain funding, he said.

If no one is found to take over operations, customers may have to dig their own wells, Melnykovch said.

"I don't know how much it would cost to have a well drilled and plumbed to be able to produce enough gallons for residential use, but I don't think it would be cheap," he said, estimating it could take a couple of thousand dollars on average.

The commission has been involved in similar situations with gas companies, but not many water systems, he said. There is no timetable for resolving the issue, Melnykovych said, indicating the process could take several months. 

"Having the water utility in this situation really does pose some difficult challenges," Melnykovych said.

Anna Morris, 176 Mound St., said her family has not had any problems with the current operation.

"He's a really nice guy," she said of Young, indicating she thought he was doing his best to provide good service.

While she said her family could afford to dig their own well if they had to, "for some of the older people there's no way."

Ernest Fondaw and his family have operated Low Cost Transmissions in Lovelaceville about 20 years.

"I guess if we have to do it (put in a well), that's what we'll do," he said. 

Young is not expected to attend Monday's meeting. He said while the correct term for the process is "abandonment" of the system, that is misleading.

"It's not like I'm trying to turn off the water and leave town or anything," Young said. By going through the process with the commission and having the options examined, "I'm trying to ensure the customers will continue to have water."

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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