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Water customers hear no easy answers

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

LOVELACEVILLE - Customers of the financially struggling Lovelaceville Water Company learned there are more questions than answers at the moment during an informational meeting Monday night conducted by the Kentucky Public Service Commission.

The PSC held the meeting as an initial step in the process to determine the future of the utility after owner Eric Young asked the state for permission to abandon operations due to financial hardship.

"The state can't force a (private) owner to continue to operate a utility if the owner is unwilling or unable to do," Andrew Melnykovych, commission communications director, told the approximately 50 people in attendance at the Lovelaceville United Methodist Church fellowship hall.

Because he is a private owner, Young is not eligible for any government grants to make needed improvements to the aging system. He also in unable to shut off service to customers who have not paid their bills because there are no locks on the meters.

Melnykovych said the state will consider all options to resolve the issue.

"The first goal is to provide for the continued operation of the utility," he said. Young's past attempts to find a buyer have been unsuccessful, Melnykovych noted, and the nearest utility is several miles away. "It's going to be very difficult to find someone in adjacent counties to take over the utility."

Ballard County could form a water district or the customers themselves could form a water association, Melnykovych said. If no way to continue the operation is found, the utility could cease to exist and the approximately 50 customers would have to come up with their own solutions such as digging a well.

"If the system is abandoned, there would be a transition period," Melnykovyck said. "We're a long way from that."

Some audience members indicated they would be willing to pay more for water to keep the system afloat, but others pointed out that if some customers are not paying their bills now, raising rates would not help the situation. Neighbors partnering to share a well was also discussed as a possible option.

"I hate to see people (who might have to) go without water," said Ballard County Judge-Executive Vickie Viniard, who admitted finding available funds to help is difficult.

Young told the group he "literally loses sleep" over the problems with the system, but he cannot continue to operate the way things are. Audience members expressed appreciation for his efforts, including a round of applause.

Melnykovyck said following the meeting the turnout shows the community is concerned. The commission will need to find a solution that is in the best interest of everyone involved as soon as possible. However, "an easy, inexpensive solution is unlikely."

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

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