Alternative water source to come through Shelby?

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Support, questions shared at public hearing

By Scotty McDaniel

Studies are still underway on the potential costs and impact that the formation of the Shelby-Franklin Regional Water Commission would have on the county. As a result, the idea was met with some questions at Wednesday's public hearing at the Shelby County Cooperative Extension Office, but it mostly received strong support by those in attendance.

Attorney Damon Talley, of Hodgenville, opened the hearing by sharing comments on behalf of the four entities involved supporting the creation of the commission. Those entities include the city of Shelbyville, North Shelby Water Company, U.S. 60 Water District of Shelby and Franklin counties and West Shelby Water District.

Talley cited the Shelby County water shortage of 2007 and said it was a "wake-up call" prompting the entities to unite in looking for a solution. The resulting idea was to form the Shelby-Franklin Regional Water Commission.

The commission would be in charge of finding an alternative water source for Shelby County. And though it's not set it stone, the entities agree that it would be "advantageous, for reliability and redundancy, to interconnect the Shelby and Franklin County water providers with the Louisville Water Company via a regional water transmission main extending from Louisville to Frankfort."

The idea of creating the commission has since been approved through an ordinance enacted by the Shelbyville City Council, and through separate resolutions adopted by the governing bodies of the other entities involved. Wednesday's public hearing held by Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger was the latest step.

Talley explained that the commission would not be able to sell water to retail customers, and it could only supply water on a wholesale basis to other utilities. It will not compete with the existing utilities in the county.

It would be both a public corporation and a governmental agency, and would be eligible for state and federal grants, low interest loans and tax-exempt revenue bonds. Any debt incurred by the water commission would be an obligation of the commission and not of any of the organizing entities involved.

A minimum of five people would be appointed to the commission's Board of Commissioners, with each of the four organizing entities appointing one representative and Rothenburger the fifth. Each representative would have one vote, and meetings and records would be open to the public.

After Talley laid out the details of the commission, other voices were heard.

Representatives from each of the organizing entities stepped up to the podium to announce their support of the new commission. Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty spoke on behalf of the Shelbyville Municipal Water and Sewer Commission and the city of Shelbyville.

"We all know what we went through with our drought in 07. This year we've had another drought. Out of the last four years, we've had three dry years," Hardesty said. "So I don't think I need to try to sell anybody on the need for more water here. We do need a major backup."

Contractual amounts have not yet been established, but cost analysis findings thus far estimate that the cost to run the water line from the Gene Snyder Freeway to highway 53 in Shelbyville is about $25 million.

How this cost will impact citizens' water rates is unknown and an answer will have to wait on more studies.

The uncertainty of the plans is what brought out Ronald Van Stockum, Jr., President of Shelby County Organized for Preservation and Enhancement, Inc. (SCOPE).

Van Stockum said he is not against creating the commission or bringing water from Louisville. But he said the project is not something that should be rushed into, and studies should have been conducted on the idea long ago.

"If you had that study, if you had it in front of you, you would be able to make a more thoughtful decision as to whether or not the proposal that the utilities bring to your attention is the right one," he said.

The cost effectiveness of the commission is one of his primary concerns.

"In our wonderful community of Shelbyville, rather than having one cost effective water utility to do planning, to negotiate with Louisville Water Company, we're going to have four different entities - some with proper infrastructure, some without proper infrastructure, some public, one private. I don't know that that's the right way to go about this," he said.

He said it seemed a merger of some of these entities or having fewer of them would be more cost effective.

Other issues he said should have been investigated already include determining who is going to pay for everything, and whether the project will lead to premature development in areas, in order to pay for the activities. He noted that growth is a positive thing, but it needs to be controlled.

"Don't bring it until you study the impact," he concluded.

After hearing the comments at the public hearing, Rothenburger said he will make a decision on the commission's creation after the new year.