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Shelby watching steps in joint regional sewer concept

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By Tom Barr

LOUISVILLE – It is an issue that will not go away for local communities – and the environmental standards are only going to get more strict – but should communities such as Shelby County decide to be part of a regional waste-water program?

That is a question posed to local officials during a recent meeting of possible participants in a program approved by the General Assembly in 2011.

State Sen. Dan Seum (R-Fairdale) led a discussion on House Bill 26, which was sponsored by then-state Rep. Linda Belcher (D-Shepherdsville). Seum had led the charge in the state.

The legislation allowed for a pilot program where various entities could work together to tackle waste water issues on a regional basis. By the time the bill was approved, Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham, Meade and Hardin counties were possible participants.

Other counties who were in the original legislation but opted out were Spencer, Shelby and Nelson.

During the discussion, hosted by the Louisville Home Builders Association, Greg Heitzman, executive director of the Metropolitan Sewer District and long-time leader of Louisville Water Co., said that nothing is concrete. Participation is voluntary and members could join or drop out at any time.

The concept – which first was proposed several years ago before talks broke off – to build a large sewage transmission line from Jefferson and surrounding counties.  The sewage would flow with gravity through Shepherdsville and be collected at a treatment plant on Fort Knox property. The treated sewage would then be discharged into the Salt River and directly into the Ohio River.

The beauty of the project is that no new treatment plants would be needed along the path of the pipeline. There would be no requirement for any community, which might a treatment plant that is adequate for the current time, to do anything.

Shelby County’s Rob Rothenburger was one of two county judge-executives to attend – Melanie Roberts of Bullitt County was the other – and he said after the meeting that he felt it would be important to be part of the process.

Emphasizing he was not speaking for members of fiscal court, Rothenburger said there would be many data-driven questions from elected officials about how this process might work and benefit his county.

He mentioned past mistakes made by not having proper planning as one driving force to make sure this plan is correct.

He also said that issues, such as rates, would be vital, but he said he felt Shelby County would want to be a player and to help fund some of the studies required for this project.

Heitzman warned that federal standards to meet the Clean Water Act would only get more stringent.

In Jefferson County, more than 300 treatment plants have been reduced to 17 with the goal of reaching five. All are under the operations of MSD.

A regional approach, said Heitzman, could serve the entire area well and could be a key for growth to continue.

“How do we want the entire region to grow?” asked Heitzman.

Offering for MSD to take the lead, Heitzman said his first suggestion would be to take inventory on the existing sewage treatment plants in the region. That list would include the capacity of the facilities and any operational issues that may exist.

Once that is done, a work group and/or the commission approved in the legislation, would have to decide on hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the needs and present conditions.

He estimated it might take $75,000-$80,000 to tackle that phase of the project.

Heitzman said MSD would pay half of that cost and the participating counties could also pay a part. With that expense would come the right to see the data collected and the recommendations.

There might be some possibility of grants, although Heitzman said those opportunities are drying up.

Comments from some of the participants varied on what the next step should be.

Several members of the Metro Louisville Council were very much in favor of moving forward as quickly as possible, but Roberts said that she felt it would be important for Heitzman to put together a presentation for fiscal court members to explain the proposal.

Heitzman said he would be very willing to make such a presentation but that it might be six to nine months to get data from the consultants.

He added that the goal of the entire project is to help communities meet the EPA standards, to improve the environment and to also maintain local control over rates and participation.