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Drafting new rules for wastewater

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Editorial: Oct. 10, 2013

ISSUE: Extension of wastewater treatment
OUR VIEW: Establishing reasonable rules

Treated public water now flows along rights of way on more than 90 percent of roads in Hardin County. This vital commodity is at the doorstep of most every local resident.

Extending waterlines throughout Hardin County has been a boon to development. Residential subdivisions have been built in rural corners of our community that otherwise would be unlikely if not impossible.

Yet sewage treatment remains to be tackled outside the county’s urban centers. That’s about to change.

Hardin County Water District No. 1 and Hardin County Water District No. 2, two independent service providers at the heart of the quality water distribution network, are taking up the wastewater challenge. The local health department and the county’s planning commission also have been working alongside them to ensure reasonable rules and regulations are in place.

The proposed standards were introduced in a pair of public hearings last week and will be available for further scrutiny as the commission and Hardin Fiscal Court consider an ordinance to make the rules into local policy and law.

Wastewater has been part of Water District No. 1’s operations since 2005 when it signed an agreement to handle treatment at Fort Knox. About three years later, it took over operation of the service previously operated by the city of Radcliff.

Thanks to state money, Water District No. 2 is preparing to enter the wastewater business by contracting with Elizabethtown’s municipal treatment plant to serve a force main. It will serve Glendale’s historic downtown, the mega site industrial property and nearby areas of Gilead Church Road and then proceed north on U.S. 31W to Glendale’s Interstate 65 interchange.

Elizabethtown, Vine Grove and West Point have the only municipal wastewater treatment networks. The rest of Hardin County is dependent on septic systems with their extensive lateral fields and a scattering of mini-treatment facilities known as package plants that typically serve rural school buildings and an occasional business.

When functioning properly, septic systems and package plants are viable options. But installing them can add expense to development and require more property to be set aside per lot in a subdivision. It also limits future usage of land because of the treatment field under the yard.

Many established communities around the area such as Colesburg, Howevalley, Rineyville, White Mills and Upton have lateral fields installed more than a century ago. Over time, these systems can be expected to fail. That can create a stinky mess and an immediate health hazard.

Extending public wastewater service will protect the community’s health and can contribute to its continued development — just as public water extensions have over recent generations.

The proposed county regulations will not require residents to connect to the sewer service unless their property is near an available line and their existing septic system fails. That’s a reasonable and fair plan.

New business and housing developments consisting of five lots or more would be compelled to access the sewage system if the property is within 300 feet of existing wastewater service. Most developers would welcome that opportunity because tapping into a public system is far less expensive than installing septic and it can allow for more construction on the same amount of property because lot sizes can be smaller.

Water District No. 2 officials say extensions of wastewater service will be limited. Unlike municipalities, which can recover the expense of extensions through increased tax revenue, the districts depend solely on customer revenue. Developers seeking extension of service will have to pay the freight for extending lines.

Barring additional state or federal grants, that’s the only way service areas will grow. The Public Service Commission, which regulates the rural water districts, restricts any speculative extension in order to protect consumers.

A good example occurred when Radcliff extended service to a proposed 100-home development along Wilson Road. After more than a decade that subdivision still has fewer than two dozen residences and the community’s residents eventually bore the brunt of the extension expenses.

While county government is considering some fair and logical regulations, this discussion does bring up a related question for state legislators to consider: If the PSC’s rules are reasonable and provide protection for the public’s interests, should they not be extended to cover municipal-based utilities?

It certainly would seem appropriate to have all parties operating under the same playbook and it could erase some politically charged conflicts.

Even in today’s high-tech, complex world, clean water and water treatment are central to our lives. The steps being taken now will ensure our community’s prosperity and development. Those involved in their formulation deserve our praise but also our attention to ensure the answers are appropriately examined and serve the greater good.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.