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By MARTY FINLEY
HARDIN COUNTY — Earlier this year, the Army requested a proposal to privatize water operations at Fort Knox in accordance with a directive issued years ago by the Pentagon to phase out nonmilitary functions on its installations around the country.
To answer, Hardin County Water District No. 1 – which serves 10,000 people in Radcliff and northwest Hardin County and provides wholesale water to Vine Grove and the Meade County Water District — formed a regional partnership with Louisville Water Co. to pursue the bid.
Louisville Water officials approached Jim Bruce, general manager of the Hardin County utility, about a joint bid. After a series of negotiations, the two companies signed an agreement and are crafting the bid, due Oct. 9.
Bruce said the federal government has told bidders to hold bids for 300 days, which would put the decision off until late 2009 at the earliest.
The district is used to waiting, though. In 2002, operation of Fort Knox’s sewer system was let for bids and the district partnered with Veolia Water, North America, a Houston company, to pursue the bid. The joint bid was chosen in 2004.
“It could be years or it could be one year,” Bruce said, referring to the timetable for the announcement of the winning bid.
Greg Heitzman, president of Louisville Water Co., said he contacted Bruce because he thought the two companies could complement one another on the project.
“We have some strengths and they have some strengths,” Heitzman said.
LWC – which serves 850,000 people in metro Louisville and parts of Oldham, Shelby, Bullitt, Spencer and Nelson counties — has excess water capacity with an abundant supply from the Ohio River.
However, the experience that Hardin No. 1 has locally and with Fort Knox gives the district advantages and knowledge LWC does not have, Heitzman said.
LWC is reallocating water resources now that industry is not consuming as much water in Jefferson County.
“We’re seeing how water use in Jefferson County is changing,” he said.
To reallocate those resources, the company is acquiring regional partnerships in adjacent counties to provide water supplements for the region.
If the companies win the bid, the pipeline at Fort Knox also could provide assistance to the district’s service area if a drought strikes or if something happens to the district’s water treatment plants, Bruce said. The Fort Knox pipeline would run parallel to a current line and be accessible to the district.
Bruce said Fort Knox and Louisville Water have been in negotiations to install a pipeline that could be constructed separate from the privatization, but would be in conjunction with the partnership.
The local bidders expect some heady competition.
“We anticipate that some large companies would want to bid,” Bruce said.
The government will scrutinize the lowest bid carefully, he said. If the government decides Fort Knox can provide water cheaper and is comfortable with continuing as is, the bid process would end.
Bruce said he believes the bid with LWC will offer a less expensive alternative with stabilized prices and free up resources that the government can use for military-related functions.
“It’s taken a long time, but they’re (the military) slowly privatizing different functions,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.