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Water quality in Lake Liberty questioned

August 03, 2003|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

LIBERTY - A resident who recently built a log house within sight of Lake Liberty says an illegal dump on his property is a danger to the city's only water supply, but the city thinks differently.

When Elhanan Pennington purchased a 40-acre tract on Ob Wilson Road in December 2001, the deed did not indicate the old landfill was on the property. He found out about the abandoned site from a neighbor after the deal was made.

Pennington has asked City Council to do something about the landfill, apparently established before 1960, that he said covers more than 11 acres and is contaminating the city water supply. He said the dump, covered with a few inches of earth, is within a few feet of the 55-acre lake off Ky. 70 West and fresh water streams that feed it.

Mayor Steve Sweeney estimates the size of the dump is between two and three acres and said it does not pose any harm to water customers.

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Pennington has looked into possible grants to help finance a clean-up project, but application must be made by the city. He found no evidence that the city has applied for any such grant.

"The city has requested that the (Lake Cumberland) Area Development District look into grant opportunities to clean up the site," said Sweeney. "We are under no obligation to do so, but in the spirit of trying to assist Mr. Pennington, we made the request."

Pennington said there has been no effort by the city or county government to correct the problem.

"Before the lake was built, the city should have removed the dump," he said. The lake was built in the mid-1970s and the city began using water from the lake in 1979.

In response to Pennington's concerns, Matt Hackathorn of the state Division of Waste Management said state regulations concerning landfills were established in 1963, and prior to that there were no guidelines for cities or counties to follow.

Hackathorn said there are three known dump sites in Liberty which are listed among 647 dumps across the state. The sites are ranked in order from the worst to least dangerous to human health. They are scheduled to be cleaned up in the future, he said.

The matter is between Pennington and the city, Hackathorn said.

To date, Pennington has not been satisfied with the response from the city or the state.

"In the past and present, the city has sat on its laurels and made excuses, but did nothing," said Pennington.

Pennington claims the dump has industrial-type waste and concentrates of heavy metals. He has found old bottles and other waste when digging at the site.

"They said there is nothing in there, but it's bubbling up through the ground," he said, and he has the photographs to prove it. He said the trenches are 325 feet long, 20 feet wide and 14 feet deep. When it rains, the leakage from the landfill flows into the lake. He claims the liquid looks like oil and has a bad odor.

Pennington said all sorts of chemicals have shown up in tests he has taken of the Lake Liberty water - arsenic, calcium, copper, iron, lead, zinc, potassium, aluminum and magnesium.

"It may be treatable and good to drink," he said. But he's not convinced. "I don't drink the water and am reluctant to take a bath in it but have no choice," he said.

The mayor and the state Division of Waste Management contend the dump site is not harmful to the lake.

"Mr. Pennington is well aware that there is nothing from that old site leaching into our lake that even remotely could be construed as harmful to our water supply" the mayor said. "The state has monitored the sight and tested repeatedly and found nothing of concern. Mr. Pennington has documentation regarding those tests."

Sweeney said the city has been notified about the water department personnel's failure to do a particular test, which had nothing to do with Pennington's complaints.

Hackathorn said his agency checked the area twice in the past year.

"Our samples have shown (the water) is not a threat to human health," said Hackathorn. "The waste is so diluted, it has not reached the alarming status. It does not have a top priority. We've got several sites that are a threat and will be considered first."

Pennington said the county judge-executive and county attorney have said they are willing to help correct the matter. He also wants East Casey County Water District to apply pressure on the city to clean up the dump.

"I think we have very serious problems," Pennington said. "If someone doesn't stand up to the officials and ask the city to do something, nothing will be done."

Pennington is considering litigation against the city and state because neither enforced the landfill regulations and because neither followed up on the problem.

"I want to know who the Environmental Protection Agency is protecting," he said. "The politicians?"

Pennington knows he is making political enemies by pressing the issue.

"I already feel the wrath from the ones in the county for being involved in this. I'm a big boy and can handle that," he said.

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