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District Won’t Take Blame For Burgin Flooding

Members of the Mercer County Sanitation District’s board of directors survey flooding in Burgin at last week’s board meeting.

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

The City of Burgin is considering suing the Mercer County Sanitation District over flooding in the city. Many in Burgin blame blasting done during the construction of the city’s sewer for the flooding which has plagued the residents along Water Street for the last few years. However, the district says no one has offered any proof that sewer construction is to blame.

“Since that pumping station was put in, it’s flooded 18 times,” Burgin Mayor James Caldwell told the district’s board of directors last week. “Our position is, it’s ultimately the Mercer County Sanitation District’s fault.”

Burgin is asking for the $250,000 spent by the city to deal with flooding so far and to have the district assume any further mitigation costs.

“Our goal is to fix the problem,” Caldwell said.

However, none of the possible solutions will be cheap. Caldwell said one option, creating a pumping station, could cost $500,000 or more.

While the city is pursuing grants at the state and federal level, the mayor said even if the city receives any funding, they would not be able to break ground on a project for at least two years.

Caldwell asked the district to take what he called the civil version of an “Alford plea.”

In criminal law, an Alford plea is where a defendant asserts their innocence but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to convict.

Caldwell asked the district to advise their insurance company to take an “Alford plea,” which would allow them to make payments to the city.

However, attorney Larry Catlett, who represents the district, said there is no such thing as a civil version of an Alford plea.

“To do that, we would need to admit liability,” he said. “We’re not allowed to do anything that can tie the insurance company’s hands.”

While Catlett and the board of directors said they are sympathetic, they are not willing to expose the district to further litigation, especially when no one has provided any proof that the blasting is at fault for the flooding.

Burgin has had issues with flooding since its founding, Catlett said. No one making  a claim against the district has been able to produce any evidence that blasting is to blame, he said.

“I don’t know how you’re going to prove anything,” Catlett said.

“I agree it’s an awful situation,” said district Executive Director Mike Sanford.

However, Sanford said the city is not the only one paying for the flooding.

Last month, the district paid the City of Danville $7,800 to treat 3.2 million gallons of water. According to Sanford, a normal bill is around $2,800.

Much of the sewer was underwater last month, and while the district has taken steps to keep rainwater out of the system, there is only so much they can do.

“There was a direct negative impact to the district,” said Sanford, who said as many as 17 manholes were underwater during the most recent flooding.

Sanford and the district’s board of directors blame flooding in Burgin on the rain. Sanford said 11.2 inches of rain were recorded in Burgin for the month of December, with 2.8 inches recorded during one event.

On average, Kentucky receives 32 inches a year. In 2019, the commonwealth received 42 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, with some parts of Kentucky receiving 52 inches. That’s on top of 2018, one of the wettest years in Kentucky history, with 63.08 inches recorded on average. Sanford has begun calling the heavy rains “the new normal.”

The district, which has had to restructure its debt service payments to the federal government, has discussed raising manhole covers to keep them out of the flooding, which won’t be popular in Burgin, where many complain the manhole covers are already too high.

Caldwell also complained about a contractor dumping debris around Water Street. Caldwell said the mud left behind goes right into the sinkhole which the city has relied upon for drainage.

That contractor, Todd Johnson Contracting Inc. of Danville, sued the district in April 2018. That suit is still in litigation.

The mayor said an  engineer had suggested installing a fence to screen out the silt, but many residents are complaining about the work the contractor has done. Caldwell said they blocked Railroad Street for two months.

“Dump it some place where it’s not going to cause me problems,” he told the board. “Lease a lot someplace, but don’t dump it around the sinkhole.”

Drew Rice, a member of the board of directors, told Caldwell that applying for a federal grant would be a better way for the city to proceed than a lawsuit.

“If you pursue the grant, that’s guaranteed funding,” Rice said. “If you sue the insurance company it might take two years and you still might not get anything.”

Before he left the meeting, Mayor Caldwell said the board’s position is totally within the law.

“That doesn’t make it right,” he said.

In other business, the Mercer County Sanitation District:

• Approved a loan resolution  with the Kentucky Rural Water Finance Corporation for the Gwinn Island project.

• Learned the state had approved a 12-month trial period  for using Peracetic acid as a disinfectant at the Paradise Camp treatment plant.

The next meeting of the Mercer County Sanitation District will be Thursday, March 12, at 2 p.m.

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