Utility might solve pig farmer's mess

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Faint hope is held by the chairman of Marshall County's Board of Public Utilities that it can help resolve a very unusual criminal case brought by state officials against a hog farmer.

Charles Edward "Charlie" Haskins, 61, of 1066 Haskins Chapel Road in Bedford County was indicted Aug. 19 by the Marshall County grand jury on charges that he allegedly contaminated the water supply for several Marshall County homes by dumping excessive amounts of waste from his hog production facilities.

One way to resolve the problem for the residents who had relied on water from wells is to extend water service from an MCBPU pipeline to the homes that now have polluted water wells because, according to District Attorney Chuck Crawford, "hundreds of thousands of gallons" of hog manure were allowed to pollute their water sources.

That idea was presented to the MCBPU on Dec. 15 when the water utility's superintendent, Tommy Whaley, reported that inquiries were made on what could be done to resolve the problem.

Marshall County Commissioner Rocky Bowden is chairman of the MCBPU.

"It's a hope," Bowden said of MCBPU finding a way to make the victims whole. "It's a possibility."

In response to Whaley's report, the board told him to "Go ahead and investigate funding options so it won't cost the ratepayers" of the county-owned utility, the superintendent said after the monthly meeting.

He should also "try to find a route in there and see if we can justify it," Whaley said.

"I've got a few areas to look at for funding, but I'm not sure it will work," he said.

Whaley has three prospective routes for water pipes to that part of the county near Duck River Speedway, he said.

In broad terms, four miles of pipe might have to be laid if funding is found. Costs might be as high as $500,000.

"Those folks are citizens of the county and they need to have their lives sustained," Whaley said.

He plans to advise the utility board and state prosecutor what he finds.

The district attorney said very little about the situation.

"There's no deal in place," Crawford said. "We're exploring options ... to make the victims in this case whole."

The case brought against Haskins "is very unusual," Crawford said. As a result, he said, "it may take" very different steps on how to deal with the situation.

Haskins is represented by Ray Fraley, a Fayetteville-based defense attorney who was reached near the end of a full day of court.

"I've certainly not heard of anything about me or my client paying for something out there," Fraley said on Monday evening. "It may be something the insurance company may consider, but I don't want anything to do with that.

"My client maintains his innocence; that he's not responsible for contamination of any of the wells."

Among Haskins' first statements after his arrest was that he had insurance and that he hired someone else to dispose of the hog manure.

Speaking of the prospect of extending water to the victims, Fraley said, "Those folks need water out there. It's a troubled area."

The MCBPU chairman said, "It's going to take a whole lot more research."

Early estimates without detailed study have been up to $500,000 for the water pipeline and additional work with fixtures, he and Whaley said.

"We might be able to tap into a Rural Development Fund (from the U.S. Department of Agriculture) but that could leave us $340,000 short," Bowden said, speaking hypothetically with rounded figures.

That's what MCBPU's chairman anticipates, "unless some other people are willing to do some cost sharing," he said, noting that part of the county has some of the "roughest territory" because of rocky soil.

"It cannot possibly be a quick fix," Bowden said "That's what people need to realize. Even if we were able to do this, it takes time to get things in place.

"It's in my district," said Bowden, pointing out his dual role as a county commissioner and chairman of a utility board. "I would love to say, 'Let's jump right in there,' but I can't betray my other ratepayers.

"I'm not saying that it can't be done, but it's going to take more research and thought."