County borrows to deal with mess

Friday, April 29, 2011

Nearly $622,000 was authorized for a water extension project Monday by county commissioners to resolve a pollution problem allegedly caused by a pig farmer who's set for a court hearing May 9 and a trial two weeks later.

Charles Edward "Charlie" Haskins, 63, of 1066 Haskins Chapel Road in Bedford County, is charged with contaminating the water supply of four homes by dumping excessive amounts of waste from his hog production facilities, state officials said in August 2009.

Haskins "had liability insurance," he said when asked about the effect of manure from thousands of hogs that allegedly polluted water sources. "I hired a company that's reputable in spreading it."

For years, the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities (MCBU), the county-owned water utility, has been discussing how to extend water to four homes near Duck River Speedway, and those between the track and a water main.

Monday, 17 county commissioners voted to borrow $409,000 and use a $213,000 federal grant to extend water service to the affected residents.

"This is what we call the Clay Hill Project," Commissioner Rocky Bowden, chairman of the MCBPU, told all his fellow commissioners except Mickey King, who was absent.

The $409,000 debt is to be repaid by MCBPU customers.

"Is this the same area where they had contaminated wells?" Commissioner Seth Warf said, and Bowden replied, "Yes."

Warf asked when the work would start and Bowden said he couldn't say.

"There are just so many variables," the MCBPU chairman said, noting a significant factor is "how fast people sign easements." Without that, the utility has no choice but to go to Chancery Court for condemnation -- a government taking that includes compensation for the utility right of way.

Warf pressed for a time frame for the project, asking "A year, or two?"

Again, Bowden said it's unknown, although County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett joined the discussion saying, "With these properties, it's a minimum of a year."

Two of those property owners are Greg and Cathy Dexter who own Duck River Lift Truck Inc. on Nashville Highway in Farmington from which they've hauled drinking water since October 2009.

"We got a big water filter system put in," Cathy Dexter said. "We have problems with it all the time and have to go to Franklin to get filters."

They don't drink that water.

"We use it to run the household," Greg Dexter said, "and for showers and brushing teeth."

Cathy's "surprised we all hadn't gotten really sick," she said.

They realized they had a problem in October 2009 when their tap water started to look like dark coffee with foam, the Dexters said. It smelled like manure.

"One of our neighbors went to Michigan," Cathy Dexter said during an interview mid-day Wednesday at their store. "We put a shower in here."

They'd been showering at Henry Horton State Park.

"If we didn't have this shop," Greg Dexter said, "I don't know what we would have done."

Cathy Dexter used a coin-operated laundry for a long time, she said. "It was an ordeal."

They acknowledged information mentioned that morning by a Laws Hill-area man who repeated what appears to be common knowledge in the area: Haskins' insurance company paid settlements to all of the affected residents. The Dexters refrained from saying how much was paid.

The odor from hog manure being spread from Haskins' Confined Animal Feeding Operation was noticeable in Chapel Hill, the Dexters said.

The Dexters knew someone was spreading the manure for Haskins, but concluded the work wasn't done properly.

That, according to District Attorney Chuck Crawford, is only part of the situation. Haskins filed a plan with the state on how to deal with his environmental issues and the state contends he did not follow the plan.

"As long as he follows the plan," Greg Dexter said, "there's no problem.

"We don't want to see him shut down," Greg Dexter concluded. Farmers "feed the country, and he's our neighbor, too. We don't want him to lose his livelihood."

The Dexters had "moved on" and "put all this behind us," but now they've been subpoenaed to testify in Haskins' May 23 trial, they said.

As for the county commission vote to authorize spending $622,000 on a water project, Greg Dexter said, "That means the county [MCBPU, and its rate payers] are going to bail Charlie out."