While no actions were scheduled on the agenda for Monday’s Somerset City Council, the hour-long meeting was taken up mostly by more discussion on the issue of leachate – and primarily whether the city would continue to take it through the end of the 60 days left in the contract.
Two meetings ago, council members voted to end the contract with landfills – and the Watco trucking company owned by Shane Weddle – to bring in leachate to be processed at the Pittman Creek Wastewater Treatment facility.
Like most contracts, to end it early there is a requirement to give notice a certain amount of time ahead. In this case, there was a 90-day requirement.
While many anti-leachate residents are still concerned about the city still currently processing the landfill runoff liquid, there seems to be a discrepancy among them as to how to express their displeasure.
Somerset attorney Jay McShurley took initiative over the past few weeks to put up a billboard on U.S. 27 that states “Save the Lake: Stop Dumping Leachate.”
This didn’t seem to sit well with others.
Bob McAlpin spoke on several subjects during the Citizens Comments portion of Monday’s council meeting, one of those being the county’s tourism dollars.
He said that the area brings in around $137 million each year from Lake Cumberland tourists. He also noted that the word “leachate” isn’t in many editions of dictionaries, so when tourists drive through seeing that sign, they may turn to Google looking for a definition.
That may mean coming across a definition that could scare them off.
“The people coming down the highway see that sign – and of course it’s freedom of speech,” McAlpin said. “He said he’s going to cover every billboard in this county with those signs. I feel like with $130 million tourism business and a $100 million [Somerset City] budget, that we could just come up and do something.”
He added that his intent wasn’t to throw McShurley “under the bus,” to which McShurley, also in attendance at the meeting, responded jokingly, “People are just sending me money, Bob. Got to spend it somewhere.”
Later on, a member of the audience asked McShurley if he would consider taking the billboard down if the city stopped taking leachate completely.
“It would require a degree of certainty. A commitment from the city,” he replied.
A second person asked if he would consider changing the signs to say “No dumping in the lake” to draw attention to all of the other garbage and items dumped there illegally.
“Sure,” he replied.
The city’s processing of leachate has been an ongoing topic, as many disliked the fact that Mayor Alan Keck gave approval to start processing it at a wastewater facility that places treated water into Pittman Creek, which then runs into Lake Cumberland.
Concerns have been raised that the leachate, which comes from landfills that accept industrial waste, may contain asbestos or “forever chemicals,” compounds that have in some instances been linked to cancer or other ailments.
But besides the City processing the leachate, questions had been raised in previous meetings about the trucking company that transports it from the landfills to the city – Watco.
On Monday, several outspoken opponents of leachate returned to clarify that they didn’t have any ill will towards Watco or owner Weddle.
The leachate discussions have become rough on the community and on friendships, McAlpin said.
“I don’t blame anybody, I sure don’t blame Shane. … I don’t blame the mayor,” McAlpin said. “But it seems like something that – it feels like it’s got out of control. One question I’d ask is – we’re 12,000 people in Somerset, and of course Pulaski’s a whole lot bigger, but I wonder much leachate … that we actually produce?”
Another speaker, David Keller, referred back to those comments.
“One of the things I’ve heard, and I even heard this from the head guy of the Kentucky Division of Water, [was] that ‘Somebody’s got to process this leachate.’ To go back to what Mr. McAlpin said about how much out of all these four landfills actually belongs to us, we have no obligation. We have no guilt to go back and process landfill leachate in a landfill that’s owned publicly by some of the largest conglomerates and corporations in the United States. They took on the responsibility to build these landfills and to maintain them. It’s not a guilt that we have to go and process our leachate. We pay them to take our garbage.”
Keller said that those landfill owners are looking for the cheapest way to process the runoff.
“As long as they can find cheap avenues to get rid of it, they’re never going to step up and roll up their sleeves and spend the money and do something about it,” he said.
Council member John Ricky Minton asked Mayor Keck whether the city was actively working on finding another place for Weddle to take the leachate.
“If he finds a place to haul it, he can quit before the 90 days,” reasoned Minton.
This led Keck to offer Weddle a chance to respond, to which Weddle said, “This has to go somewhere. If this does not come here, these landfills are out of compliance. They have regulations and laws that they have to follow. It’s very important to their operations. If they do not stay in compliance, then, technically, the landfills could be asked to shut down, which means all of our trash will be on our curb. The short answer is yes, we are in the process, along in conjunction with the waste companies, to find other outlets for this.”
The City received revenue for processing leachate which was returned to the wastewater department’s budget.
On Tuesday, the city held its first budget workshop for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. Please see Thursday’s edition of the Commonwealth Journal for information from the workshop.
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