PIKEVILLE – Contaminated water wells on Big Branch of Brushy in Pike County was a topic of discussion for much of the last few years.
Now, as a result of partnerships and cooperation from the Pike and Martin county governments, two water districts, two coal companies and residents of Big Branch, the years of persistence and hard work has taken the water issue off the table.
Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford, Martin County Judge-Executive Kelly Callaham and several others met in Rutherford’s conference room on Aug. 25, 2011, with one goal in mind: getting the Big Branch residents safe, potable water.
“Years of persistence and hard work from everyone involved are what made the Big Branch Water Project happen,” Rutherford said. “It is truly a great project and we should all be proud of what we got accomplished.”
Also present at the Aug. 25, 2011, meeting was a representative from Mountain Water District/Utilities Management Group, the assistant Pike County attorney, attorneys representing families whose water had become contaminated, two members of the Martin County Water Board, representatives from Excel Mining and members of Rutherford’s staff.
Most Pike County homes and business are served by MWD/UMG. Pike County, being the largest county in the Commonwealth is still able to provide 97 percent of its residents with safe, sanitary water.
“There remain small pockets where water lines need to be installed,” Rutherford said. “These homes are sometimes miles from a UMG/MWD service line.”
Rutherford added that the residents of Big Branch are 10 miles from the nearest MWD/UMG line.
The Martin County Water District has a service line at the top of the hill at Big Branch, which serves the Meathouse section of Martin County, and lies very close to the Big Branch residences.
“Things don’t just happen, we have to make them happen,” Rutherford said. “Judge Callaham and I asked the question, ‘Why can’t these two water districts work together to get these people safe, sanitary water?’”
The Big Sandy Area Development District had been working for more than a year to resolve this problem, and funding was made available from Excel Mining as well.
“We can get the attorneys and the water districts together and had water to these people by the start of 2012,” Callaham said. “We have talked, but we need action. It has been far too long.”
Just before the new year, the residents of Big Branch got clean, sanitary water via lines laid by a contractor for the Martin County Water District.
Martin County had an existing contract to upgrade its water lines and pressure system at the county line located at the top of the hill. Both water districts acted immediately and the water lines were soon put in place.
“It’s not complicated,” Rutherford said. “The new line, which is just over a mile – 5,360 feet – was done by issuing a change order on the present contract, and both water boards acted immediately.”
Doug Tackett, Pike County Emergency Services Director, and his staff have assisted in getting bottled water to these families for more than two years. The coal company helped and other groups also sent in water after the wells became contaminated with coal bed methane.
Rutherford said all the cooperation was “great news.”
“A person can’t help but wonder why – with funding available – this could not get done,” District 1 Magistrate Jeff Anderson said. “I extend my thanks to both judges and am relieved these people finally have safe drinking water.”
One resident of Big Branch, Bobby Mullins, has been outspoken about this situation for some time.
“It was rough on all of us,” he said. “New wells were drilled by the coal company, but to no avail. They were also toxic. I knew when I heard Judge Rutherford and Judge Callaham had a meeting something would get done. Both are strong leaders who care about not just the people in their county, but people in general. I knew the results of that meeting would get water to the people on Big Branch. On behalf of the residents of Big Branch I would like to thank everyone, the water districts, the judges, the coal officials, attorneys and the Big Sandy Area Dvelopment District.”
Callaham knew that one arduous process was just getting the paperwork finished.
“Martin County absorbed the customers on Big Branch and provided them with safe drinking water and is responsible for the maintenance on the lines,” he said. “The coal company paid for their hookup fees.”
Rutherford said the success of the partnership should be a model for future endeavors.
“When people come together with a common goal, things get accomplished,” he said. “This is the solution Judge Callaham and I were hoping for. The Mountain Water District chairperson Rhonda James and the water board really came through for these folks.”