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Letcher Co. community wants permanent water supply

By: Katie Roach Email
By: Katie Roach Email

PREMIUM, Ky (WYMT) - People in one Letcher County community have filed a lawsuit after years of waiting for a permanent water supply.

Dozens of people in Premium say underground coal mining at Sapphire Mining's UZ No. 1 and UZ No. 2 mine contaminated their well water

"We had wonderful water, clear, crystal clear, soft water, good drinking water, bath water, and all of a sudden it just turned really bad," said Sandra Napier who lives in Premium and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Napier said the contaminated water ruined her clothes and left sores on her body.

She called the state more than five years ago, and she says officials determined the water was undrinkable and unusable.

"Until the state ruled Sapphire was at fault, we had to drive to Neon everyday and haul drinking water and all of our water because there wasn't any water here," said Napier.

For five years, Sapphire has kept tanks of water outside houses full and brought jugs and bottles of water to the affected people.

"Sometimes it's real nasty looking. It don't smell like chlorine, but it's supposed to be, and we have been dealing with it forever," said Alberta Bailey who also lives in Premium.

When Napier first complained, the state told the coal company they had two years to bring permanent water the homes in Premium, but that still has not happened.

So now, almost 40 people have filed a lawsuit against the coal company.

United Coal Company, which owns Sapphire, did not want to comment due to pending litigation.

Dick Brown with the Department for Natural Resources released this statement:

"The Department for Natural Resources did issue Notices of Noncompliance to Sapphire Coal for damage to the hydrologic balance in that area. Under the initial enforcement action, the company had two years to bring a permanent water supply to those affected. However, the number of impacted residences began to increase incrementally soon after the first noncompliance was issued. Because of that, the department extended the time frame under which Sapphire would provide the permanent water supply

It should be noted that Sapphire has been cooperative throughout this process. They have supplied a temporary drinking water source to the impacted residents while working with local agencies to have the impacted residences attached to a proposed public water project. Forcing Sapphire into expensive and protracted litigation while the company awaits word of possible public funding for a permanent water supply solution, a project that should be underway soon, is counter-productive, in the department's opinion."

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