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Marion is considering a new water line to boost its supply. A nearby town wants to take advantage.

Caldwell County Government
Caldwell County Government
Caldwell County Government

The western Kentucky town of Marion has been facing an ongoing water shortage for months and is now weighing whether or not to build an emergency water line that would allow more supply to flow from other utilities. But another small town about nine miles away from the Crittenden County seat is wanting to take advantage of the situation.

The proposed emergency water line, designed by Bell Engineering, would run about three miles along U.S. Route 641 in Caldwell County and connect the Caldwell County Water District to the Crittenden-Livingston County Water District. The plan would be to have water flowing from the city of Princeton’s water system through multiple utilities to temporarily supplement some of Marion’s supply.

That proposed water line also runs through the Caldwell County city of Fredonia, and Jim Seibert — the mayor for the community of less than 500 people — said he only learned about the proposed project last week and is frustrated about the lack of communication.

“Now all of a sudden they’re gonna run a water line through town. No one's even called. No one's even asked us,” said Seibert. “No one's even bothered to find out our needs in this matter, and, yeah, that is frustrating.”

The proposed water line design to connect water districts.
Bell Engineering
The proposed water line design to connect water districts.

Seibert said the Fredonia City Council had a first reading of two ordinances Monday that would “protect” the town from the potential construction of the water line, imposing regulations and fees in the tens of thousands of dollars on the project.

The first ordinance would require the construction company building the water line to acquire a permit from the city, which would go for 2% of the project’s overall cost. Marion City Administrator Adam Ledford said the project could cost anywhere from just under $1 million to $1.2 million, depending on if the proposed water line is buried.

The ordinance would also require all subcontractors on the water line project — which Seibert said could be individual workers or third parties the main construction company hires — to acquire permits from the city at the cost of $1,000 each. The ordinance would require the construction company and relevant parties to have a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, back up alarms for equipment, proof of insurance and proof of workers’ compensation.

The ordinance would also levy fines of $3,000 for each occurrence of damage to Fredonia’s water system during construction, even if the damage occurs on a city water line that isn’t properly marked on Fredonia’s water system map.

“Our water system is so old and the maps are so inaccurate,” Seibert said. “If you hit our water line, you're going to have to pay, and that will cause them to be careful.

“We're not paying for you guys to destroy our water system so they can have water.”

The second ordinance would charge 20 cents per thousand gallons of water that flows through the emergency water line, with the fee increasing by 2% every three years.

Seibert said all the regulations, permit fees and potential fines could be waived if Fredonia is allowed to hook into the water line and sign a contract to get water from the Caldwell County Water District. He said he approached the water district years ago to supply the water to the community but was unsuccessful.

Seibert said the city gets all of their water from the Lyon County community of Eddyville and wants to add another source of water for Fredonia to help lower water rates for his community. According to data from the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority, Fredonia purchases a little more than 21 million gallons of water from Eddyville each year. Calls and an email to Caldwell County Water District CEO Jimmy Littlefield were not immediately returned.

“We're a very friendly place, just a small town. But I mean, if you’re gonna take advantage of us we're going to get something out of it,” Seibert said. “We've been trying to get a hook up [to Caldwell] now for six years. No one does it for us. You guys let your whole water system go to hell – you get everything you want.”

Along the road where the proposed water line would run in Fredonia, taken in 2020.
Along the road where the proposed water line would run in Fredonia, taken in 2020.

Marion City Council Member Don Arflack said he considered Seibert’s comments to be “mind-boggling” and an “insult” to his community, saying that Marion had nothing to do with Fredonia not being able to obtain water from the Caldwell County Water District in the past.

“He's about as uninformed as somebody in Hawaii over what's going on,” Arflack said. “We're not getting everything we want by any means. If we've got what we wanted, we’d had our lake [levee] fixed three months ago.”

Crittenden County and Marion leaders decided to drain a lake that served as their main water source in late April because of fears that the lake levee could fail, leading to the water shortage the community now faces.

Marion City Administrator Adam Ledford in a statement said the ordinances could have an impact on the proposed water line project but that it was just one of several options that Marion is considering to boost its water supply. Ledford during a city council meeting in the beginning of this month showed city leadership a design of the emergency water line. Marion Mayor Jared Byford did not respond to requests for comment.

Seibert said he’s willing to “play ball” with Marion leadership in the future, and Ledford said Marion is open to working with Fredonia on details of the project if it moves forward. Seibert said the next Fredonia city council meeting is Sept. 19.

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."
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