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An estimated 1,500 gallons of raw sewage was pumped off the edge of Wildcat Road on Monday night, triggering a massive cleanup effort and an investigation by local, state and potentially federal authorities.
“It’s extremely nasty,” said Tim Wright, interim health director for the Anderson County Department of Health. “There’s human waste, tissue paper, bacteria, viruses, sanitary female items, condoms … it’s just nasty.”
When the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office arrived, two men were reportedly with the truck and pumping raw, gray-colored sewage down a steep bank that leads to the creek below and dumps a short distance later into the Kentucky River, which is the source of drinking water for Anderson County.
The stink was incredible and could be smelled nearly a mile away in Tyrone.
The next day, the sewage could be seen all the way to bottom of the ravine, and a large pool of water appeared to have a thick layer of sludge floating on it in the creek.
Authorities at the scene Monday night said the runoff posed no immediate threat to the county’s water supply, and that the water treatment plant operated by the City of Lawrenceburg is capable of treating any potential runoff that seeped into the system.
A passerby reportedly saw two men with a pump truck offloading sewage on the gravel portion of Wildcat Road early Monday night and called authorities.
Both men were transported to the sheriff’s office for questioning, and the was truck impounded by the sheriff’s office.
The names of the men have not been released pending an investigation that includes the sheriff’s office, Anderson County Health Department, the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the men involved is believed to be a resident of Tyrone. The other is believed to be a resident of Woodford County.
David Leo, a response coordinator for the state office, said there are potential state and federal environmental violations involved.
Tim Wright, the county’s interim health director, said local criminal charges are also possible.
The owner of the truck, Ken Lawson of KPL Septic Service in Versailles, was at the scene Monday and said repeatedly that he knew nothing about why the men driving the truck would dump sewage over the steep bank off Wildcat Road, an area long used by illegal dumpers that was cleaned up earlier this year.
Wright, the health director, said Tuesday that he had already suspended Lawson’s septic pumping permit pending an administrative hearing with the state cabinet that regulates those permits.
“That means it’s suspended statewide,” Wright said.
Cleanup was scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon. Officials said the plan was a combination of flushing the truck’s contents down the steep bank while using an environmental vacuum truck downstream to suck it up as it flowed downstream toward the river.
“When we’re done there won’t be anything there,” said Leo. “But I still wouldn’t recommend climbing up and down that bank, in case we miss anything.”
As of noon Tuesday, environmental officials had closed Wildcat Road for the cleanup to begin. It was expected to be reopened later that day.
Leo said the cost of cleaning up the mess could fall to whoever is determined to be responsible.
“We have statutory authority to have them reimburse us for the costs,” said Leo, who declined to estimate how much that would be.
Wright was at the scene Monday night, along with a host of other county officials including Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway, Anderson County Fire Chief Mike Barnes and Sheriff Troy Young. Deputies at the scene included Det. Bryan Taylor and Robbie Armstrong.
Conway said Monday night that he was livid over what occurred.
“I’m sick and tired of people coming out here and dumping whatever they want,” Conway said. “I want a stop put to this.”
Jeremy Schell, owner of Lawrenceburg-based Schell Septic Service, said what happened Monday night is wrong.
“It’s something they know they shouldn’t have done,” said Schell, the only licensed septic pumper in Anderson County. “We don’t want people to think that’s what all septic pumpers do, but you have lemons in every business. There’s always a bad egg somewhere.”
Schell said sewage he collects in Anderson County is taken to the city’s sewer plant and that he pays a $50 fee to dispose of it.
“That’s what these guys were trying to save by doing this,” he said. “$50.”
Conway, along with Magistrate David Ruggles who represents that area, worked with fellow magistrates and others to clean up the gravel portion of Wildcat Road earlier this year.
The road, which connects the river community of Tyrone to Harrodsburg Road, includes a mile-and-a-half narrow stretch that winds its way through a steep ravine and is known for its picturesque beauty.
It also attracts hordes of illegal dumpers who have tossed items ranging from hot tubs to boats to cars and household trash over its banks for decades.
Conway said he’s lobbied the fiscal court for two years to install security cameras on the road, and earlier this year said the county may have to shut down the road if dumping didn’t end.