For the third time since last summer, the state Division of Water has cited the owner of a southwest Jefferson County mobile home park for letting untreated sewage escape from a manhole into a public stream.
This time, the agency isn’t taking a denial for an answer. It referred the matter to the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Enforcement.
In its “notice of violation” of Sept. 3, the Division of Water accuses SSK Communities, an Erlanger-based owner of 17 trailer parks in Kentucky, of discharging sewage into a stream that connects with the Ohio River. The incident occurred April 17 at SSK’s Ashley Pointe Mobile Home Park on Penile Road.
SSK spokeswoman Kathy Groob said the leak has been plugged. “It’s been fixed,” she said. “Everything’s been remedied. As of today, there’s no sewage leaking.”
Last month, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting detailed the long history of sewage system problems at what used to be known as Country Breeze Mobile Home Park. The park was hooked up to the Metropolitan Sewer District in 1995 and bought and renamed by SSK in 1997. But manhole overflows and creeping stench remain part of the Ashley Pointe lifestyle.
Twice before, in July 2013 and March 2014, the state Division of Water issued notices of violation to SSK and its co-owner Nathan Smith for sewage pollution. SSK repaired a sewer lift station after the first notice, but blew off the second.
“We dispute your characterization that there was any ‘discharge into any of the waters of the state,’ ” wrote Chris Wiest, a Crestview Hills attorney representing SSK, on March 25. “The discharge in question, as we understand it, was to a small impoundment.”
The latest episode began when a Louisville Gas & Electric crew saw and smelled sewage spewing from an Ashley Pointe clean-out value in February. According to the Sept. 3 notice of violation, the Division of Water inspector learned that a lift station was repaired on April 17. When he arrived at the site later that day, “he noted evidence of sewage which had overflowed to the ditch and into the stream.”
The state took a sample of the sewage and sent it to a lab to determine the level of e.coli, a bacteria commonly found in the digestive systems of people and animals.
In Kentucky, water discharged by sewage treatment plants must average no more than 130 units of e.coli per 100 milliliters of water. That’s the level ruled to be safe for swimming and an accidental swallow. The Ashley Pointe sample contained 48,392 units, or 372 times the state’s maximum exposure level.
People who ingest e.coli bacteria are subject to gastrointestinal illnesses. Common outcomes include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and low-grade fever.
The Division of Water’s notices of violation do not include a map showing the allegedly polluted stream and the mobile home park. Maps do show an unnamed stream originating in Ashley Pointe, flowing beneath the Gene Snyder Freeway and into Pond Creek. From there, the sewage would have flowed west to Valley Station and south, parallel with Dixie Highway, into the Salt River — and the Ohio River — at West Point.
If the Division of Enforcement agrees that an illegal sewage discharge occurred, it will first try to resolve the matter amicably with SSK Communities, said the division’s assistant director, Mark Cleland.
“If we don’t come to an agreement, we refer the case on to our attorneys,” he said. “They’ll file a complaint with the Office of Administrative Hearings, and it’ll go to a formal hearing where both sides will present evidence and the hearing officer will make a recommendation to the (Energy and Environment) Cabinet secretary.”
SSK faces a civil fine of up to $75,000 for the spill. If it refuses to settle the matter and contests the outcome of a hearing, the state has the option of filing suit in Franklin County Circuit Court, Cleland said.
Nathan Smith, who did not return a phone call, last week was re-elected as chairman of the Manufactured Housing Institute, a trade group representing the “factory-built housing industry.” He is a former vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and is currently chairman of Attorney General Jack Conway’s campaign for governor.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814-6543.