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Marion council voices support for rebuilding lake dam as water shortage solution

Marion Baptist Church held a gathering Wednesday night to pray for rain for the town.
Liam Niemeyer
A sign from a local church in Marion this summer asking the community to pray for rain amid the water shortage.

Elected officials in a small western Kentucky town that has faced an ongoing water shortage voiced support this week for rebuilding a dam for a local lake that previously served as its main water source.

Marion city administrator Adam Ledford presented three options, for which he provided initial engineering reports and cost estimates, to the city council during a special meeting Tuesday that would serve as longer-term solutions to the Crittenden County community’s water shortage.

The first option would have the city receive 400,000 gallons of water from the Caldwell County Water District through a new water line estimated to cost $5,374,000, according to the firm Bell Engineering.

The second option would have the city receive water from the Crittenden-Livingston County Water District, which has been supplying Marion with water in recent months. The proposal would increase the water treatment capacity for the water district to meet Marion’s needs and build a new water line, among other costs. The second option is expected to cost between $31 million to $37 million, according to the firm Hussey Gay Bell.

But Marion city council members during Tuesday’s meeting gravitated toward the third option presented, which would see the dam for Lake George rebuilt to use the lake again as a water source.

City Council member Darrin Tabor said he’s worried about meeting the city’s water demands for next summer.

“When a factory needs their sprinklers to kick on, we need to make sure we have the water reserved even if Crittenden-Livingston [Water District] had a leak somewhere,” Tabor said.

City and county officials breached the dam with an excavator in late April because of fears that the dam would fail due to a growing sinkhole in the dam. Officials subsequently discovered a damaged water pipe within the dam.

In recent interviews, Ledford said rebuilding the dam and making necessary improvements to the city’s water treatment plant would cost somewhere under $10 million. He also said the Bacon Farmer Workman report on the Lake George dam, presented to the city council, only dealt with the geotechnical stability of the structure and that he is waiting to receive a separate BFW report that would have specific recommendations on how to repair the dam.

Some city council members asked if the permitting process — which is required by the state government for such a dam rebuilding project — could be expedited to potentially catch rainfall in the lake basin for next year.

“Do we need to call the governor — have the governor come down and say, ‘look, get it done today?’” said city council member Donnie Arflack. “What do we need to do? Because it’s got to be done. Our window’s closing fast to get this thing fixed.”

Tim Capps, the president of Marion-based plastics manufacturing company Par 4 Plastics, told the council he would be glad to see the Lake George dam fixed but wants city leadership to weigh all the options on the potential costs and data available.

He also asked the council about who would manage the water shortage situation in the near future. Ledford, who has been on the forefront of managing the shortage as city administrator, is leaving his position Friday to take a job in Tennessee.

“Who's going to be the program manager, right?” Capps said. “Who's going to help us? Who's going to be able to gather all this information and complete a detailed analysis on options?”

The council did not take action on which long-term option to move forward with. The next Marion city council meeting is scheduled for Monday.