Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fletcher Era Ethics

From the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Before he became a leading opponent to a new water treatment plant on the Kentucky River, Franklin County Magistrate Ira Fannin was willing to sell land for a similar plant in almost the same location. Last July, Fannin accepted $10,000 from the Bluegrass Water Supply Commission for an option on 118 acres he and his wife, Patricia Fannin, own on the river north of Frankfort.

The site is about two miles south of the spot where Kentucky American Water wants to build a plant. The option document was obtained from the commission Wednesday through the state’s Open Records Act. If the option had been exercised, the Fannins would have been paid $835,000 for their property. The commission represents several towns around Lexington. It had hoped to build a plant and sell water to its members, and to Kentucky American through a grid of pipelines that connected water utilities.

But those plans have been dropped, and the commission now is considering buying a share in the $160 million plant and pipeline Kentucky American wants to build. And Fannin now argues against any new plant on the Kentucky River. He did not return several calls from the Herald-Leader Wednesday, but has recently argued for a "two rivers" solution to augmenting the region’s water supply.

He also has introduced a resolution to the Franklin Fiscal Court opposing Kentucky American’s plan. A vote on the resolution was postponed last month so the court can get more information from the Louisville Water Co. If passed, it would be sent to the Kentucky Public Service Commission, which is considering Kentucky American’s proposal. At an April 19 fiscal court meeting, Fannin argued that Kentucky American should go back to an old plan to build a pipeline to bring treated Ohio River water from Louisville to Lexington.

Kentucky American officials who attended that meeting said a plant on the Kentucky River would be somewhat cheaper. They also pointed out the Louisville pipeline plan faced strong opposition in the 1990s, and Lexington’s Urban County Council passed a resolution in 1999 saying it wanted a "Kentucky River solution" to the region’s water supply needs. Kentucky American did not immediately return calls about Fannin’s option Wednesday. The company wants to build its plant on a parcel in southern Owen County, with intake pipes on a parcel in northern Franklin County. It paid $685,000 for the two parcels, which cover 110 acres.

Many people in the part of the county that Fannin represents object to the 42-inch pipeline that would carry water from the plant to Lexington and perhaps other towns. On a trip through his district with other magistrates last month, Fannin said he opposed not only the pipeline, but also the idea of the region relying on another Kentucky River plant. "One reason is safety," he said, according to an article in The State Journal, a Frankfort newspaper. "A chemical spill could shut down everything in Central Kentucky."

He said that the Ohio River is a much larger source than the Kentucky. Don Hassall, the executive director of the water supply commission, said Fannin’s property was chosen for a potential water plant for its location, not because it belonged to a public official. Hassall downplayed the importance of Fannin now opposing a plant on the Kentucky when he was earlier willing to profit from one. "It sounds like he’s had a change of heart," Hassall said. "He’s got constituents out there and I’m sure his phone is ringing."

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