Scott County

Lexington garbage trucks threaten drivers in Scott County, neighbors say

Garbage trucks entered a landfill on U.S. 25 north of Georgetown on Sept. 23, 2016.
Garbage trucks entered a landfill on U.S. 25 north of Georgetown on Sept. 23, 2016. palcala@herald-leader.com

Even before the first truck hauling Fayette County garbage rolled to a Scott County landfill, homeowners were concerned about the size and speed of the trucks along narrow U.S. 25.

Marc Craft, a Mallard Point resident, said this week that the concern has turned to fear after Kim Smith, 58, was killed on U.S. 25 amid a collision of two garbage trucks, one from Fayette County and one from the city of Georgetown.

After seeing trucks barrel down the road himself, Craft said, and hearing similar stories from his neighbors and residents of other subdivisions, such as Moon Lake Estates and Harbor Village, Craft said he believes that if a solution can’t be found, “somebody else is going to die.”

What is the problem, how did it evolve, and who is responsible for fixing it?

Waste Services of the Bluegrass’s Central Kentucky Landfill occupies 650 acres about 8 miles north of Georgetown, accessible only by U.S. 25. Before Interstate 75 was built, U.S. 25 was the way folks drove to Cincinnati. The land was mostly farmland. Over the last few decades, however, the development of rural subdivisions has brought about 3,000 people to live in the area.

Today, U.S. 25 remains a two-lane road with narrow shoulders and a 55 mph speed limit.

Georgetown sends fewer than 50 trucks a week to the landfill along U.S. 25, Mayor Tom Prather said.

But beginning last year, Fayette County contracted with Waste Services of the Bluegrass to send between 183 and 223 truckloads of trash each week to the Central Kentucky Landfill, Lexington spokeswoman Susan Straub said. This represents all of the garbage collected by the city of Lexington, she said. The five-year, $17 million contract is one of the city’s longest ongoing expenses. (Privately owned trash haulers such as Rumpke and Republic Services that serve Lexington residents make their own arrangements.)

When his neighborhood heard about the potential increase in garbage truck traffic, Bruce Kohnz, president of the Mallard Point Homeowners Association, presented the Lexington council with a petition signed by 227 Scott County residents. It asked the council to consider requiring the garbage trucks to take Exit 136 from I-75, which is the Sadieville exit, instead of Exit 129, which sends the garbage trucks through populated areas.

Kohnz said that although the council listened politely, “our request was not acted upon.”

Craft and a handful of neighbors who gathered recently at his Mallard Point home endorsed that suggestion and said they also want more tickets issued to speeding garbage trucks. They would like to see police stop garbage trucks that might be oversize or too heavy. They would also like to see a lower speed limit on the road.

This is where things get complicated.

Scott County Sheriff Tony Hampton said that since the fatal wreck on Sept. 16 he pulled the records of a single officer and found that 70 traffic stops have been made along the problem stretch of U.S. 25 since January. However, he said, his officers are limited because they have to have probable cause to stop a truck. Also, he said, the county has limited resources and a lot of territory to cover.

Prather said the city of Georgetown also has limited options since U.S. 25 is a federal road, and the landfill is a private business contracted through Lexington’s city government.

Straub, the Lexington spokeswoman, said “we cannot dictate a route to a private company.” Also, she added, the landfill is authorized to accept waste from a total of 67 counties across Kentucky and Ohio, so it is not a problem created solely by Fayette County.

Representatives of Waste Services of the Bluegrass and the Central Kentucky Landfill did not respond to requests for comment.

The garbage dilemma is the latest example of the challenge of multiple government agencies working together to solve a problem, Prather said.

Prather said Lexington increasingly has an “arrogant attitude” toward Scott County, one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

Prather said that attitude is reflected in Lexington’s refusal to match the $475,000 each invested by the city of Georgetown and Scott County Fiscal Court to contribute to fixing what Prather calls a humanitarian crisis. Prather said about 1,000 people in Georgetown Mobile Estates, a mobile home park straddling the Scott/Fayette line, live near sludge piles of human waste, which backs up into homes when it rains. The sewage treatment failure threatens to pollute Georgetown’s source of drinking water, he said.

Lexington denied a request in August to help fund the project, Prather said. Straub said the Lexington government will consider the request at the beginning of the next budget cycle, in January 2017.

It’s clear that greater cooperation is needed to address the challenge of garbage trucks along U.S. 25. Hampton and Prather said the long-term solution is widening the road. But that requires the buy-in of the state Department of Transportation and would not alleviate the problem for years.

Hampton said he is working to bring in more officers from the Kentucky State Police’s commercial vehicle enforcement division. Those officers can stop and inspect a truck without cause, he said. Two Scott County deputies are undergoing training that will allow them to do some similar stops.

Craft and Kohnz both said the concerns of residents don’t seem to have been taken seriously. They are looking for ways to organize to force some kind of action. “There is obviously a lot of emotion,” Kohnz said.

Hampton said he understands the residents’ frustration. “I share their concern,” he said.

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