The site for a new cookie and cracker factory is near a large sinkhole and underground stream, which has Woodford County residents concerned that the plant will worsen periodic flooding in the surrounding area.
“Each building and development of this type adds an increment to that flooding,” said Ralph Ewers, a private consultant and retired professor of geology at Eastern Kentucky University.
Ewers and some residents met behind closed doors Thursday with Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott to present information about the underground topography of the proposed site for More Than a Bakery LLC. The company recently announced it had picked Versailles as the site for a new plant that will eventually employ more than 300 people.
The closed-door meeting in Traugott’s office took place after Versailles City Council gave first public reading to an ordinance to annex and rezone nearly 67 acres of the plant site on Big Sink Road. The council will have a second reading and vote on the ordinance on Monday.
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Residents said they do not want to stop jobs from coming to Versailles, but they want to make the company and local officials aware of the karst topography of the site. Karst is the name of the underground landscape and processes that form sinkholes and caves that honeycomb much of Kentucky’s limestone bedrock.
Traugott said after the meeting that this is “not the first” time that engineers would have heard about the site’s sinkhole and underground features.
“I’d be surprised if it were,” Traugott said.
The Woodford County Economic Development Authority paid $15,000 for more than 50 core sample borings to get an idea of what’s below ground, said John Soper, chairman of the authority. Those sample drillings were conducted for the company.
The factory would go across from the Versailles Post Office and Clark Distributing Co. Inc. on Big Sink Road, which is named for a large sinkhole in that area. A surface stream runs into the sinkhole, Ewers said.
The additional development of Versailles is causing more flooding in areas such as Williams Lane, said Bobby Gaffney, a former Woodford Fiscal Court magistrate and candidate for judge-executive.
“The more land you cover up with blacktop and houses and factories, the quicker the water runs off,” Gaffney said. Residents are also concerned about traffic, lighting, noise and plant emissions.
The parking lot and the roof of the proposed plant will catch rainfall and that water will run off more quickly than it would from grass and soil, Ewers said. He said that could exacerbate flooding, which sometimes closes roads for days at a time.
The cookie plant will locate above a groundwater basin that feeds into an underground stream called Roaring Spring. That basin runs parallel to and to the east of U.S. 60 north of Versailles, according to a topographic map Ewers had.
Ewers said he is “very pleased” to see that the company plans to install retention basins.
“That slows the release of the water,” Ewers said. “If they’re designed properly and maintained properly, that slows the release of this quick flow of the water off the parking lot and the roof and so forth.”
Ewers said the plant “could be safely built with minimum impact to the groundwater regime and the water quality if we do it all right, and with minimum impact to the plant they want to build there as well. They don’t want a Corvette Museum disaster in the middle of their plant.”
He was referring to the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, where a sinkhole opened up in February 2014 and swallowed eight vintage sports cars. Damage to the museum has since been repaired but a new exhibit tells about the sinkhole.
Ewers said the nearby Corvette assembly plant in Bowling Green is built on concrete pilings to prevent such a gaping hole. Ewers said that technique could be applied to the Versailles cookie plant.
Ewers said the meeting with the mayor went well and he said it was his impression that Traugott “wants to be an honest broker” between residents and the company.
Ewers said any effort to put the plant at another location “is probably very slim.”
“It will bring jobs to the area. It’s good for the local economy,” he said. But “there are potential problems and we need to be on top of them. And in my experience, the average engineer isn’t.”