Op-Ed

Emergency plans for slurry dams essential

Cleanup crews worked to remove sludge from the Coldwater Creek area south of Inez after a slurry pond held by Martin County Coal broke and released sludge, displacing 12 residents, in October 2000.
Cleanup crews worked to remove sludge from the Coldwater Creek area south of Inez after a slurry pond held by Martin County Coal broke and released sludge, displacing 12 residents, in October 2000. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Thank you for your editorial highlighting the need for strong dam safety programs in Kentucky.

As you so aptly described, Kentucky is home to more than 1,000 dams with 277 of those deemed high-hazard potential. Of those high-hazard potential dams, Kentucky government regulates 178; the rest are owned or regulated by the federal government.

Of those state-regulated dams with high-hazard potential, only eight have an emergency action plan on file with state regulators, according to 2010 data.

Most of the other states have legislative authority to require dam owners to create these plans. Kentucky has seen bills come and go over the past few years — bills that died due to heavy lobbying by opposition groups, which were more concerned about the costs of creating the plans than public safety or disaster cleanup costs.

It is true that Kentucky hasn't seen a high-consequence dam failure for a while — a fact that breeds complacency. But failures do happen annually in various parts of the United States (go to www.damsafety.org to learn more), some with very high consequences, including loss of life. It is proven that when good emergency-action plans are in place and implemented in times of emergency, consequences are mitigated.

Kentucky's other dam safety performance measures are unfortunately low by most measurements compared to other states. Although the state does budget more for dam safety than the national average, other statistics show that state staffing and dam inspections have been dropping in recent years. Compared to the national average grade, which is based on a set of model standards for dam safety legislative authority, Kentucky scores poorly in most areas. And the fact that there is no authority to require the plans is really lowering that score.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials is a national organization based in Lexington. It is our goal to see all states achieve high standards for dam safety. It would be sweet to see our home state at the top of that list. I urge Gov. Steve Beshear, state agencies overseeing the dam safety program and the General Asssembly to support legislation that would require dam owners to have emergency action plans.

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