Sunday, July 11, 1999

Sewage happens, but not here


Boone Co. residents fight treatment plant

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There may be no more beautiful place in Northern Kentucky than the winding Ohio River valley in Western Boone County.

        Take Ky. 18 out of the once quiet but now bustling burg of Burlington, or drive Ky. 20 between Petersburg and Belleview Bottoms for a look at what a whole lot of this area used to look like.

        Winding roads. Thick patches of huge trees. Neatly plowed fields. Classic barns and silos. Stone houses. Country stores. Picturesque creeks meandering into the mighty Ohio.

        Who could blame someone for wanting to keep this area as it is?

        At dusk one night last week, the sunset over the Indiana hills painted a streak of burnt orange across the blackening sky. A single bright star emerged, punching a small hole of light in the darkness.

        There were no other cars on Ky. 20. It was peaceful. It was good.

        The tranquility belied what was happening just down the road, at the red-brick Belleview Baptist Church. Inside, a community was fighting.

        Not among themselves, but for one another.

        Just north of Belleview Bottoms is where Sanitation District No. 1 wants to build a plant to treat raw sewage. It's a dirty but necessary job.

        Just do it someplace else, was the explicit message ringing from the pulpit at the church.

        “That plant isn't coming here,” said John Arrasmith as he stood before a crowd of a couple of hundred angry western Boone Countians.

        “We're not going to let it.”

        Mr. Arrasmith is the charismatic leader of this opposition force. A rotund man with long silvery hair and Native American roots, he is as eloquent as he is outspoken. He and his group feel they have all their bases covered.

        They've rallied the community, done their research, consulted with an attorney, enlisted the help of state lawmakers and scheduled meetings with county, school and sanitation district officials to make their case.

        “I may be a hillbilly,” Mr. Arrasmith said, “but I'm every bit as smart as they are.”

        His passion is admirable. The focus is pointed, even if some of the group's facts appear to be wrong, some of its claims exaggerated.

        The opposition insists that chlorine will be used to treat raw sewage at the plant, and in the event of an accident the chemical would fill the air and blow downwind to Kelly Elementary School, which is just down the road from the proposed plant site.

        Sanitation District officials deny that chlorine will be used. “I'll put it in writing,” said district General Manager Jeff Eger.

        That won't be good enough for the Boone Countians. They want to stop construction of the massive riverfront plant. They don't want the smell or the possibility of a chemical or sewage spill contaminating water and air. They want to halt progress in their corner of the world.

        That is the real story.

        Let the growth and development that will invariably come with the promise of new sewer lines go somewhere else. Belleview Bottoms, Petersburg, McVille and Rabbit Hash don't want it.

        Western Boone County is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the next century. It is fighting a war against growth and development on several fronts and in various venues across a county that is fast losing its rural character.

        Residents here have battled creationists over construction of the proposed Answers in Genesis museum, sparred with mine owners who want to dig into the earth for minerals and limestone, slugged it out with developers who want to put subdivisions and communities on farmland and along creeks.

        “This isn't as much about one development or one project as it is property rights,” said state Rep. Charlie Walton of Florence, who worked through the pain of a bad back to operate as a true statesman at the church meeting, leading the discussion as well as being a leader.

        “People should have a right to determine what kind of development, if any, is built in their community,” he said.

        These Boone Countians are getting a bitter taste of the same pill so many other Northern Kentucky residents and communities have had to swallow over the years.

        There is a price to pay for growth and progress. Ask the people in the 1950s who lost their homes, neighborhoods, businesses, churches and farms to the construction of Interstate 75; those who can remember when Independence was a country town and not a growing suburb; the families who moved when entire subdivisions were bought and razed to make room for growth at the airport.

        Is it fair that progress uproots lives? No. It's life.

        Back at Belleview Baptist, rarely has so much hell been raised in a place we equate with heaven. The nasty product that will be treated at the sewage plant was hitting the proverbial fan.

        The crowd wanted a villain, and it found one in James Daugherty, the Boone County representative on the sanitation district's board of directors.

        Mr. Daugherty had the sense of duty and the guts to show up at a meeting where he was about as welcome as cancer. Yet he took the heat and actually stood up before the congregation to do so. There hasn't been a public grilling like that since Joan of Arc.

        That was just the beginning. Even though the odds are stacked against it, this group is going to fight. It will use the media, the courts, its own organization and the power of the state legislators who have joined thecause — Mr. Walton, state Rep. Paul Marcotte and state Sen. Dick Roeding — to do whatever it takes to keep the plant out of the community.

        Mr. Marcotte brought down the house and elicited a standing ovation when he issued this battle cry:

        “This obviously does not have public support,” he said. “We can play a lot of cards in Frankfort if they want to play hardball.”

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at crowleys@cinci.infi.net

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