‘It’s very degrading’: Vandals wreck only source of water for one Martin County community

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Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 9:18 PM EST
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TOMAHAWK, Ky. (WYMT) - For at least 12 homes in the Tomahawk community, on a road bordering Martin and Johnson Counties near Spring Knob Lookout Tower, a token pump station has been the regular source of water for years.

“And we fought for water for probably- my goodness- probably 20 years. And Abandoned Mines finally came in and they built this for us,” said homeowner Tammy Lewis. “We have to buy tokens to get water, put them on our vehicles, and a water tank, and drive it to our homes on this horrible road.”

That station, though often described as inconsistent and antiquated, remains the only system for water on which the community can rely.

“It’s such a degrading situation. It’s 2022 and it’s embarrassing. I have family from out of town and when they come it’s very embarrassing to run out of water when someone’s taking a shower,” she said. “It’s very degrading. We pay taxes like everybody else, so why shouldn’t we have water? It’s just what we have to have to survive.”

But, the concerns were only heightened in late January when vandals hit the station and stripped it of most copper and metals. Since then, the structure has sat unusable, leaving the community without access for more than one month, which Lewis says is like someone kicking them while they are down.

“It’s very degrading. It made you so angry, first of all, that somebody would be that lowlife to do something like this,” said Lewis. “I don’t know if people just don’t care anymore. I don’t know what it is.”

With around $5,000 in estimated damage, Martin County Water and Sewer District has ordered the parts to fix the issue. However, with shipping delays, the timeframe for that has officials wishing they could act sooner.

“They found the door open, the actual kiosk that receives tokens was removed... and inside, there was damage to the piping structure as well,” said Alliance Water Resources Division Manager Craig Miller.

Though the station receives its water from Paintsville Utilities in Johnson County, the maintenance of the building and token system is on Martin County Water and Sewer District.

Miller said the district plans to not only repair the station but improve it. The token system will be replaced with an electronic system that allows special card swipes, to eliminate even the appearance of money inside of the space. He said there are also plans in place to beef up the security measures on-site, to help protect the water source for those who use it and make it less of a burden on the homeowners.

“Not just to fix the problems, but to correct them and make them better moving forward,” he said.

According to Miller, since this token station is still the only feasible water access measure for the homes there, getting the station up-to-date only makes sense. He says upgrades like this are the reason for the partnership between Alliance and the district.

“We’re here to work with the community. We want to provide quality service. We want to provide quality water to our customers,” he said. “It’s really hard to do when people are intentionally damaging that at the same time.”

He said the vandalism is frustrating for the homeowners and the district, making a mockery of the work being done to update the county’s infrastructure.

“We’re already facing financial distress. Now we have to pay more money to fix a kiosk for customers to have water,” he said. “And this isn’t the first time.”

The vandalism, he said, is one of at least four instances over the last couple of years, including the theft of catalytic converters from several of the district’s trucks and instances of people tampering with the treatment plant equipment.

“We’ve seen natural disasters, we’ve seen floods, we’ve seen hillside slips, we’ve seen lightning damage; we’ve seen all kinds of things like that,” he said. “That, coupled with the district already being in financial stress and having significant water loss issues? Those things, you know that you have to work through. But when you are facing those odds and then the same community- or people near, that know the area, that knows that we’re already struggling- intentionally come in and damage a piece of equipment that provides water to customers? It’s heartbreaking.”

Miller says the district will continue its efforts to support and serve the community, come disaster or delinquents.

Still, homeowners like Lewis are just hoping for change. From the road conditions to the water issues, she says it’s like they are left in the “stone ages,” and she hopes to see county officials step in to address some of the concerns.

“This is our way of life,” she said. “It’s definitely a horrible situation in 2022.”

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