Metro Council Community Affairs Committee to discuss why some Louisville neighborhoods stink and if ARP funds could fix it

October 19, 2021

MSD representatives will attend Wednesday’s committee meeting at 1:30 p.m.

Louisville – The Metro Council Community Affairs Committee will host representatives from MSD at the 1:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday, October 20.

Councilwoman Keisha Dorsey (D-3) and a community coalition have received a $250,000 grant from the Humana Foundation to lead an environmental justice initiative, for which the Christina Lee Brown Evirome Institute will be providing expertise. Dorsey invited MSD to come before the Community Affairs Committee so members can discuss the possibility of using American Rescue Plan (ARP) Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds to repair part of the city’s aging sewer system that is causing odor and health concerns in several Louisville neighborhoods.

Hundreds of residents, particularly in West Louisville, regularly report a stench that seems to come from the sewer system. The smell can be attributed to the thousands of untrapped catch basins found throughout West Louisville, downtown, and some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.

“Equity, transparency, and fostering public trust are the highest virtues of good government. The goal to our public discussion with MSD is to bring transparency to an issue that negatively impacts our most vulnerable communities. We have an opportunity to be bold and take steps to remediate a long-standing quality of life issue in the west and central neighborhoods,” said Councilwoman Dorsey.

catch basin

Picture of catch basin from MSD pamphlet.

According to Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), the city’s sewer system includes 30,000 basins that collect and transport stormwater. Catch basins typically have drain traps that are like the traps under kitchen sinks, which are designed to keep gases from backing up into homes. When there is little rain and the catch basins dry out, gases that build up from decomposing sewage can escape from the pipes and release odors similar to rotten eggs.

catch basin trap

Explanation of how a catch basin trap works from an MSD pamphlet.

A FY22 House Appropriations Committee Funding Request submitted by MSD in April shows there are 1,043 untrapped catch basins located in four West Louisville neighborhoods and the Taylor Berry neighborhood near Churchill Downs.

“This has been an ongoing issue in the community. I look forward to continuing the discussions with MSD and finding a resolution,” said Councilwoman Jessica Green (D-1).

A recent media publication, citing the federal funding request, highlighted the disparities in some West Louisville neighborhoods due to this infrastructure issues. Along with the unpleasant smell, there are possible health concerns. Untrapped catch basins allow for hydrogen sulfide to escape into the environment, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests this gas can be flammable and toxic.

MSD states it would take $6 million to rehabilitate the basins in these five neighborhoods: Park DuValle, Chickasaw, Shawnee, California, and Taylor Berry.

MSD prioritized a funding request for Park DuValle. It is expected to cost $630,000 to repair 109 uncapped catch basins in that neighborhood. MSD has designated some of its budget to contribute to the total cost.

MSD states it would take an additional $5.37 million dollars to address 934 untrapped catch basins in the Chickasaw, Shawnee, California, and Taylor Berry neighborhoods. However, a funding source for these projects has not been identified.

“Every family, no matter which neighborhood you live in, deserves to breathe fresh air. I’m eager to learn more from MSD about how we can improve the quality of life for the community by investing in the city’s infrastructure,” said Metro Council President David James (D-6).

During its 1:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday, October 20, the Metro Council Community Affairs, Housing, Health and Education Committee will discuss the possibility of using some of Louisville’s remaining ARP funding to contribute to the MSD projects in order mitigate these odor and health concerns. ARP guidelines have allowed other communities to use the federal funding for public sewer and water improvement projects.

MSD’s Daymond Talley and Wesley Sydnor will attend the committee meeting, which is open to the public.

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