A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Failure of pump results in contamination, fish kill at Banklick Creek, residents say it’s not the first time

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

A pump installed during replacement of a Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No. 1 (SD1) sewer pipe in August on Banklick Creek in Independence failed  and resulted in a fish kill and contamination of the waterway. Nearby residents say it isn’t the first time the creek has been contaminated because of the sewer line.

Independence resident Mackey McNeill addresses the Kenton County Fiscal Court over her concerns about a sewer pipe that crisscrosses Banklick Creek.The recent failure of a pump caused an overflow that killed fish and contaminated the creek. McNeill says it’s not the first time the creek has been contaminated and she wants something done about it (photo by Mark Hansel).

One of those residents, Mackey McNeill, expressed her concerns to the Kenton County Fiscal Court at the September 12 meeting.

“We have lived at 5043 Webster Road for 10 years, said McNeill.  “If this was an isolated incident it would be bad enough.  But it is not.”

McNeill and her husband, Barry Schlimme, own RedSunflower Farm, a 35 acre homestead on Webster Road in Independence.

When they first purchased the property, McNeill said they discovered an exposed sewage pipe laying in the creek with a deep bend in it.  They reported it to SD1 and she says SD1 secured the pipe by pouring concrete into the creek. She added that if they had not noticed the pipe, it might well have broken.

On two other occasions the couple says they have witnessed raw sewage floating down Banklick Creek and a strong odor in the air.

SD1 said the problem has been fixed and provided details regarding the spill to its Board members and concerned residents in a statement:

A contractor for SD1 on August 15 began working to replace a section of sewer pipe that crosses Banklick Creek, off Webster Road, in Independence, KY.

To complete this work, a subcontractor set up a bypass pump so sewage flow could be temporarily rerouted around the work site and sent to a treatment plant for cleaning.

Unfortunately, late last week and over the weekend, the bypass pump used for this work failed at certain times to convey flow as needed, resulting in overflows into Banklick Creek. This caused a fish kill near the work site, which a nearby resident identified and reported to us on Sunday, August 27.

When SD1 learned of the overflows, staff contacted the EPA, which has since been to the site to investigate. SD1 also contacted the Department of Fish and Wildlife, shortly after learning of the fish kill.

The pipe replacement was completed on Sunday, August 27. As a result, the bypass pumping is no longer needed at the site. The pipe has returned to normal operations. SD1 will continue to monitor our infrastructure in the area.

SD1 takes overflows and pollution in our creeks and streams seriously. As a result, we are reviewing the incident and our requirements for bypass pumping contractors to determine if steps should be taken in the future to prevent similar incidents.

We are grateful to the nearby resident for her stewardship of Banklick Creek, which is a resource for the entire Northern Kentucky region. We encourage all of our customers to report issues to us if they suspect they are related to the sewer system.

The failure of a pump during repair of a sewer pipe at Banklick Creek resulted in a fish kill and contamination (provided photo).

SD 1 Executive Director Adam Chaney told the Fiscal Court that there are clauses in its agreements with subcontractors that allow for remediation after the fact, but that is not enough. He said SD1 needs to know why the pump failed and what it can do in its processes and procedures to prevent a repeat occurrence.

“We need to make sure this stops happening,” Chaney said. “My commitment to the Fiscal Court and to the neighbors who were affected by this is that we are going to take a thorough review. We’re going to find out exactly why…and we’re going to make sure, to every extent possible, that this doesn’t continue to happen.”

Banklick Creek is a 58 square mile watershed in Kenton and Boone Counties, according to information from the Banklick Watershed Council

The Banklick Creek flows north for about 19.2 miles northward and discharges into the Licking River, in Covington.  It receives flows from several tributaries, including Wolf Pen Branch, Brushy Fork, Flower Creek, and Bullock Pen.

The sewer pipe crosses Banklick Creek several times and predates SD1 taking over as the utility in charge of sanitation for the area.

McNeill said the pipe was a cheap, short-term solution at the time it was installed and is costing the community every day, as development upstream makes the creek more and more unstable and subject to excessive flooding and erosion.

“This sewer line should have never been put in the creek bed to begin with and I will not be quiet until there is a plan to take it out,” McNeill said. “Leaving it in the creek means a sewage dump into the creek every 2.5 years. To do the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result is the definition of insanity.”

SD1 has faced numerous financial challenges in recent years as a result of aging infrastructure in the river cities and residential, industrial and commercial growth in other areas, particularly Boone County.


In November, the Boone County Fiscal Court approved a loan of up to $6.2 million to SD1 for an upgrade to the sanitary sewer system in Hebron. Without the loan, SD1 would not have been able to complete the project in one of the region’s fastest-growing areas.

Chaney said he doesn’t disagree with McNeill regarding her concerns about the Banklick Creek and acknowledges that the sewer pipe was probably poorly placed.

“We know that nearby residents are not happy with this pipe,” Chaney said. “The long-term goal for improving this part of our sewer network requires an expensive solution. We must put this issue in context with our other challenges – primarily the requirements of our consent decree.”

The consent decree from the U.S. EPA requires SD1 to address environmental issues that potentially also pose a health risk to some of the more than 290,000 residents it serves in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. Failure to comply with the terms of the consent decree, could subject the utility to fines, which would still not remove its obligation to make the mandatory upgrades.

“Under the current agreement with our state and federal regulators, we need to make almost $1.4 billion in improvements by 2025. That’s less than 10 years,” Chaney said. “To meet that requirement alone we’re looking at 15 to 20 percent rate increases for the foreseeable future, which is unaffordable to our ratepayers. We are currently negotiating an extended deadline for the consent decree, so we can better balance all our community’s needs while also slowing the rise of rates.”

The burden of the consent decree, and the long list of infrastructure upgrades facing SD1, could mean residents around Banklick Creek might have to wait for some time to get the permanent fix they are hoping for.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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