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MSD Will Explore Options For Redesigning Controversial Smoketown Basin

The basin, under construction.
J. Tyler Franklin
The basin, under construction.

The board of Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District voted on Monday to let the district’s staff explore other options for a controversial overflow basin in Smoketown.

Construction has already begun on the basin on Logan Street. It is one of 12 planned in the city to catch rainwater to help cut down on frequent sewer overflows.

The Smoketown basin was the first, and MSD staff had planned to cover it with a large, windowless brick building. But so far, the rest of the basins will be buried below ground and covered with green space. Recently, Smoketown residents called attention to the inequality of their project’s design.

Last week, responding to pressure, MSD Director Tony Parrott and Mayor Greg Fischer announced the district would seek permission to redesign the basin and bury it under a park.

Now, the board has voted to let MSD staff figure out how much it will cost to change the project’s design at this stage. MSD Board Chair Cyndi Caudill spoke before the vote.

“Looking at the circumstances around the proposed overflow basin at Logan Street, and hearing the feedback provided by neighbors and community members, I believe we should take the time to fully explore the range of options available for putting the basin underground,” she said. “As we do that, I would like this board to be apprised of the related cost so we can make a determination from there about what will be in the best interest of this community.”

The vote was unanimous, but MSD board member John Phelps warned that the costs may end up being prohibitive. He added that as far as green space goes, it would be much less expensive to put in a park without a storage basin elsewhere in Smoketown.

“We’re making a decision here that’s going to be fairly expensive to the ratepayers, I’m not sure it’s in the best interest of the Smoketown community," he said. "But we have to get this basin built, and it’s definitely going to be in the best interest of MSD to proceed on and move forward."

Smoketown residents also spoke publicly about the vote at the meeting. Bates Memorial Church pastor Bruce Williams commended the board for allowing the staff to look into changing the basin’s design, but he said the way the whole process has been handled is troubling.

“The fact that, in spite of all the rich history and everything that we bring, and the fact that we have participated in the process as engaged and informed residents, it still feels like we aren’t being really heard, particularly when something could have been done earlier,” Williams said. “And it feels like it’s not an issue of resources or time, but an issue of will. Do they have the will to do this? Are we worthy and worth what it would take to make the basin the way it is in other communities? And of course, we feel that we are.”

Now, MSD staff will negotiate what’s known as a “change order” with Walsh Construction, which is building the basin. The board next meets on April 25. If there’s more information available by then, the board could take another vote on whether to change the Smoketown basin’s design or leave it as is.