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Louisville upgrading 70-year-old flood protection infrastructure in West End

Paddy's Run Pump Station in Louisville's West End in December 2019.
Ryan Van Velzer
Paddy's Run Pump Station in Louisville's West End in December 2019.

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to replace a 70-year-old flood pumping station and reduce the flood risk for tens of thousands of residents in Louisville’s West End neighborhoods.

Louisville’s flood protection system protects more 215,000 people and $33 billion in property, but that system is aging and many of its pump stations are in need of modernization.

The city’s 16 stations are a critical part of the city’s flood protection system. They help to pump water from the city’s streams into the Ohio River during flood events.

But Paddy’s Run pump station is so old it runs on original parts that are no longer mass manufactured. The replacement project will more than double the existing station’s capacity, said MSD Executive Director Tony Parrott.

“Paddy’s Run has been doing a 21st century job with 1950s technology, staying in operation due to nearly constant maintenance by our dedicated employees,” Parrott said in a press release. “With the increased frequency of severe weather events, it’s imperative that the facility is able to effectively and efficiently handle the environmental demands of our times.

Replacing it will be expensive, $230 million, but it will reduce the flood risk for 63,000 people and the city’s largest source of industrial pollution – Rubbertown. To put it in perspective, the sewer district spent $220 million to build a 4-mile-long wastewater collection tunnel under the city.

Funding for the project includes more than $13 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act and nearly $29 million from the state’s revolving fund. Parrott said eventually all 16 pump stations in the city will need to be replaced.

“The modern pump station will feature a total of eight American made pumps, along with modern electrical and instrumentation controls. MSD has been able to move forward with this huge project primarily because of the innovative financing package that we've been able to put together,” he said.

The project is expected to create around 400 construction jobs, 76% of which will come from local labor, according to the release. Its estimated completion date is 2026.

A number of politicians joined Parrott for the announcement including Democrats Gov. Andy Beshear, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg and U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey and the state director for Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell.

Officials break ground on new $230 million flood pumping station in Louisville's West End on August 15, 2023.
Ryan Van Velzer
Officials break ground on new $230 million flood pumping station in Louisville's West End on August 15, 2023.

Democratic Louisville Metro Council Member Tammy Hawkins, who represents District 1 in the West End including the pump station, was also there to represent her community.

“The West does deserve the best. It's been well under served for years. And I am honored that we have leadership that is willing to step up and make things like this happen,” Hawkins said.

Several speakers, including McGarvey and Parrott, mentioned the need to upgrade the city’s systems to adapt to Kentucky’s changing climate. As the planet warms, Kentucky is becoming warmer and wetter, creating conditions for more frequent and extreme rainfall and flooding.

Beshear, notably, did not mention climate change. He rarely mentions the subject. Unlike many states, Kentucky has no official targets to reduce emissions or to incentivize the use of renewable energy.

Kentucky is one of just four states that didn’t apply for up to $3 million to create a state climate action plan through the Inflation Reduction Act, according to the Kentucky Lantern.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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