Tribune-Courier News Editor
A Marshall County farmer feels the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet left some of his fields unusable after leasing them as an ice storm debris collection and disposal site.
Gerald Howell farms and lives in the 5300 block of Brewers Highway. He said the Cabinet leased the land at $500 per acre through December 2010. The Cabinet leased about 10 acres of land.
“Originally, this land was pretty level and good for crops,” Howell said. “Now it’s got low spots that fill with water, raised areas, and debris that is 6-inches around and 3-feet long or more.”
Howell said the contract called for restoring the land to the condition it was in before the lease. He described gravel scattered across the tract that supported nothing but the growth of weeds.
State cleanup efforts included using a small loader, a garden tractor and a rake, Howell said. Workers removed superficial debris and topsoil. After consulting a contractor, Howell estimated it would cost $17,000 to $20,000 to remove the remaining debris, grade away rises and fill depressions. To rehabilitate the tract into arable land, he estimated spending at least $3,000 per acre for at least 4 to 5 years for full rehabilitation. Combined with lost production after the state left, and before the land is rehabilitated, he believes his damages could reach $95,000.
“It’s going to take a dozer with a root rake to get this stuff, then we need to level it out,” Howell said. “It’s just as bad now as it was when we had a 20-foot debris pile. There’s no way we can farm on ground like this. It’s a mess any way you look at it.”
To seek compensation from the Transportation Cabinet, Howell said he retained attorney Don Thomas. Howell has not filed suit against the Transportation Cabinet this time, only that his attorney and an attorney for the Cabinet have exchanged emails.
“To me, as far as I am concerned, the state still has the ground leased, and should be paying for it,” Howell said.
Keith Todd, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, confirmed a contract with Howell.
“So far as I know, all property owners have been paid for the use of their lands,” Todd said. “If they feel the Transportation Cabinet has not lived up to our obligations with the contract, they can take any action they feel necessary.”
Todd said the state feels it met its obligations, and compensated land owners for the usage of their land.
“We’re continuing ongoing conversations, but feel we’ve met the requirements of the contract,” Todd said.
Marshall Judge-Executive Mike Miller said he had heard concerns about the land, but has not inspected it.
“It’s my understanding they left a mess out there,” Miller said. “He’s a fine man and a fine farming family in our community. IF he said they didn’t do right, I believe him.”
Howell said he was encouraged to seek counsel by Miller and State Representative Will Coursey. He added Coursey also suggested a consultation with the office of the Kentucky Attorney General.