As World War II neared its end, Louisville leaders looked toward solving some of the serious and long-standing problems facing the community.
High on the list was flood protection. The 1937 flood, the worst in history, was still fresh in everyones memory. The major floodwall project, scheduled to begin in 1941, had been delayed by the war. In March, 1945, the Ohio River brought a forceful reminder of the need: the second-worst flood in the citys history 11 feet less than the 1937 flood, but still very damaging.
Also on the list was postwar recovery. The war had brought unprecedented prosperity to Louisville, with the creation of the oil and synthetic rubber complex along the Ohio River, the aircraft plants and new airport at Standiford Field, and abundant defense work at many local industries. Workers had flocked to the area, and housing was scarce. Soon the veterans would be back, eager to return to civilian life and start their own families. Housing was seen as a major challenge and a major opportunity.
Transportation to serve the expected boom was also a priority. There were plans to build a north-south expressway from the Second Street bridge to Standiford Field, an east-west expressway from U.S. 42 to the K&I bridge, and a new union railroad station downtown.
And then there were sewers and the lack of them. Nearly one-fourth of the homes in the city were still without sewer service, and nearly 1,000 of them still had outdoor toilets. The sewers discharged their untreated wastewater directly into the Ohio River, or in some areas directly into Beargrass Creek. And in most of Jefferson County outside Louisville, there were no sewers at all.
The Commissioners of Sewerage of Louisville, who had gone out of business in 1944, had spent more than $20 million of the citys borrowed money over the past four decades constructing sewer and drainage improvements. As one of their last official acts, they recommended improvements in sewer lines that would cost another $30 million plus the citys first sewage treatment plant, at an additional cost of $7 million.
Paying for this work would be a major problem. The city was already nearly $40 million in debt about half of that for sewers and the state constitution would allow it to borrow less than $6 million more. About $2.5 million of that amount had already been approved by the voters, in 1939, for the first part of the citys share of the Ohio River floodwall expenses. And the city had other pressing needs as well.
Part of the solution had been suggested by the old Commissioners of Sewerage: the "sewer rental plan," which would charge the customers of the sewer system enough to pay for the sewers operation, maintenance and construction.
Another part of the solution was put together by local business and political leaders, inspired perhaps by the success of the old Commissioners in building improvements. They proposed an independent sewer district, responsible for the entire sewer system and financed by some form of the sewer rental plan.
The idea was attractive for several reasons: it would avoid the limit on city indebtedness by allowing the new sewer district to borrow against future income; it would free the city from the responsibility for sewers and sewage treatment; and it would free the mayor and the Board of Aldermen from the political pain of increasing taxes or imposing a sewer rental plan of their own.
In early 1946, a state law was passed allowing Louisville to establish a sewer district, beginning July 1. The city would have to pass an ordinance creating it, and some of the details were left up to the city to work out.
On July 9th, after much debate and delay, the Board of Aldermen passed the ordinance creating the Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District. The ordinance took effect the next day, and the new district was born.
In addition to taking over the citys sewer system, the ordinance allowed the new district to:
The district was run by a five-member board: three appointed by the mayor of Louisville, and two appointed by the Jefferson County judge. Its customer charges would have to be approved by the Louisville Board of Aldermen and the mayor.
The new district faced many problems that were to repeat themselves time and again over the next half century. Among the first: in the years between the time the Commissioners of Sewerage dissolved and the new district was created, the estimated cost of the recommended improvements increased dramatically, from the $37 million estimate of 1944 to an estimate of $60 million in mid-1946. In financing as well as in facilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District was falling behind before it even got started.
|Last Updated: January 27, 2012