2nd annual Potluck on Pine Mountain builds unity

Potluck on Pine MountainOn a rainy Tuesday night this week, the Letcher and Harlan County Chapters came together for the 2nd annual Potluck on Pine Mountain.   Last year’s gathering was on the Letcher County side of Highway 119 in Eolia and included local music, soup beans, corn bread, and sides and desserts from all over both counties.  This year the gathering was held in the Cumberland Library, on the Harlan County side of the mountain.  Over 30 people made it through the wet and cold for world-famous Lynch BBQ, live fiddling, cobbler with Cumberland-grown black berries, and dozens of other delicious dishes.  We were even excited to host city council members from communities in both counties!

KFTC members and friends shared stories and celebrations of great work from the last couple months, across the state and close to home.   We heard tales from a January meeting in Hazard with new Senate Majority Whip, Brandon Smith, as well as several other updates from movement (and stand stills) in this General Assembly.   Ada Smith said of the meeting with the Senator, “we had a good conversation with him about voting rights and clean energy.  He supports us on these issues and that’s important.  Hes not quite willing to stick his neck out, but we’re getting there.  We’re gonna stay on him.”Potluck on Pine Mountain

Rutland Melton, of Lynch, lead the room in applauding three of the terrific I Love Mountains rally speakers who were around the table with us: Elizabeth Sanders, Carl Shoupe, and Teri Blanton.  Rutland said, “That was the best part of the day.  Seeing y’all up there for all of us.  I enjoyed that.” Rutland was part of a caravan of three vans that traveled from east Kentucky to Frankfort for this year’s I Love Mountains Day.

Folks also shared wonderful news about ongoing community organizing across Letcher and Harlan Counties. The Caudill family, from Civil War Gap in Carcassonne, was happy to report wonderful news from their ongoing efforts to save a family cemetery near their home.  It was only a couple months ago that a notice appeared in the Mountain Eagle about intention to relocate the cemetery, as they saw mining move closer to the property.  After appearances at Letcher Co. Fiscal Court meetings, in national news outlets, and on the cover of Letcher County’s Mountain Eagle, they beamed with the news that the Fiscal Court had made a call into the coal company to let them know moving the cemetery was not an option.  “I just can’t say how relieved we are and thankful to all the people who’ve supported us.  People we didn’t even know have called us up to offer advice and support.  We hope some of our work will keep this from happening to anyone else,” Mike Caudill shared.

Residents of Mill Creek couldn’t be with us on Tuesday, but we talked about their continued pressure on the Letcher County Fiscal Court. At the last Letcher Co. KFTC Chapter meeting, the chapter voted to sign on to a letter, with Mill Creek residents, to the EPA asking for emergency assistance. People living on Mill Creek have been without usable water for over two years.  After finding high levels of arsenic, the Division of Water advised them to not use their well for anything.  Finally, water lines have begun to make their way into Mill Creek, in just the last couple of weeks!  The project is in its earliest stages and is already held up by weather conditions, but sight of the pipes is progress, nonetheless.   At least a couple of families in Mill Creek still plan to be at fiscal court meetings and keep the pressure on until the project is complete.  

From the last cover of KFTC’s publication, Balancing the Scales, the Phillips family of Black Joe shared the journey they’ve been on to get problems addressed from abandoned mines above their community.  “Our house was nearly pushed off the foundation.” Rev. Albert Phillips explained.  “The people from Frankfort [Abandoned Mine Lands] denied our claim at first.  Then we met you all, the KFTC, and those big wigs and things started changing.”   Albert and Janie Phillips went on to talk about visiting with Natural Resources Commissioner Steve Hohman, Senator Brandon Smith, and Harlan Co. Judge-Exec Joe Grieshop over months to result in a million dollar project to stabilize the land behind them.  Through homeowners insurance they’ve finished repairs to their house and continue to support families near them with damage. 

Potluck on Pine MountainNot only did he prepare the tremendous BBQ, but Lynch City Councilmember Bennie Massey delivered an exciting update about the work happening in Lynch to save the city money through energy efficiency.  Several years ago the city council and Harlan Co. Chapter worked together on a state grant application to perform energy audits and retrofits on Lynch city buildings and some homes.  After no word for nearly two years and repeated questions to Governor Beshear during a sit in of his office and a later visit he made to Lynch, the community finally heard about a surplus of money they could use for energy efficiency programs on city buildings.  Bennie said “Work is finally happening.  We’ve been paying out over $4000 a month and now we’re gonna be saving a lot of juice and a big amount of money for the city! We already got a new heat pump for the water plant and better lights and they’re working on the insulation now. We were losing money all over the place. These energy projects work.  It really works.  The taxpayers were paying those big bills.  All the departments are looking to save money now.”

An update was also given about current organizing and research around the location of a new Federal Prison in Letcher County, most likely in the Roxanna community.  Sylvia Ryerson, WMMT programmer and author of recent Daily Yonder article on this very topic, shared some updates about what she knows of the projects progress, Hal Roger’s involvement, and lessons learned from neighboring communities.  She said “It just never plays out how they expected.  The jobs, the revenue, never showed up like they were all told.”  Just this past fall, KFTC adopted to its platform the “opposition of prison expansion as economic development”, after the Letcher County Chapter submitted the addition for consideration.

Before some chapter planning and reviewing the upcoming calendar, Carl Shoupe talked about the upcoming Harlan event, Appalachia’s Bright Future, taking place April 19-21 at the Harlan Center. This three-day gathering in Harlan will feature information on our changing economy, lessons from other regions that have gone through transition, and examples of entrepreneurs and communities beginning to build our bright future. On top of the fantastic program, evening events, and special presentations, the Harlan and Letcher Chapters are planning a silent auction, to feature local and handmade art, crafts, goods, services, and more!  You don’t want to miss it, so hurry and register yourself here!

Many members were able to meet our new organizer, Jessie Skaggs, for the first time.  She is working with our Perry County Chapter and the Community Science and Public Health Project, which spans all our east Kentucky chapter areas.  The Project was launched last year with a series of community organizing & water testing trainings, providing over 60 people with the skills and equipment to take basic assessments of streams around them.  After she introduced herself and gave a brief update of the project, several members shared their concerns about and connections to water.   Mike Caudill said “No water flows into Letcher County but rain. We have the headwaters of three major rivers. Our streams fill the Big Sandy, Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, and the Cumberland.”  Bennie Massey added “our water doesn’t just affect people here.  This water goes to the big rivers.”

The grand finale of the evening was an overdue celebration of long time KFTC member, author, radio personality, and Letcher County mover and shaker, Jim Webb.  This year Jim slipped quietly into retirement from WMMT programming.  Luckily he still hosts his radio shows, Appalachian Attitude and Ridin’ Around Listenin' to the Radio, on Mondays and Wednesdays.  However, this is a real milestone in his decades of vision for and service to Appalachia, Kentucky, and Letcher County.  From the rotary club to huge festivals on his infamous campground on Pine Mountain, Wiley’s Last Resort, Jim takes steps everyday to make life in the mountains better for everyone.  To celebrate him and his ongoing labor of love to his community, the chapters scheduled a big cook out and clean up at Wiley’s for Saturday, May 11th.  Jim was even talking of the possibility of a big KFTC fundraising event at his place later this year!

UntitledA closing circle served to finish us out and offer space for everyone to share any final thoughts from the evening.  A few words were shared and Carl Shoupe offered up this before Rev. Albert Phillips closed us in prayer, “Its always wonderful to be together with all of you.  Now we’re all here together feeling strong and ready to take on the world.  But tomorrow we’ll all be separated again, back to our regular grid, and this work can seem more and more difficult, alone.  Heres to keeping this good spirit with us and carrying on together, even when we’re apart!”

 

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