Rowan members setting the record straight on coal use and highway alternatives

The Rowan County chapter has been raising public awareness about the debt the coal industry owes to eastern Kentucky and the voice citizens should have in making decisions that affect local residents.

On February 26, members of the chapter had published two substantial commentaries in The Morehead News that urged residents to take control of the resources and processes that are rightfully theirs.

Responding to an editorial that erroneously claimed that “Kentucky coal has taken a beating from the federal government and environmentalists and, as a result, statewide production is down sharply,” Sue Tallichet rightly countered that the production of relatively cheap natural gas, the depletion of “‘economically recoverable’ coal in central Appalachia,” and the abundance of “surface-mined coal from the West’s Powder River Basin” have all “resulted in a sharp decline in the  demand for central Appalachian thermal coal used for generating electricity."

Instead of worrying how the “last gasp of eastern Kentucky’s coal mining” benefits the industry and its “friends,” Tallichet argued, we should be focusing on the people and the land that will remain long after the companies have gone.

Raising coal severance taxes – and making them “permanent to pay for more scholarships, for programs to retrain former coal miners and to take more serious steps toward investing in renewable resources and diversifying eastern Kentucky’s economy” – is the only way for the region to move forward into a new economy.

In commentary submitted on behalf of the Rowan County KFTC chapter, chapter co-chairs Bob Burns and Lisa Bryant cautioned residents about the “preferred alternative” selected by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for the KY Route 32 Improvement Project.

Noting that the purported “alternative” for “improvement” is actually the construction of a “new highway right next to the existing KY 32,” the commentary underscored the real cost of such a proposal: not only will “the taxpayers of Rowan and Elliot counties … soon be paying for the maintenance of the ‘old’ sections of KY 32,” but the “preferred alternative will cost more than a staggering $100,000,000 for 13 miles of new road” and “require the state to seize with eminent domain and buy many hundreds of additional acres of private land.”

The people of Elliot and Rowan counties, the commentary noted, have already spoken, repeatedly asking for the Practical Solutions Alternative that will preserve the scenic nature of the highway.

Beginning in the year 2000 citizens began an effort to get Kentucky Scenic By-way designation for this section of KY 32. Chapter members feel that the preferred alternate chosen by the Transportation Cabinet will doom these efforts.

Stressing that local residents were repeatedly promised a culturally and environmentally friendly design and that there is “still time to stop this boondoggle,” the commentary urged citizens to call Representative Rocky Adkins and attend public meetings to make the Transportation Cabinet accountable to the citizens.

Bryant also published a letter in The Trailblazer, the student newspaper of Morehead State University, decrying the destructive practice of mountaintop removal and exhorting all people who care about the region to join KFTC at I Love Mountains Day.

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