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Company responds to criticism




A Letcher County coal company is taking exception to criticism it received last week during a meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court.

At issue are remarks made while the court debated on whether to approve Sapphire Coal Company’s request that it be allowed to work within 100 feet of a county road.

During discussion of the request, which was eventually tabled until a later meeting, District Two Magistrate Archie Banks said he has dealt and was not impressed with its performance in the community. Sapphire operates a tipple and coal preparation plant at Camp Branch.

Banks said there have been problems with uneven railroad tracks and a massive pothole near the preparation plant.

“I’ve dealt with Sapphire a lot,” said Banks, whose district includes Camp Branch. “You have to force them to do what they are supposed to. Let’s not do something for them and get their attention.”

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward asked Banks for a list of items Banks wants Sapphire to address and said he would get in touch with the company’s management. Ward praised the company for the help it has given in providing a bulldozer and operator to help develop a site for a new county park at Thornton, which will be located on property owned by the Gish family and leased to county for $1 a year.

Sapphire Coal is a subsidiary of United Coal Company of Bristol, Va. Keith Hargrove, an official with Sapphire, said Tuesday that the company “is committed to being a forward-thinking corporate citizen in the communities in which we operate.”

“For example,” said Hargrove, “Sapphire contributed to the new park at Thornton by providing grading services for the park – a project estimated at more than $1,200. Sapphire operates a sweeper truck on a daily basis that cleans and maintains Kentucky Highway 931. This truck services our plant, stockpile and loadout areas, and it also serves the community.”

As for the complaint about the rough railroad tracks, Hargrove said Sapphire “does maintain the railroad crossing on Highway 931 to make sure that it is functioning properly, and we do maintain the gravel in the area surrounding the crossing on a regular basis.”

Hargrove added that “last fall, we repaved a .9-mile stretch of Buck Creek county road. This project was estimated at $64,000.”

In other business, the court voted unanimously to table a request to release funding for a new van for Letcher County Cares, the organization which operates the domestic violence shelter in Whitesburg. The move came because the court was unclear as to whether the shelter staff had followed county ordinances concerning placing bids on all purchases exceeding $20,000. The van cost more than $28,000.

Judge Ward told the court that Letcher County Cares had the money to pay for the van from a $100,000 grant from Coal Severance Tax funding for building repairs and for the vehicle. However, there was no indication in its request that the law had been followed as to placing bids. Magistrate Banks said the court should table the motion until it can discuss the matter with shelter staff and board members and acquaint them with the county’s purchasing procedures.

“We need to get a handle on this,” said Banks. “We’ll give it to them if it is legal but we need to bring them in and explain to them they can’t just run out on their own. They answer to us. They need to know who runs this place. We need to meet with them. This has to go by the book.”

Judge Ward suggested the court approve the release of funding on the contingency that the purchase was legal, pending a discussion with shelter executives and County Attorney Harold Bolling. County Finance Officer Doris Jean Frazier told the court the van had been purchased several weeks before the meeting and the county has the money to pay for it. Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the money is not the issue.

“Everybody has to follow the law,” said Fleming. “You have to bid it if it is over $20,000.”

The court voted unanimously to follow Ward’s suggestion and to pass the funding on the contingency that it is legal.

“Just tell them the procedures,” said Ward. “We can have them come in at the next meeting.”

The court also voted unanimously to accept the $36,000 bid from Quinton Meade for a John Deere 550 bulldozer for county use. The only other bid came from Croushorn Equipment for a John Deere 458, also for $36,000. Both machines were used and both met the county’s bid specifications. However, the 550 is a slightly larger machine and Bill Meade, who represented Quinton Meade, told the court it is refurbished and has a new undercarriage.

Magistrate Fleming asked if it would be possible to get a new machine but Magistrate Banks said since the county won’t be using it all the time, a used one should be enough. Bill Meade thanked the court for allowing county vehicles to bring fill dirt to Kingscreek Park.

The court also voted unanimously to pass the second reading of an amendment to the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance. The ordinance will put the county into compliance with federal flood insurance guidelines. They also voted unanimously to pass a resolution to apply for grants from the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security and to allow Judge Ward to sign the grant applications and other paperwork associated with them.


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