The Letcher County Fiscal Court voted unanimously this week to pass a resolution supporting legal action filed earlier this year by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. The suit was filed after the state Public Service Commission refused to reconsider its approval of Kentucky Power Company’s plan to close a portion of its Big Sandy power plant in 2015 and replace it with electricity generated by an American Electric Power plant in Moundsville, West Virginia.
Judge/Executive Jim Ward told magistrates that if Conway’s lawsuit is successful, it could reduce the average electric bill by $140.
Conway’s suit asks the Franklin Circuit Court to vacate the PSC’s approval of Kentucky Power’s request to buy 50 percent of the Mitchell Power Plant in West Virginia for $536 million and pay for it through a surcharge added to the bills of Kentucky Power’s residential and business customers.
At the time the surcharge was approved in October 2013, the PSC said the “asset transfer rider” would amount to a five percent increase in monthly bills for Kentucky Power’s
While the PSC also froze Kentucky Power’s base rates in place until May 2015, it indicated the cost associated with the Mitchell Plant would result in a 14 percent rate increase after the freeze is lifted.
Kentucky Power customers who were upset to learn they would be paying the cost of buying the West Virginia plant have grown even angrier after seeing the surcharge the PSC termed “modest” increase their bills by as much as 17 percent during some monthly billing cycles, well above the promised five percent charge.
District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming supported Monday night’s action, but said if there is ever to be a truly just price structure for electricity rates, the composition of the Public Service Commission must be adjusted to include people of average incomes. Fleming said the state must do a better job when it comes to appointing PSC commissioners by making the commission more representative of Kentucky residents, or it will continue to be “a rubber stamp” for the power companies.
“I think you need people other than rich people (on the PSC),” said Fleming.
In other business, the court learned the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) has receive an additional $7.5 million in grant funding to complement the original $11.3 million grant for the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (HOME) program. Bridget Back, Monitoring Unit Manager for Hiring Services at EKCEP, told the court the program has already helped more than 2,000 miners in eastern Kentucky and the new grant will help to continue efforts to help laid-off miners find other jobs. Judge Ward read a proclamation of appreciation for Back and EKCEP and the court voted unanimously to approve it.
The court also heard a complaint from McRoberts resident Scott Johnson about a dangerous road situation on Wintergreen Drive in McRoberts. Johnson told the court that Greg Branham has extended his yard onto the county road and regularly parks equipment there, which makes it difficult to drive safely on the road. Johnson said he has to use the road to get out and has had a few close calls because of the blocked portion of the road. He added that the Letcher County Sheriff ’s Department has made several requests to Branham to move the equipment, and he has complied, but within a few days, it is back on the road. Judge Ward asked County Attorney Jamie Hatton to file a request with Sheriff Danny Webb to issue a citation to Branham.
Letcher County Tourism Commission Chairman David Narramore reported that he is working on obtaining easements for property use for a 10.2-mile bicycle train to connect Whitesburg with the Pine Mountain Trail. Narramore said the trail will probably cost about $1 million to complete and will be another draw for tourists in the county. He also said the commission is still working on obtaining the designation of “Trail Town” for Whitesburg. The next step will be in getting easements for that project as well. County Attorney Hatton said he would like to meet with all the affected landowners at one time.
In response to a question from Magistrate Fleming, Hatton said the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation several years ago that removes liability risks from property owners who allow their property to be used for recreational purposes. Narramore said it will be necessary to obtain the easements before the project can move forward. He also said that the Harlan County Tourism group that represents Benham, Lynch and Cumberland has expressed an interest in partnering with Letcher County in efforts to promote tourism.
Representatives of the Battle of Leatherwood Committee visited the court to thank it for its help in presenting another successful reenactment. Committee Chairman Kerry Crutcher told the court that the committee has added pages to the program and that the cooperation of the Letcher County Court along with the courts in Knott and Perry counties make it possible to stage the re-enactment of the battle and the accompanying events without charging admission to the battle. He added that 21 guest rooms were rented at the Stuart Robinson School for the weekend events.
Crutcher said that the re-enactment of the battle can be seen on You Tube. He also said the committee is working on building a cut stone blacksmith shop for next year’s events. Committee Treasurer Gary Begley told the court that students from five counties attended this year.
In other court business:
• The court voted unanimously to approve the second reading of an ordinance allowing it to lease two new Mack trucks for county use. Magistrate Fleming said this was one of the smartest things the court has done and it allows the court to keep good, safe trucks in use.
• The court voted unanimously to accept the entrance right-of-way of John’s Farm Road into the Letcher County Road Plan.
• The court voted unanimously to name Valley Branch Road at Gordon Volunteer Fire Department in memory of Oscar “Red Eye” Begley, U.S. Army, World War II, and to name the road on 931, Pine Creek Road in honor of brothers Specialist 4 Charlie Byron Craft Jr., Corporal Rex B. Craft, and Sergeant Joe Bill Craft, U.S. Army.
Bank balances for county agencies as of November 11:
• General Fund $41,248.61
• Road and Bridge Fund $511,626.13
• Jail Fund $49,004.08
• LGEA Fund $850,504.57
• Senior Citizens Fund $78,483.72
• Forestry Fund $13,873.33
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account $429,638.30
• Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service $84,206.29