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Fiscal court votes to open Fishpond for scuba diving after request by Va. college

Officials OK scuba diving at lake

Regional scuba divers may be able to enjoy the clear waters of Fishpond Lake soon, and Letcher County may become a destination for diving enthusiasts.

At this week’s meeting of the Letcher County Fiscal Court, Judge/Executive Terry Adams said he had been approached by a university in Virginia to allow scuba diving by permit in Fishpond Lake. The court was generally enthusiastic about the possibilities of enhanced tourism and recreational opportunities that Could accompany opening the lake to diving. Adams said the extreme clarity of the water in the lake made it very attractive.

County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court he explored issues involving scuba diving in Fishpond during the previous county administration after then-District Three Magistrate Woody Holbrook suggested the lake be opened to diving. Hatton said the lake can be opened to scuba diving on a strictly regulated basis, but it would first take a lot of paperwork. Several people stressed that divers would have to be certified to be allowed to dive.

SCUBA stands for self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Scuba diving allows the swimmer to breathe underwater without being connected to a surface source of air. Instead, divers use tanks filled with compressed air and regulators attached to mouthpieces to provide safe delivery of air to the diver.

District Two Magistrate Sherry Sexton made a motion to allow diving by permit and the vote to approve was unanimous.

In other business, the court authorized Judge Adams to apply for a Local Government Economic Development Fund grant for an amount up to $621,210 from single county coal severance funds available through Kentucky House Bill 352, the state’s budget law that was adopted earlier this year and authorizes the return of the majority of coal severance money back to coal counties. This includes $500,000 for debt service for the Letcher County Recreation Center, $76,210 for county fire departments, $20,000 for removal of the silos at the Swanee Tipple, $20,000 for the Letcher County Tourism Commission and $25,000 for the county’s operations and construction.

The court also heard from Jailer Bert Slone, who reported that the correctional food service company Kellwell Food Management is now cooking at the Letcher County Jail. Slone said there are still some equipment problems that will need to be taken care of, but things appear to be going well.

Slone explained to the court that there are currently 114 inmates in the jail, and the overcrowding makes it impossible for the inmate work release to get back on track because he can’t set aside an adequate space to quarantine a group of inmates who have been outside the jail working or otherwise.

In other business, the court:

• passed a resolution to re-route Big Blue Boulevard near Isom on Route 7. The road is near the old Golden Oak offices on property that was once owned by CSX Railroad. Adams said the way the road comes out of Race Track Hollow and enters Route 7 is extremely dangerous with poor visibility.

• voted to take the action necessary to fix a problem with Possum Road and Denver Hill near Neon Junction. The 911 signs for the two county-maintained roads were mixed up and it has caused problems for 911 responders and for mail and package delivery. County Attorney Hatton read a resolution stating the situation would be addressed.

• voted unanimously to approve an agreement for engineering services with R.M. Johnson Engineering Inc. of Lexington to conduct a feasibility study for a solid waste digester for the county.

• voted to condemn a property at Blackey where the court last month had accepted a bid for demolition and removal of an abandoned house there. The bid went to Greg Hale LLC of Letcher County for $4,500. The court voted to accept the bid, contingent on the approval of Dean and Nina Cornett of Blackey, who have offered to pay the costs of removing the house. Judge Adams said the Cornetts had made the request for the county to condemn the property to protect the citizens of Blackey from a future owner putting up a structure that may be detrimental to the citizens.

• voted to honor U.S. Army veteran Rickey Hammonds with a sign at Berlin S. Drive at Thornton and U.S. Army veteran Ralph Thomas with a sign at Stinking Branch, located off Camp Branch Road.

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