The Letcher County Fiscal Court declined to hear a presentation from TECO regarding a small parcel of county-owned land in the Webb Branch area that sits between Skyview Park at Haymond and Fishpond Lake at Payne Gap.
As the court’s May meeting was coming to a close, Letcher Judge/ Executive Jim Ward told the court he had been contacted by TECO representatives with a request that the court hear a presentation from the company concerning an exchange of property so the parcel of land in question could be strip mined. The court declined the offer without taking a vote.
Ward said he does not believe the piece of land is actually in the Fishpond Lake watershed and that TECO had offered another piece of land in exchange in addition to saying it would turn the land back over to the county after it is stripped. Ward said that TECO still owns the surface rights to the property.
Fifth District Magistrate Wayne Fleming led the opposition to the proposal. Fleming told Ward that the Fishpond area has tremendous potential for tourism development and already is one of the most visited sites in the county, with Letcher Countains and visitors visiting the park for fishing, boating, camping, and other recreational purposes. This includes many people who regularly walk around the 2.5-mile road that surrounds the lake for exercise. Fleming told his fellow magistrates that the court would no doubt get flogged by the public if they allowed anything to damage the recreational area.
Ward said that if TECO did make a proposal, the court would be under no obligation to the company, and Third District Magistrate Woody Holbrook and Fourth District Magistrate Keith Adams said they would not be adverse to hearing what TECO had to say, but there was little enthusiasm for putting the matter to a vote and Ward said he would contact TECO and inform it of the court’s decision. TECO is currently in negotiations with Cambrian Coal, a subsidiary of Booth Energy to sell its eastern Kentucky holdings. The original agreement for Booth Energy to purchase TECO’s holdings was made in October 2014, but has since been extended for further negotiation.
Fleming questioned why TECO was pursuing the parcel of land when it has announced its intention to sell its operation and emphasized that he is not against coal mining and certainly doesn’t want to knock anyone out of a job. He added that the small size of the land in question would have very little impact on jobs anyway. When asked if he would listen to the TECO representatives’ proposal, he said he had no interest in what they have to say.
“No,” said Fleming. “I’ve listened to them for16 years. People don’t want the lake disturbed.”
In other business, the court agreed to send a letter to the Kentucky Department of Transportation asking for repairs on all state-maintained roads in Letcher County. The action came after Kingscreek resident Bill Meade told the court that there are numerous areas on Kentucky 160 between Roxana and Gordon where the road has been undercut by heavy rain and snow and the highway is unsupported or gone. Meade said he has seen an area where several sections of guardrail just hang in the air without touching the ground and added that it is extremely dangerous for school buses to travel the road.
Magistrate Wayne Fleming agreed with Meade, saying he had recently traveled the road and it it’s badly in need of repair, along with a number of other roads in the county. Fleming said that Highway 160 is the worst piece of road in Letcher County.
Letcher County Tourism Chairman David Narramore reported that the tourism commission was accompanied by Colin Fultz and others involved with the new Whitesburg distillery to a meeting of the Kentucky Tourism Industry Association, a travel group that organizes all the tourism planning for Kentucky attractions. Narramore said the visit went very well and added that the distillery will open on July 1.
Narramore also told the court that Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Whitesburg will proved hospitality training for area restaurants, fast food establishments, hotels and convenience stores on Tuesday, June 23, time to be announced. The training will be provided for employees at no charge. Narramore said the Cumberland SKCTC provides hospitality training for the Harlan County Tourism Commission, which he added has a zip line and is supported by a restaurant tax. The Letcher County Tourism Commission meets the first Thursday of the month at the Letcher County Recreation Center and the next meeting will focus on the 2015-2016 budget of $16,000, just over half of the most recent budget of $30,000.
The court also heard a request from Buddy Sexton, a Letcher County minster, who said he represented a group that is working for equal rights for all parents and grandparents. Sexton said the central issue is visitation rights for divorced fathers or those who are otherwise separated from their children. He said he believes that children are the county’s number one resource and asked the court to approve placing a notification of the group’s aims along with a petition asking the state legislature to modify KRS 493 to allow fathers to have more visitation time with their children.
Judge Ward said he has no objection to allowing the material to be posted on the bulletin board if it is legal, but County Attorney Jamie Hatton told the court that while it is probably legal, the county shares the courthouse with the court system and there is language in the document that might be offensive to the courts, particularly a statement to the effect that the court system has let them down. Magistrate Holbrook asked Sexton if he would mind removing “let down by the court system” from the material to be posted and Sexton said that he would not, but added that when a man comes into a courtroom for custody matters, “he is already beaten.”
Hatton said that if the language in question is removed, he sees no reason that the document and petition can’t be posted on the bulletin board. Sexton also asked the court to recognize Equal Rights for All Parents as an interest group. He said the organization meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. at Dairy Queen. He added that since an article concerning the group and its efforts to modify visitation arrangements appeared in The Mountain Eagle, he has received hundreds of telephone calls, emails, and other contacts supporting the group. He added that he has received 700 signatures on the petition to revise the law to expand visitation rights past the current 48 hours every other weekend that fathers now get.
In other court business:
• The court voted unanimously to accept the 2016 County Road Cooperative Agreement and Resolution with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. By accepting the agreement, the court will be able to accept state funding to repair and resurface county roads. The agreement will provide funding in the amount of $1,148,591.13, which will be allocated in three payments. The first allocation will be $668,480 (60 percent of the total) and the second will amount to 35 percent of the appropriation, depending on how actual state revenues compare to revenue estimates. The final distribution will be for the remainder of the apportionment. Three percent of each distribution is set aside as an emergency fund.
• The court heard the first reading of an ordinance to set the speed limit for Stallard
Drive at 10 miles per hour. Stallard Drive is listed as County Road Number 1615 in Letcher County.
• The court voted unanimously to lease the playground at the old McRoberts School from Neon businessman Eb Wright for the amount of $1 a year, to be renewed annually. Second District Magistrate Terry Adams asked that a stipulation be made to the agreement to the effect that the county already owns the playground equipment there, having purchased it to allow the playground to be used as a park for McRoberts when the school was part of the Jenkins Independent School District.
• The court voted to name Valley Branch Road at the Gordon Volunteer Fire Department in honor of Corporal Norman “Turkey Man” Myers, U.S. Marine Corps, Korean War.
Bank balances for county agencies as of May 12:
• General Fund $458,672.04
• Road and Bridge Fund $540,639.05
• Jail Fund $167,300.78
• LGEA Fund $903,053.33
• Senior Citizens Fund $257,110.51
• Forestry Fund $15,158.37
Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Funded Depreciation Reserve Account — $295,589.21
Letcher County Public Courthouse Corp. Debt Service — $64,055.21