The Whitesburg City Council this week joined with other coalfield communities and organizations in asking for federal assistance to combat the growing black lung problem in Central Appalachia.
The council, at its October meeting Tuesday night, also heard the second reading of an ordinance requiring pet owners to properly dispose of their pet’s solid waste or face fines of up to $100 and heard a report about the Daniel Boone Hotel rehabilitation project from a structural engineering firm.
The resolution about black lung states that the incurable, fatal, and entirely preventable disease has recently surged among coal miners and that one in five veteran working coal miners in Central Appalachia now has black lung.
In a recent community meeting held at the University of Kentucky Extension Offices in Whitesburg that was sponsored by the Appalachian Citizens Law Center of Whitesburg, physicians specializing in black lung were joined by miners afflicted with the disease to discuss problems in obtaining benefits and the increase in the severity of the disease. Dr. Cara Halldin, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Dr. Brandon Crum, a physician at the Highland Regional Medical Center Radiology Department, who is a former coal miner and specializes in radiology, attended the town hall meeting and both said the disease has reached epidemic proportions.
The resolution proposes several remedial actions that can help with the black lung situation as well as address the need for employment solutions. It states that the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is now in poor financial health due to the increases in the number of afflicted miners and the number of coal companies in bankruptcy. It also says that the long-term solvency of the fund will continue to be weakened unless Congress acts to prevent a scheduled 50 percent reduction in the excise fee for mined coal that provides resources to the fund. It also asks that the requirements for miners to qualify for black lung benefits not be made more difficult.
A proposal in the resolution calls for solutions for the black lung excise fee to be tied to U.S. Fifth District Congressman Hal Rogers’s RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731). This bill calls for a $1 billion investment over the next five years from the federal Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund to be used for reclamation and economic development in the coalfields. It also calls for an investment of $455,869,335 for cleaning up abandoned coal mines in Kentucky that have already been identified, but have not received funding for a cleanup. This includes $12.3 million in cleanup projects in Letcher County.
The resolution asks members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation to support legislation to strengthen the solvency of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund by maintaining the excise fee at its current level and by not making black lung benefits more difficult to acquire. It calls for support of the bipartisan RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1721) sponsored by U.S. Representative Hal Rogers and support of the bipartisan American Miners Pension Act, (H.R. 3913/S/1911) that insures that the United Mine Workers Pension Plan can continue to pay pensions retired miners and their survivors have earned.
The resolution also asks that members of the public contact their representatives including U.S. Representative Hal Rogers (202- 225-4601), Senator Mitch McConnell (202-224-2541), and Senator Rand Paul (202- 224-4343) to express their support for the proposals made in the resolution.
In other council actions, the Councilman Derek Barto conducted the second reading of Ordinance 2018- 04, concerning the disposal of solid waste from pets.
The ordinance states that animal solid waste has created a health hazard in the city and establishes a threetiered penalty structure for anyone observed by a police officer not cleaning up after their pet if it defecates in the city.
The ordinance calls for a first time fine of $25, a second offense fine of $50, and a $100 fine for the third and each subsequent offense.
Mayor James Wiley Craft said he is looking into purchasing sanitation stations to locate abound the city that provide plastic bags for pet owners to use for pet waste disposal.
In other business, project architect Bill Richardson introduced structural sngineer Brian Scott of Poage Engineering to discuss plans for the restoration of the Daniel Boone Hotel.
Richardson went over architectural drawings he has completed and Scott discussed plans to stabilize the building. Richardson said the building will require a thorough cleaning to remove debris and that rotting wood and other unsound material will have to be removed as well. Scott said that when the clean-up is complete, he will proceed with securing a contractor to install a steel infrastructure in the front of the building that will connect with other more structurally sound portions of the building to allow for the removal of the floors.
Scott added that he will present at least two options for the roof, one of which has a penthouse and gathering area. This option will be more expensive and will require the roof to support a good deal more weight.
Scott also said that two seismic drills will be required in order to determine the depth of the bedrock for support of the building. The council voted unanimously to approve the bid of Gregg and Associates of Lexington to do the geological work.
The council also voted unanimously to allow KRADD Associate Director of Community and Economic Development Angelia Smith-Hall to advertise for engineering bids to begin a project to refurbish five city water tanks and replace two more.
Mayor Craft announced that the annual Halloween Safe Night will be held on October 30 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Craft also said that local businesses and office seekers will be able to bring treats to the Whitesburg Elementary/Middle School earlier that day, but cautioned office-seekers that they cannot conduct any political activity at the school.
In another matter, Craft said the Whitesburg Oktoberfest will take place on Saturday, October 20 from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. Streets will be closed and the event will feature food and drink as well as music, vendors, and a professionally supervised cornhole contest with a $1,000 first place prize.