By: Keith Kappes
Carter County Times
It was during last summer’s terrible floods in East Kentucky that I came up with the notion that the more than 6,000 families in four counties whose homes were severely damaged or destroyed should rebuild or relocate on higher ground.
Regrettably, I kept that bright idea to myself and now Gov. Andy Beshear and two compassionate landowners are getting the credit for proposing that reclaimed surface mining land on what used to be mountaintops can be used for high and dry housing.
I applaud them for their compassion and vision. I lived the first 18 years of my life in a home that flooded at least six times. I know firsthand that continuing to build and/or rebuild in a flood plain is a losing, heartbreaking, proposition.
Yes, I understand that we of the hill country have this deeply ingrained sense of place that keeps pulling us back to the same low-lying land we have called home for generations.
And our ancestors learned to rationalize using their hearts instead of their heads with sayings like “if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise” and “how’s high the water, mama”, etc.
My brainstorm about moving flood victims permanently to higher ground led me to recall my efforts 40 years ago in trying to explain to the public why Morehead State University and a giant, out-of-state coal company were trying to build an agricultural complex on an old surface mining site in Martin County.
It was an inspiring project, but it proved to be impractical, despite the coal company’s money stream, because of the exorbitant cost of trying to convert crushed rock “spoil” into fertile topsoil, among other things. Access to irrigation water was another drawback.
The dream of turning that mountaintop into the new “agricultural frontier of Kentucky” didn’t come true back then but we now have the advantage of 40 years of technology and experience.
Today, reclaimed land can undergo engineering and testing to make sure it is stable enough to support houses and other structures such as businesses, churches and schools that should not remain in chronic flood zones.
Finally, our state legislature should use that billion-dollar surplus in the state treasury to make sure our homeless flood victims have a new Kentucky home on higher ground.
(Contact Keith at firstname.lastname@example.org).