A lack of Abandoned Mine Land funding for Webster County and the surrounding area has been a sore subject for Webster County Judge-Executive Steve Henry for nearly as long as he has been in office, and last week he had the chance to voice his frustration to U.S. Sen.Rand Paul.
Created by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, AML distributes federal funds to states for the purpose of reclaiming abandoned mine works, repairing infrastructure damaged due to abandoned mines and repairing environmental damages due to abandoned mines.
“Since 2016, Kentucky has gotten over $25 million in Abandoned Mine Land money,” Henry said. “That is the maximum a state can get. Western Kentucky has never once had an opportunity to utilize those funds.”
States qualify for funding based on the amount of abandoned mine lands within its borders. For Kentucky, the amount of abandoned mine land is split roughly 60% to 40% between eastern Kentucky and western Kentucky, respectfully.
“Kentucky is in the top funding tier because they are able to use the western Kentucky numbers,” Henry said. “They use us to qualify, but none of the money ever comes here.”
In April, Governor Andy Beshear announced the state had received $10 million in AML funds, all of which was earmarked exclusively for Appalachian counties as abandoned mine land pilot program grants.
Since the pilot program’s inception in 2016, 54 projects in 21 counties have been selected for the AML pilot funding, with every project located in eastern Kentucky.
Notable projects include the HCTC utility training program for lineman and crane operation in Leslie County, a Knott-Perry water interconnect and storage tank in Knott County, the Dajcor aluminum extrusion project in Perry County, the Pinnacle Park industrial development in Martin County, the King’s Daughters Health System expansion in Boyd County, and increasing the chemotherapy treatment area at Pikeville Medical Center’s Leonard Lawson Cancer Center by 7,000 square feet.
Meanwhile, in Webster County, a section of the county maintained Luttontown Lisman Road has been caving in since last fall due to mine subsidence. Although the county has been trying to repair the roadway for months, the state has not allowed them to do so because the damage was caused by abandoned mine works, meaning it must be repaired with AML funds. But there are no AML funds available for Webster County.
Hopkins and Union counties are in the same position, and Henry’s point was echoed by both Hopkins County Judge-Executive Jack Whitfield Jr. and Union County Judge-Executive Adam O’Nan.
“We just want the west Kentucky coal fields to be treated equally and have an opportunity to use the AML funding to move Hopkins County forward,” Whitfield said.
State Representative Jim Gooch said he had helped submit requests for funding on several projects through the years, but the western Kentucky region hasn’t even been considered because all of the money has gone to eastern counties.
“Some of that money has been spent well,” Gooch said. “Some of it hasn’t been. We had some projects that were better that never even got looked at.”