Lewis Ritchie pulls a kayak through floodwater after delivering groceries to his father-in-law on July 28, 2022 outside Jackson in Breathitt County. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)
FRANKFORT — The state is considering land in Knott, Letcher and Perry counties as sites for new housing for victims of last summer’s flooding in developments that could include schools, senior housing and medical clinics, Gov. Andy Beshear told media on Thursday.
Beshear declined to go into specifics, saying he did not want to compromise ongoing negotiations.
In response to a reporter’s question, he said sites in at least four counties are being considered for rebuilding in the region as flood recovery efforts continue. On Wednesday, the governor told the Kentucky Lantern that his administration was in “active negotiations” to acquire higher ground and rebuild Eastern Kentucky communities outside of flood plains.
In a year-end interview, Beshear told the Lantern: “Right now, we’re in active negotiations to acquire land on higher ground where we are going to rebuild towns that coal companies may have built a hundred years ago. And in doing so we have a chance to reimagine what they’d look like and maybe give certain access (to amenities) to Eastern Kentuckians that they’ve not had before.”
His administration is working with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and others on acquiring land. The goal is to offer residents an opportunity to move to “a place that wouldn’t flood,” he said. Huge rainfall over a short time span last summer caused normally small creeks to swell into devastating flash floods.
“As we’re looking through our plans, we’re hoping to add new schools where a couple of elementary schools were wiped out. We’re looking at options on senior housing, on medical clinics,” Beshear said.
He gave some details about the land, but stopped short of identifying the specific areas as it “would harm the negotiations” at this point. At least two parcels each in Knott and Letcher counties and another site in Perry County are being considered, the governor said.
“Those are the three that are moving the fastest, and we’re looking at ways to potentially build up in Breathitt County that would get people out of the flood plain.”
During Thursday’s news conference, the governor also gave a flood-recovery progress report. He said that the Commonwealth Sheltering Program is now housing almost 700 Eastern Kentuckians in travel trailers in Letcher, Floyd, Pike, Knott, Breathitt, Clay and Perry counties.
The program has 82 pending requests. So far, 87 households have been transitioned out of the program and into long-term options. State parks are still housing 130 people, down from 360 on Sept. 1.
Wi-fi to every state park and campgrounds
Beshear said his administration is working to bring Wi-Fi next year to the campgrounds and state parks where flood victims are living, with priority on Jenny Wiley State Park and the Carr Creek campground in Knott County.
For funding in Eastern Kentucky, FEMA has provided more than $181.4 million, the U.S. Small Business Administration $56.6 million, the National Flood program $23.9 million.
The Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund has raised $12.4 million from 41,000 donors. Beshear said the funerals for 43 victims of the floods have been paid for and $500 checks are being sent to those who got assistance from FEMA. Remaining dollars will be used for long-term recovery and housing, the governor said.
“We need people to continue to contribute to this fund. We are going to have a lot of work to do,” he added.” A lot of people are going to need long-term housing and we’re going to need more donations but they keep coming in and we are grateful.”
In addition, the Eastern Kentucky State Aid Funding for Emergencies, or SAFE, has allocated more than $830,00. Western Kentucky SAFE has allocated $1.4 million for recovery from last year’s tornadoes, Beshear said.
Debris removal is expected to be completed later this month. As of Wednesday, more than 450,000 tons of debris have been picked up.
First Lady Britainy Beshear’s toy drive ends Dec. 14. Information about how to mail, ship or drop off a donation can be found at firstlady.ky.gov.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.