Second ‘higher ground’ site for rebuilding flooded Eastern Kentucky communities is near Hazard

Flood turned a ‘housing crisis’ into a ‘catastrophic housing situation,’ says Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander

By: - January 24, 2023 3:44 pm

Laura Humphrey walks a wheelbarrow to a pile of debris while volunteering to clean up in Perry County near Hazard on Aug. 6, 2022. Thousands of Eastern Kentucky residents lost their homes ater devastating rain storms flooded the area. (Photo by Michael Swensen/Getty Images)

Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday announced a second site on higher ground in flood-ravaged Eastern Kentucky —  this time near Hazard — where plans call for initially building about 150 houses. 

The project would be partially funded by the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund in partnership with local nonprofit builders, says a release from the Governor’s Office.

The 50-acre site, five miles from downtown Hazard, is near the Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center, schools and shopping centers. The first site, announced by Beshear in December and dubbed the Olive Branch community, sits near the Knott-Perry County line in Talcum. 

Beshear made Tuesday’s announcement with local officials at the Perry County Courthouse. A news release from the Governor’s Office said the Ison family contributed “prime land for the project.” 

“This land is located near the heart of Hazard and can be a real boost to the community. There’s really no better use for such a great piece of land than to improve housing. Better and more housing attracts better jobs and a better future,” Paul Ison said in the press release.

In a statement, Beshear said: “Rebuilding on high ground is a chance to lift up entire communities with upgraded infrastructure and safe, affordable, energy-efficient homes. But our work in Eastern Kentucky is not done until there is prosperity in the entire region.”

Southeastern Kentucky was devastated by flooding almost six months ago. The official death toll is 44. Rebuilding is on the minds of many residents and state leaders. Some advocacy groups have turned to the legislature to fund a $300 million emergency affordable housing package over the next two years, but a bill has not been introduced. Lawmakers return to Frankfort Feb. 7. 

The Governor’s Office said more parcels of the land in Perry County will be developed during later phases of the project. 

The state is evaluating sites for rebuilding in Perry, Knott, Letecher and Breathitt counties, which account for 75% of homes lost to flood damage. All potential building sites will have geotechnical testing during the planning and construction process, the Governor’s Office said. 

“To be at this point so quickly is a great day for the community. As we work to rebuild and recover, housing is one of the biggest issues that we face,” Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander said. “Perry County was in a housing crisis prior to the July 2022 flood disaster. Now we are in a catastrophic housing situation. I want to thank Gov. Beshear and his team, as well as the legislators, for such a quick response to working with Perry County to help solve the housing situation.”

In Knott County, the early plans for the Olive Branch community included small, medium and large home lots as well as senior apartments, park and recreation space and an elementary school. In Tuesday’s press release, the Governor’s Office said the homes in Talcum will be partially funded by the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund.

“Initial planning has begun and will include an improved water treatment facility, roads and utilities for the area which will benefit the entire region,” the press release said of the Olive Branch project. “Infrastructure projects have multiple funding streams, including Eastern Kentucky SAFE funds” and federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.