Small housing site planned near Whitesburg could be first new one fully occupied by flood victims

By: - June 7, 2023 5:40 am

An example of some of the terrain that puts flat sites in short supply. The view is from High Rock trail at Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve in Letcher County. (Letcher County Tourism)

Letcher County has given the state a 3.5-acre tract near Whitesburg to be used for a small housing development for victims of the July 2022 flood. It seems likely to be the first fully occupied such development.

The site, known as the Marlowe property, is on Sandlick Creek, less than a mile outside the Whitesburg city limits. Letcher County’s fiscal court voted to transfer the property to the state at a special meeting May 25. 

The site is just big enough for eight to 10 housing units, and is far smaller than donated sites in Perry and Knott counties that the state is also developing for housing. Modular housing is planned for the site, so it could be completed before the larger sites. It has already been leveled, and a road is in place. Homes at the site will be connected to City of Whitesburg sewer, and Letcher County water. 

A source close to the project, who did not want to be named because Gov. Andy Beshear is planning an announcement about it soon, said the state is working directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on it. 

FEMA will provide the one-, two- and three-bedroom homes, which will eventually be rooted to permanent, solid foundations that can withstand future disasters, the source said. 

Some infrastructure improvements must be made to the site, including water and sewer lines and other utilities, but for the most part the site is ready to go, the source said, adding that local officials, the Beshear administration and FEMA have already done much work to make the site ready for development. 

Letcher County has hired five engineering firms to work as a team and develop a comprehensive recovery plan for the county. Lexington-based QK4 Inc. was brought in to help consider infrastructure needs in the plan and potential future projects. While it is not working directly on the Marlowe project, QK4 Planning and Environmental Project Manager Eunice Holland said the project would likely eventually be included in the comprehensive plan. 

“Our job is to identify and develop a comprehensive plan to help the community recover from the flooding events and also be more resilient for future flooding events,” Holland said. 

The plan will consider existing and incomplete infrastructure, housing and economic development projects, in addition to new projects that need to be addressed after the flood. They will also help county and city officials apply for grants that could help with projects while the plan is still being developed. Holland said they hope to have a completed plan within a year. 

“If we’re a few months in, and we know of a source of funding they can apply for, we’ll help them,” Holland said. “We’re not going to wait because we don’t have time to wait.”

All housing development projects led by the state are intended to move people to higher ground, out of floodplains. 

Steep terrain in Letcher County has made it difficult to find enough flatter and higher ground for larger developments, Letcher County Judge-Executive Terry Adams told The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg in discussing the transfer of the Marlowe property. 

The property was donated to the county 20 years ago as the site of an animal shelter, but the county joined a regional shelter instead. In the wake of the flood, and the housing crisis it worsened, the fiscal court and state officials revisited the site to consider it as a possible housing development. 

The Mountain Eagle reported May 31 that Beshear’s deputy communications director, Scottie Ellis, said the governor plans to make an announcement about the project “in the near future.”

This article was republished from The Rural Blog, a publication of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues based at the University of Kentucky. 

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.

Ivy Brashear
Ivy Brashear

Ivy Brashear holds the Institute for Rural Journalism’s David Hawpe Fellowship in Appalachian Reporting, named for the late Courier-Journal editor and reporter who was a native of Pike County. Brashear, a native of Perry County, is a Ph.D. student in the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information.