Pan Appalachian Defender

Thursday, October 05, 2006


by Dave Cooper

In the city of Pikeville, Kentucky city leaders are planning to expand the city limits by flattening two nearby mountains for housing and economic development.
According to a December 28, 2005 article by Roger Alford of the Associated Press, “Appalachian Town Looks to Flatten Mountain,” city leaders have contracted with a coal company, Central Appalachia Mining, to flatten 800 acres of land after extracting coal.
“This will be a tremendous benefit,” said Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn, according to the article.
Before they start earth-moving, Pikeville’s planners and city leaders should first take a good long look at the Kinetic Park economic development site along Interstate 64 in Huntington, West Virginia.
This West Virginia mountain was blasted and flattened starting in 2001 to provide space to build interstate motels, restaurants and a warehouse, yet the site sits empty five years later, due to the instability of the land.
There have been several landslides on the Kinetic Park slopes, including a major slide last summer. A Huntington city council member said the land “wouldn’t support a sidewalk” due to subsidence. The entire project is an now a high-visibility eyesore and an embarrassment for the city of Huntington.
The difficulties of stabilizing large amounts of fill from mountaintop removal mining have also been seen at the Lowe’s in Hazard, Kentucky and the Big Sandy Federal Penitentiary (“Sink Sink”) near Inez, Kentucky where cost over-runs due to subsidence issues raised construction costs of the prison by over $40 million.
Pikeville leaders should also visit Asheville, North Carolina, where there is no coal mining, only beautiful, unscarred mountains. There they will look upon all the multi-million dollar retirement homes built on the tops of beautiful forested mountains.
Why aren’t these retirees building their new vaulted-ceiling mansions overlooking Pikeville? They are called “half-backers” in the real estate trade - wealthy people who retired to Florida, then decided they missed the changing of the seasons, and moved “half-back” to eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. Kentucky is missing out on a big construction boom in mountainside second homes, which can also be seen around Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley. That means jobs in the mountains.
In today’s new economy, trying to attract business by building industrial parks for factories is an outdated, tired strategy. There are empty industrial parks all over eastern Kentucky and every other state. The new factories are all being built in Mexico and China.
Today’s successful entrepreneurs, like web designers and the “creative class” who can earn their salary by sitting in front of a computer, can live anywhere they want. And they are choosing to live in beautiful, mountainous cities like Asheville that offer unspoiled views, clean streams and plenty of outdoor recreation like skiing, hiking and mountain-biking.
Pikeville city leaders feel they need more flat land for the city to grow and prosper. But Asheville doesn’t have any flat land either, and yet it is now bursting at the seams. So are Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley - all because the city leaders there have learned to “market the mountains,” instead of destroying them.
Pikeville has a lot going for it now - interesting downtown, a college, and a brand new Exposition Center. But flattening mountains doesn’t appeal to tourists or the creative class, and it could also increase the frequency and severity of flooding, as shown by Bob Gate’s powerful documentary film “Mucked: Man Made Disasters - Flash Flooding in the Coalfields.”
Quality of life is one of the most important attributes that people demand when choosing their hometown. It starts by protecting the natural beauty of the region. That’s a strategy worth considering for Pikeville and eastern Kentucky, too.


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