MN&WR: Ohio Valley ReSource and Regional Journalism

This is an episode dedicated to the Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional news collaborative of seven radio stations across three states. WMMT is one of those stations, and our reporter Benny Becker represents eastern Kentucky in the OVR.

  • Benny Becker has the story of the troubled past of water quality in Martin County, Kentucky and how many have lost trust in their water and their government. (This piece was recently picked to air on NPR.)
  • Aaron Payne delivers the startling statistics and stories behind the region’s infants born to addicted mothers in – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat the Ohio Valley’s Drug Addicted Babies. Payne is based in Athens, Ohio at WOUB.
  • WMMT’s Kelli Haywood speaks with Jeff Young who is the managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource and works from WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, about the importance of regional journalism and the OVR model in these questioning times.
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Read more about Martin County, Kentucky’s water woes at – Troubled Waters: A Coalfield County Loses Trust in Water and Government by Benny Becker.

Read more about neonatal abstinence syndrome and the region’s babies born addicted at – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat Ohio Valley’s Drug-Affected Babies by Aaron Payne.  

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Mtn. Talk Monday: Forest Farming Medicinal Herbs and Edibles & Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub

Host Kelli Hansel Haywood speaks with representatives of Appalachian Sustainable Development and the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmers’ Coalition about the possibilities of creating an income from forest farming in Appalachia. They discuss the whys, hows, and whens of cultivating medicinal herbs, edible mushrooms, and more under the forest canopy. The group gives details on upcoming workshops so that you can become involved. Also, highlighted is the progress of creating the Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub in Duffield, Virginia that will allow farmers to clean, dry, package, and potentially sell their product to a worldwide market. www.appalachianforestfarmers.org

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Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.

MN&WR: Hazard, Kentucky – Boom or Bust?

  • Hazard, Kentucky: Boom or Bust? Take an in depth look at community efforts to revitalize downtown Hazard with WMMT’s Kelli Haywood. An entire half hour devoted to the voices of Hazard sharing their dreams, disappointments, bumps in the road, and successes as they try to rebuild a livable community through food, arts, culture, and more.

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel  2. Main Street  3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora  4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel 2. Main Street 3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora 4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Reporter’s Notebook: Kelli Hansel Haywood for WMMT

In its heyday, Hazard, the county seat of Perry County, was one of the larger eastern Kentucky boom towns.  First lumber then coal drove the economy of Perry County, turning Hazard into a major center for commerce in the mountains. In the 1940s the city’s population topped out at over 7,000 people and nearly 48,000 in all of Perry County, but from then both have seen a steady decline with changes in the coal industry.  As seen in towns throughout eastern Kentucky, the latest hit taken by the coal industry has all but devastated downtown Hazard.

For the last decade, as eastern Kentucky has experienced all of this major change, towns have either been adapting or disappearing.  Hazard remains a center of commerce for Perry and surrounding counties.  The big difference is that the business being done in Hazard has been diverted from downtown and to the big chain box stores like Wal-Mart, Food City, Lowe’s, and Big Lots.  As in many towns across America, the days of mom’s and pop’s is all but gone.  Couple that with a loss of coal jobs and you have people living on a tight budget, who have to shop at box stores because of lower prices and not enough good waged jobs to go around.  Unless you have a distinct niche business that will entice people to travel to your location for what you offer, or you are able to compete with the prices of the chain stores, entrepreneurship is more risk than most want to take on.

The people of Perry County have also received negative attention from national media for being one of the worst places to live in the country in no small part due to dismal health outcomes.  Culprits like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hunger, and cancer are all to blame.  However, Kentucky also leads the nation in acute cases of Hepatitis C with 4.1 cases per every 100,000 residents.  Perry County is one of the top 200 counties nationwide in risk of HepC and HIV outbreak due to the opioid epidemic and needle injected drug use.   The county also has a significant population experiencing homelessness in comparison to population who find their way to Hazard to try to obtain help.

Coalfield communities in Appalachia are often stereotyped as reliant on welfare and unwilling to work or become educated by national media and those from outside of the region.  While there is some truth to all stereotypes, the explanation of them are very complicated.  A lack of access to government assistance would devastate many residents in coalfields Appalachia, and the same is true for Hazard.  This does not mean, however, that they are unwilling to do the work it takes to create a livable community for themselves and their children.  This is directly reflected in the work ethic presented by those working to revitalize downtown Hazard.

It is not simple to live in a struggling community, and sometimes hope is hard to find.  Hazard residents are diligently working to change their downtown into something never seen before in Perry County – a downtown that reflects local arts, culture, and food.  As many Hazard residents will tell you, there isn’t one thing that is going to fix their economy.  They equate the effort as needing to be like a silver buckshot as opposed to a silver bullet.  It seems that the starting point for many in Hazard and Perry County has been going back to what many in Appalachia know how to do – small scale farming.  Through efforts of Community Farm Alliance, which serves the area, North Fork Local Foods was created to operate in Hazard to run Perry County Regional Farmer’s Market and the Perry County Farm to Table Program.

As these efforts start to build, other regional and community organizations are playing a role in addressing Hazard’s crumbling infrastructure.  Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, the Philanthropic Capital Fund for Southeast Kentucky (FILCAP), Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development (MACED), and InVision Hazard are all busy plugging away to create opportunities for more entrepreneurship in Hazard’s downtown.  Residents are not idealistic when considering what types of businesses might work in a downtown like Hazard’s.  As independent contractor, landscaper, and seamstress Pamela Farrell share in her interview for this story, “It would be great to have a couple of businesses in town, but it would have to be ones that cater to the whole lot of people, not just people with full time jobs that make good.”

Jenny Williams, a professor of English at the Hazard Community and Technical College and a very active volunteer for the revitalization effort, told Willie Davis in 2015 when the interviews that would become this story began, “Everybody should be able to live an artful life and appreciate something beautiful.  Everybody should be able to have a river that is clean, that you can wade in and fish in without worrying about the fish that you pull out of it being inedible.  And, being able to eat someplace that has fresh local, healthy food that’s affordable.  That’s art to us… Another thing I would say is I get that what we need is jobs.  I get that.   I’m not saying that we can live on love and poetry alone.”  In that reality lies Hazard.  The efforts that can amount to so much over time feel very slow in the scheme of things even if they are “baby steps in the right direction.”

The question then becomes – will we have the momentum to sustain the work that will attract people who can bring jobs to towns like Hazard while at the same time not overlooking the direct and immediate needs of the regions poor, hungry, and addicted?  Samantha Haynes, a 23 year old mother of three who currently volunteers at Second Chance Mission who serves those in need in Hazard summed up the plight of the area’s young people well when she told me, “This lady told me that it was beautiful downtown.  You know, that’s a beautiful view.  But, do you see what’s underneath that?  I’m not comfortable in that.  I’m not comfortable raising my kids around here knowing that the majority of people want to leave Hazard now, and yet, everybody wants to come home.  There’s nothing here for us, but there’s so much we have.  We’ve got all kinds of creativity from just making stuff to painting, to singing… and just talking.  It’s beautiful… but I want people to know that people like me want that for Hazard.  It just breaks my heart.  I don’t want to leave Hazard.  You know, there’s still a heartbeat here.  It’s not dead.”

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for February 1, 2017

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On January 26th the first coal mining related death in the United States of 2017 happened in a small underground mine near Pikeville, Kentucky. 42 year old Ray Hatfield Jr. of Hi Hat was killed while working on a conveyor belt in the R&C Coal LLC Mine No. 2. Hatfield had 23 years of beltman experience at the time of his death. A preliminary report from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stated that he “received fatal injuries when he became entangled in a moving belt drive roller. The victim was attempting to shovel near the belt drive when he came in contact with a tandem roller.” The small mine only employs 9 nonunion miners and Hatfield was alone at the time of his death, having not been discovered for several hours. Surviving Hatfield are his wife, a son, and two daughters. The mine has been idled and state inspectors are investigating the accident. WMMT and Appalshop give their condolences to Ray Hatfield’s family, friends, and co-workers. Thank you for your service.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky introduced a Congressional Review Act on Monday, which is a resolution blocking the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, days before the House is set to vote on a similar measure. Obama officials and environmentalists have hailed the rule — which protects waterways from the impacts of mountaintop removal mining — as good for water quality and public health. But the coal industry has said it would kill mining jobs. The Lexington Herald Leader reports that McConnell said of the Stream Protection Rule (quote) “It will cause real harm to real people who support real families in real communities. This regulation is an attack on coal families. It jeopardizes jobs and transfers power away from states and local governments.” (end quote) The House is set to vote on three CRA resolutions this week undoing energy-sector regulations finalized late in the Obama administration. The resolutions target the Stream Protection Rule, a methane leak regulation, and a directive seeking more financial information from drilling and mining firms.

Tens of thousands of retired coal miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia face another deadline on expiring healthcare benefits and pensions. Congress funded a temporary extension late last year but that expires in April. Becca Schimmel reports on competing proposals to protect miners benefits. BS: Competing bills from a regional Senate Republican and Democrat differ sharply in support for benefits for retired miners. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin reintroduced the miner’s protection act, which includes protections for health and pension benefits. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, offered an alternative that would only fund health benefits. And McConnell’s bill ties that funding to other changes in environmental regulations affecting coal mining.

MM: “My legislation calls on congress to work with the incoming Trump administration to repeal regulations that are harming the coal industry and to support economic development efforts.”

BS: United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts supports the bill reintroduced by Manchin. Groups working on both labor and environmental protections are unhappy with McConnell’s bill. Retired miner Carl Shoupe is with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which focuses on economic and environmental issues. Shoupe says McConnell is playing politics with miner’s benefits.

CS: “Everybody wants to work here in eastern Kentucky and Mitch McConnell if he just quit playing politics, direct some of his attention here to eastern Kentucky or to Kentucky for that matter he could help us become a viable state.”

BS: Shoupe doesn’t think the Trump administration will revive the mining industry. He’d like lawmakers to help out-of-work miners find jobs in the clean energy sector.

CS: “We’re figuring it out that coal is not gonna come back and a lot of us are trying to move on and move on into the 21st century,” Shoupe said.

BS: Shoupe says in order for his community to move on miners and their families need the healthcare and pension benefits they worked for and were promised by the federal government.

 

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]

Mtn. Talk Monday: Radon Awareness

January is Radon Awareness Month. Have you ever had your home’s radon gas levels tested? Dr. Ellen Hahn Ph.D of the University of Kentucky College of Nursing and Director of the BREATHE Program, stopped by WMMT to speak with Mountain Talk Monday host Kelli Haywood about the dangers of radon gas in your home and what you can do to limit your risk. Radon gas is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer. Listen and learn more. Visit UK’s BREATHE website to see maps, and other information to help you determine your risk for exposure. 640px-Radon_test_kit radon

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.

MN&WR: Changes

  • Mary Meehan of the Ohio Valley ReSource finds changing opinions in one eastern Kentucky community toward the increased risk of HepC and HIV outbreak due to IV drug use and needle exchange programs.
  • WMMT’s Mimi Pickering talks to healthcare service providers and economy experts regarding the boost the Affordable Care Act has given to the health of the people and the economy of eastern Kentucky, and what its repeal might mean for the future.
  • Glynis Board with the Ohio Valley ReSource speaks with photographer Rebecca Kiger about documenting the transitioning economy of coalfields Appalachia.

 

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With the beginning of the new year, we’re in a period of anticipation and change.  People are making their resolutions and wondering if they will pay off.  We are awaiting the inauguration of president elect Donald Trump and wondering what changes his presidency will bring.  And for us in coalfields Appalachia, we still have the question of “what next?” in the forefront of our lives.  The way we answer that question will impact our community in profound ways.  In this episode, we are taking a look at the collective and economic impact that healthcare has on our communities as we envision our future.

The Centers for Disease Control recently ranked the counties in the nation with the greatest risk for an HIV outbreak due to needle-injected drugs. The top ten are all in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. Needle exchange programs can limit the risk of infection, but they also challenge some deeply held convictions. Mary Meehan, of the Ohio Valley ReSource, begins our episode in Powell County, Kentucky, where the opioid crisis has forced a religious community to reconsider some beliefs.

The passage of the  Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and the decision of then Governor Steve Beshear to expand Medicaid eligibility, has greatly increased the number of insured people in Kentucky and brought billions of dollars into the state.  In addition jobs related to the Medicaid expansion, connecting the uninsured to benefits, and more people accessing health care, have increased.  However, president elect Donald Trump and the majority of the Republican Congress have promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act as a top priority. Current Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has succeeded in his campaign promise to dismantle the state-run insurance exchange KYnect causing the 75,000 Kentuckians that had enrolled in private healthcare plans through the KYnect platform to re-enroll using the federal platform Healthcare.gov in order to remain insured as of January 2017. Those on Medicaid have to enroll on a new state system, Benefind, that has been riddled with problems. The changes taking place are a concern for many Kentuckians particularly those in unique situations like coal miners needing black lung benefits, and those who were formerly uninsured, or unable to sign up under an employer plan who are likely to lose benefits with the ACA repeal.  In May of last year, WMMT’s Mimi Pickering reported on the impact of KYnect and the ACA on eastern Kentucky and what a repeal could mean.

The collapse of the coal industry has left many mining communities looking for a new economic path forward. For our final segment, Glynis Board of the Ohio Valley ReSource spoke with a photographer who is helping people picture a new future for the coal fields.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.