Mtn Talk Monday: The Get Together – A Multicultural Symposium

When people think of Central Appalachia these days, it seems often the next words are “Trump Country”, or white working class. Is Central Appalachia homogenized? Are we a diverse group of people? What is the legacy of diversity in the coalfields of Appalachia? Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg, Kentucky is delving in to the answers at their symposium on March 30th from 8:30am – 4:30pm called – The Get Together. In this episode, host Kelli Haywood speaks with Janie Beverly and Greta Slone who are members of the Diversity Committee for the college and helped to put together the events for the symposium. The group talks about diversity in Appalachia and just where we are with that these days. To reserve seating for the symposium email [email protected]

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.

Coal Report for March 15, 2017

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The Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 234, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence. The bill eliminates required mining permits for all the surface area above underground mines. Rep. Gooch said (quote) “With the new Trump Administration in place, we are seeing real relief for coal country, and it is imperative that our state’s government follows suit. This measure will reprieve coal companies of unnecessary costs and help in our efforts to get our coal miners back to work.” (end quote) Continue reading Coal Report for March 15, 2017

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.

Coal Report for January 18, 2017

By Office of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer - http://www.fischer.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news?ID=A0C75E68-B1EF-4212-8090-20C97BC066C7, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54956706

By Office of U.S. Senator Deb Fischer – http://www.fischer.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/news?ID=A0C75E68-B1EF-4212-8090-20C97BC066C7, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54956706

Wilbur Ross made his billions from bankruptcies. He scooped up troubled steel and coal companies with an eye to resell them later at a profit. One acquisition included a mine that had terrible safety record: Sago, in West Virginia. Soon after the purchase a lighting bolt met methane gas underground (according to the report) leaving 12 miners dead. An independent investigation found the disaster could have been prevented. Mine safety expert Davitt McAteer led that investigation. “Mr. Ross was noticeable by his absence. He didn’t show up. Though, being president of ICG, he was the ultimate responsible party.” Ross founded ICG – International Coal Group – in 2004 when he bought a bunch (16) of coal mines in KY and OH (WEB: the assets of Kentucky-based Horizon Natural Resources) in a bankruptcy auction. Ross reported to New York magazine that he’s haunted by the deaths at Sago. Now, a decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find people in the region who even know who Ross is. “I think it’s an unreasonable expectation that he be known perhaps in any of the areas where his portfolio companies operate.”

Continue reading Coal Report for January 18, 2017