HAZARD—It’s a vital, potentially life-saving project that has been more than a decade in the making—and it finally has secured funding, according to one Perry County official.
Perry County Judge-Executive Scott Alexander met with KRADD (Kentucky River Area Development District) Executive Director Mike Miller on Wednesday to sign a letter of acceptance securing the final half of the funding for the Fort Branch water project.
“It’s the final piece of the funding,” Miller said of the $489,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that had been applied for last year.
Fort Branch, a small, 51-home community in southern Perry County, is one of the last communities in the county to receive municipal water service. The water that currently supplies the houses and church in the hollow comes from underground wells. Even with filtration systems in every home that can afford it, sediment—including dirt, rocks, and branches—and sulfur make the water virtually unusable.
Tony Lewis, a resident on Fort Branch who has fought tirelessly to bring potable drinking water to his community, told the Herald last month that the water has just gotten worse with each passing month, making this step in securing funding even more important than some may realize.
“We’re not celebrating yet,” Lewis laughed, adding that he and his neighbors are remaining realistic about this project that started in the ’90s. “This is a very important thing that needs to be done. It’s sad that we don’t have water yet, but this is an important step … We’ve been through this before. We’re just waiting to see some lines put in the ground.”
The Herald previously reported that the state legislature had passed two bills in the last two years to set aside more than $500,000 in coal severance funds for the project; the CDBG, combined with the severance money, provides exactly $1,000 more than the cost of the project was estimated at.
Alexander said the receipt of the letter of acceptance is a huge step forward in the project, something he has been fighting hard for since he took office in January.
“What they do is they look at all their CDBGs and decide which ones they’re going to fund, like with any other grant,” he said. “We went to bat on this immediately and told them that this was one of our top priorities and that we needed this desperately and made it happen.”
Miller said for anyone who still has doubts, this acceptance letter should quell those.
“They don’t send you a letter of acceptance if you don’t got (sic) the grant,” he said.
“The main thing is it’s going to happen now,” Alexander added. “This is something that’s been promised for years that hasn’t come through, and we’re now going to make it happen.”
Alexander said he knows the citizens in Fort Branch want specific dates, and added that he doesn’t blame them. However, this is not something that can be easily given right now. He explained that the next step in the process is to make sure the project has been completely approved through the division of water, and that all legalities have been met.
“What we can tell them now is that it is going to happen. There’s no more promises. We’re delivering results,” he said.
Amelia Holliday can be reached at 606-436-5771, or on Twitter @HazardHerald.