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Hal Rogers wants federal study of flood-control measures for Beattyville

·3 min read

Is there a project in Beattyville’s future that would protect the Lee County seat from the kind of devastating flooding it experienced in March?

That won’t be clear for some time, but U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced Thursday that he plans to find out.

Rogers said he will ask Congress to earmark $1.25 million, to be matched by state and local governments, for a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the feasibility of flood-control measures at Beattyville.

Rogers hosted a meeting with Corps officials in Beattyville Thursday, including Col. Eric Crispino, commander of the Corps’ Louisville office, which has jurisdiction over the Kentucky River.

“Our main goal is to protect our families and businesses in Lee County for years to come,” Rogers said. “Folks here shouldn’t have to live in fear.”

The North and Middle forks of the Kentucky River join near town, and the South Fork flows into that at Beattyville to form the main river.

Beattyville, Jackson, Irvine and other places flooded when rain that lasted for days in late February drove the Kentucky River and others out of their banks.

A utility vehicle works to remove water and mud from Lumber Street after severe flooding in downtown in Beattyville Ky., Wednesday, March 3, 2021.
A utility vehicle works to remove water and mud from Lumber Street after severe flooding in downtown in Beattyville Ky., Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

Water destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in the state, as well as roads and bridges.

Local and state officials have estimated the damage at more than $73 million, but are still counting. President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration.

Beattyville took a particularly hard lick. Water reached a depth of six feet or more in part of downtown on March 1, damaging dozens of businesses, local officials said.

Residents have made a determined effort to clean up and repair damage, but some stores still haven’t reopened, said Teresa Mays, who heads the Downtown Beattyville Alliance.

Corps officials said there are various measures that could protect Beattyville from flooding, including building a floodwall or levee, or raising structures.

The Corps will evaluate all approaches if the study Rogers is seeking gets funded, officials said.

That’s not a given.

The House and Senate would both have to approve money for the study. Rogers, a Republican from Somerset, said he believed the funding will come through.

House Republicans barred earmarks after taking control of Congress in 2011.

With Democrats in control, the House this year approved allowing earmarks again under new rules to limit the number of requests from members and to promote openness.

The Senate has not yet approved a return of earmarks.

Protecting the city also won’t be a quick process. The initial feasibility study would take two years, Corps officials said.

Past that, any flood-control project at Beattyville could likely require years of work and tens of millions in federal spending, raising a question on whether the money would be available.

Rogers has had a good bit of success in getting money for flood projects along the Cumberland River and others in his district in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

His office said Thursday that he has helped push through more than $779 million for flood-control projects since being elected in 1980.

Rogers said he had made that a priority.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, right, and Col. Eric Crispino, commander of the Louisville Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engieeers, discuss at potential flood-control study for Beattyville on May 6, 2021. They were at park damaged in a flood.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, right, and Col. Eric Crispino, commander of the Louisville Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engieeers, discuss at potential flood-control study for Beattyville on May 6, 2021. They were at park damaged in a flood.

Days after being sworn in, he flew the length of the Cumberland River with Corps of Engineers officials and asked them what they could do to stop flooding with enough money, Rogers said.

Local officials said they were excited about the potential study of ways to keep high water out of Beattyville.

Mays said protecting the town would give people greater confidence about investing in businesses.

“I do think it would help,” she said.

The flood in March was the worst local people had seen since 1957, but high water has threatened the city since.

And with the climate changing, the city may not have decades before there is another flood to rival 1957, said Lee County Judge-Executive Chuck Caudill Jr.

“I’m very concerned that it’s not going to be another 60 years before it happens again,” Caudill said.