When is enough, enough?

Angela Jackson Contributing Writer

November 5, 2013

This article refers to a news story headlined “Industrial Park Nearing Completion,” which appeared Oct. 9 in the Middlesboro Daily News.

The report announced the near completion of the T. J. Asher Industrial Park, hereinafter referred to as The Industrial Park.

The Industrial Park project was created in 1998 by then-governor Paul Patton, who was also instrumental in creating the Pine Mountain Regional Industrial Authority, hereinafter referred to as PMRIDA. At the time, Jennifer Jones was Bell County Judge-Executive and was a principle figure in getting the now famous “Bridge to Nowhere” built across the Cumberland River to the Asher Land & Mineral Corporation, Ltd. property.

In March 2003 PMRIDA obtained the T. J. Asher Industrial Park property, which consisted of 500 acres of mountaintop land on Hances Ridge, and situated three and a half miles above U.S. 119 and the Bridge to Nowhere. (Document recorded in Deed Book 314, page 742, records of the Bell County Court Clerk‘s Office).

Incidentally, that bridge cost the taxpayers $11 million, paid for by taxes through the Kentucky Department of Transportation. This is the department where we pay for our vehicle license plates and taxes, so don’t be fooled. Bell County citizens paid on that bridge.

And by the way, the “Bridge to Nowhere” and that beautiful three and a half miles of super highway recently finished ($8 million for that super highway) are privately owned by PMRIDA, and all on Asher Land and Mineral property. This fact is very important for full disclosure concerning exactly what that industrial park may actually be used for. The restrictions on the 500-acre tract of the industrial park are extreme, and a coal-to-gas or coal-to-jet fuel plant would not be allowed under the industrial park’s protective covenants. The other 250-acre tract is to be used expressly for an airport.

On either side of that private three-and-a-half-mile super highway the taxpayers built through Asher Land and Mineral property, however, anything from a strip club to a jet fuel plant may be built. All on private property. I do not believe there are any county zoning laws that prohibit or approve use of any kind, only alcohol sales.

Did the taxpayers pay for an $11 million bridge and an $8 million road to the T.J. Asher Industrial Park all for the purpose of developing 9,000 acres of Asher Land and Mineral, Ltd. property? Could — or should — that industrial park have been located in another area more easily and cheaply accessible?

The industrial site was evaluated by the Kentucky Department of Energy and Independent Energy and Environmental Cabinet in 2009. It looked to me like the only thing close to being viable was a coal-to-gas facility, but the park’s protective covenants prohibit heavy industry. Any industry that smokes, belches or pukes gas, smoke or noise.

The industrial park project has produced some jobs … the people who built the bridge, the ones who paved that super highway, and the professionals who engineered the project. I believe that Vaughn and Melton Engineering was one company, and Hinkle Paving Company was another who scored big.

The bottom line, however, is that the taxpayers paid for a private highway and a private bridge to a private industrial park through three and a half miles of private property that can now be developed for private use and private profit, at no return to the taxpayers.

Now, are the taxpayers going to pay for the water and electricity to be put in along that super highway?

People in Brownies Creek have suffered for years with bad waterlines, unreliable service and high rates, taking showers in sulfur water. Phew!!!

When is enough, enough?

Should our Bell County government hold accountability and full disclosure hearings before one more taxpayer dollar is spent on this private project? Should questions be asked about why Asher Land and Mineral, Ltd., still retains oil and gas rights to the land owned by The Industrial Park? Why PMRIDA owns surface rights only? What industry would spend millions of dollars locating where it would have only surface rights?

And let us not forget that this is only the 500-acre tract PMRIDA bought from Asher Land and Mineral Corporation, Ltd.

In March, 2008 PMRIDA bought another 250-acre tract from Asher Land and Minerals Corporation, Ltd., to be used expressly for an airport facility (recorded in Deed Book 341, page 22). If there is no airport project under way by March, 2018, Asher Land and Mineral Corporation, Ltd., can buy the property back for $250,000, the original selling price.

The only obstacles standing in the way of that airport project are Middlesboro’s historic airport — once home to the Glacier Girl — and taxpayer funding. I was told by an airport board member that a feasibility study was done concerning Middlesboro’s airport, and that study concluded it would be cheaper to just lengthen the existing airport runway.

This information did not alleviate my concerns; it just created more questions which the airport board member did not have time to answer. Concerns like, nowhere, in any direction, is there room to lengthen the airport runway, and, what reasons exist to lengthen the runway? Could the airport board vote to close Middlesboro’s airport, thus removing the only obstacle to putting an airport on PMRIDA’s industrial park property? If the airport board did vote to close the Middlesboro airport, would there be public-impact hearings? Could events occur that would create safety issues and influence the board?

When it comes to taxpayer funding for entirely private projects, when is enough enough?

There should be accountability and full disclosure hearings concerning the T. J. Asher Industrial Park project and the airport project.

Do we only have until early 2018 to keep our Middlesboro airport?