Congressman Hal Rogers and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin made their way to Pine Mountain State Resort Park to host the SOAR Executive Board Meeting on Friday. The meeting was the first for the newly minted governor.
“It’s an honor for me, it’s a privilege, and it’s also humbling for me to be here as co-chair,” said Bevin in front of a packed room of spectators. “This is my passion. This is my heart, not only for the SOAR projects, but frankly all of Kentucky. What’s good for eastern Kentucky is good for all of Kentucky.”
One of the major topics of the day was access to broadband internet. According to Rogers, SOAR received $10 million in the fiscal year 2016 in the federal funding bill that will increase access to broadband in Appalachian communities. SOAR will partner with the Appalachian Regional Commission on the project.
“We know how critical and impactful this can be and I believe will be,” said Bevin referencing the impact of broadband.
The governor also said the initial plan was supposed to be an initiative for eastern Kentucky, but it was spread widely. According to him, widening the project came at the expense of effectiveness.
“My belief is that we should re-look at what we initially intended to do,” said Bevin about the project. “If you try to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to anybody.”
SOAR Executive Director Jared Arnett said that one of his strategic initiatives for the program was to infuse a broadband perspective into everything.
Rogers also commented on Pineville Community Hospital during the meeting.
With the help of the USDA, the hospital was able to reconsolidate their debt and opened a geriatric psychiatry unit. Rogers said the move will go a long way in keeping over 300 people working at the hospital. The hospital also received a $3.1 million loan to put toward upgrades.
The congressman touched on several other areas where funding increased at the end of the year. SOAR boosted grant funding through the Employment and Training Administration to help the ongoing efforts for the job training initiative.
The organization received $15 million in Economic Development Administration funds to enhance regional business development in areas negatively impacted by the downturn in coal.
Rogers also addressed a bipartisan bill that he introduced to return abandoned mine lands money. The money totals $2.5 billion. Rogers said they are trying to allocate a billion to states impacted by the coal downturn.
The money would be used to restore abandoned mine lands as long as it has an economic purpose. A good portion of the money would go to Kentucky, according to Rogers.
SOAR received $30 million for abandoned mine lands pilot projects in Kentucky to help reclaim abandoned mine lands and jump start economic development projects.
Reach Anthony Cloud at 606-302-9090 or on Twitter @AnthonyCloudMDN