Eastern Kentucky’s water problems are well documented, but for Pike County, some help may be on the way. The county’s two Appalachian Regional Commission applications for water system improvements and flood prevention infrastructure have officially been recommended for federal funding by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who announced his support for the projects during a tour of the county on Monday.
A little more than $670,000 of the proposed funding would go toward Mountain Water, which serves most Pike County water customers outside of the towns of Pineville and Elkhorn City.. According to Mountain Water administrator Ron Sawyers, the funding matches other grants and loans sought by the utility for needed water main upgrades and an expansion of one water tank, serving a total of 300 customers and businesses.
Some funding will also improve water lines at nearby Fishtrap State Park, which the fiscal court hopes will bump plans for a water park and campground expansion. Beshear also will recommend an additional water line extension in Maynard Fork for ARC funding. This would provide clean, safe drinking water to another 16 families in the county.
“Any utility district in the United States will tell you that infrastructure funding is hard to come by,” Sawyers said, adding that the usual Kentucky Infrastructure Authority loans tend to burden the utility’s customers. “We shoot for grant funding so that our ratepayers don’t have to pay.”
Sawyers estimated Pike County will need at least a decade of work and millions of dollars in funding before he feels the system is fully operational.
Across eastern Kentucky, ratepayers have shouldered much of the cost as water systems in the region age. In some places, residents have been paying more and more as water escapes through frequent line breaks and leaks, and finding what remains to have diminished so much in quality that it’s undrinkable. Martin County remains the most famous example, but other counties, including Pike, Breathitt, and more, have raised rates to cover the increasing costs of maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers 2021 American Infrastructure Report Card graded Kentucky a C+ in drinking water infrastructure. That’s an improvement on previous years, but the society still estimated the state needs an additional $8.1 billion to fully modernize its systems.
The remainder of the funding, totaling $442,105, will support flood prevention measures in Elkhorn City, Pikeville, and Coal Run. Pike County was among the 49 Kentucky counties that declared a state of emergency during the 2021 flooding events. Flooding inundated a park in Coal Run and isolated residents in their homes, and mudslides seriously damaged Pikeville roadways. Pike County considered up to $1 billion in funding for flood prevention in Pikeville and Coal Run in 2019, but attempts had stalled.
Beshear also announced $34 million in funding for road projects to reduce travel time between Hazard and Pikeville, and a new correctional complex in Floyd County.