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MACED calls for plan to move economy beyond coal

By: Angela Sparkman Email
By: Angela Sparkman Email

BEREA, Ky. (WYMT) - The organization Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, known as MACED, wants to use a portion of coal severance dollars to plan for a future without coal.

MACED President Justin Maxson calls the loss of 5,700 Eastern Kentucky coal jobs an "economic catastrophe."

"Everybody knows there's desperate economic times in the region and everybody is looking for solutions that have a shot to work," Maxson said.

He wants Kentucky to create something called the "Appalachian Planning and Development Fund" to develop long-term economic growth outside of coal.

"We have a history investing in projects. What we need to do is invest in an economic system that innovates, that can respond to changing conditions in the region," Maxson said.

The plan calls for a commission to oversee the process and to put 25 percent of coal severance dollars towards the fund. The report says a portion would be used to begin implementing the plan's development strategies and the other portion would be set aside in a permanent endowment for future use. The report states it could be similar to the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund in Montana that is funded by coal severance tax dollars and used for job creation projects.

MACED directors say they know it would be tough to get local officials to give up a portion of coal severance funds to go towards this plan.

Bell County Judge-Executive Albey Brock says he could not support putting the coal severance funds in the plan at this time.

"Our families are suffering and we've got to do something to diversify our economy but just exactly what that is, divert 25 percent of coal severance funds to let's make a plan, I'm not sure I can get behind that at this point with the information I have," Brock said.

MACED sent the plan to 200 state and local officials for consideration.

MACED directors say the proposed commission is similar to the Kentucky Appalachian Commission set-up in the 1990s but then disbanded in 2004 when it lost funding.

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