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Officials push for "coal to road" project

PIKEVILLE – Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford, District 93 Rep. W. Keith Hall and District 5 Magistrate Hilman Dotson are working to connect the Phelps area and give them access to the rest of the area by proposing a coal-to-road project.

The fiscal court unanimously passed a declaration of emergency in regard to routes 194 and 632, which run from Johns Creek to Phelps, because of the increased danger and multiple traffic accidents occurring on the road.

“Due to the number of accidents and deaths on this road we need to move to get this done,” Rutherford said. “Millions have been put in to state coffers from the production of coal and natural gas from this area.”

Rutherford added that these long, winding roads have 18-wheelers traveling in both lanes, which increases the danger of traveling either to or from the Phelps area.

“These roads have been the site of many traffic accidents for years,” Dotson said. “There is a mountain on one side and a creek on the other. The three of us have been working toward getting this done and this is a big step forward. It would mean a lot to people who have gone way too long without a safe highway. US 23 and US 119 are completed and US 460 is nearly completed.”
The contour mining method consists of removing overburden from the seam in a pattern following the contours along a ridge or around a hillside. This method is most commonly used in areas with rolling and steep terrain. A ridge of undisturbed natural material 15 to 20 ft (5–6 m) wide is often intentionally left at the outer edge of the mined area. This barrier adds stability to the reclaimed slope by preventing spoil from slumping or sliding downhill, making it ideal for the construction of a road.

Pike County Office of Energy and Community Development Director Charles Carlton also said he sees the coal-to-road idea as the only way a road could be constructed.

“They do this in Virginia and West Virginia and an ongoing coal-to-road project in Floyd County,” Carlton said. “It’s a win-win-win situation: coal gets mined, a road gets built and people get better access to and from their homes.”

The current economic downturn makes the coal-to-road idea more feasible than the conventional way of building a road.

“The people of the Phelps area deserve a better road,” Hall said. “There is really no good way to get in and out of Peter Creek. But with the constant coal mining and natural gas production in that area, a coal-to-road project makes a lot of sense.”

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