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Kentucky's first high ground housing site for 2022 flood survivors is almost ready

Gov Andy Beshear
Justin Hicks
Flanked by state and local government leaders, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear spoke in Perry County at the entrance to the proposed Skyview high ground housing development on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

The first site to supply new homes to survivors of the 2022 floods is almost ready near downtown Whitesburg. It’s the first of seven high ground housing sites designed to house a total of more than 500 families.

Kentucky state officials celebrated the first high ground housing site for survivors of the July 2022 floods this week.

They were originally hoping to have at least one house ready for the announcement, but weather delayed construction. Instead, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials spoke in front of gravel pads, empty save for the mailboxes.

“It’s hope isn’t it? And you can see it and you can feel it,” Beshear said during the press conference Tuesday, surrounded by various cabinet secretaries and state and local government officials. “And the people who live here will never, ever have to deal with flooding — or that type of flooding ever again.”

The site was previously expected to have all 10 units supplied by FEMA. But this week, state officials said just two FEMA manufactured homes would be located there. The other eight will be built by Letcher County nonprofit HOMES Inc.

The Thompson Branch community near downtown Whitesburg has 10 sites prepared by FEMA that are the state says are ready to build homes on.
Justin Hicks
The Thompson Branch community near downtown Whitesburg has 10 sites prepared by FEMA that are the state says are ready to build homes on.

FEMA developed the infrastructure at the site — electric, water, sewer and grading — but isn’t allowed to provide permanent housing.

Their “Alternative Manufactured Housing Units” are technically temporary, but the state will do additional work to consider them suitable for permanent living.

FEMA says this is the very first time this type of housing solution has been implemented anywhere in the history of the agency.

“Through this initiative the Commonwealth and FEMA have provided eastern Kentucky storm survivors with a temporary housing solution that offers a path to homeownership outside of high-risk flood zones,” a prepared FEMA statement said. “This allows survivors to start their new life on higher ground. This is how we will break the cycle of repetitive disaster damage by moving people out of high-risk flood zones.”

Kentucky is currently developing six other high ground communities in eastern Kentucky. Altogether, the state hopes to house a total of more than 500 families.

Letcher County Judge Executive Terry Adams said his hopes for the sites extended far beyond just housing flood survivors.

“We look at this as folks moving into Letcher County rather than moving out of Letcher County,” Adams said. “Economic development is needed in eastern Kentucky and these sites, while they’re going to help flood survivors, hopefully they’ve got some capacity to maybe get other folks into our region.”

Much of the money needed to develop the sites is coming from a roughly $300 million dollar grant for housing from the federal government. The state’s plan has faced criticism for appearing to omit significant aid for Breathitt County, while extending it to parts of Floyd County that were not significantly impacted by flooding. The plan was recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

After the press conference, Gov. Beshear said to expect “good news” for Breathitt County “soon” and that the state’s plan is still “flexible.”

While in eastern Kentucky, state officials also handed out ceremonial checks for millions of dollars in awards to local governments for infrastructure improvement. Several “checks” represented congressional funds expected to be appropriated by the federal Appalachian Regional Commission.

In 2023, Gov. Beshear co-chaired alongside Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and joked that “given that I was the chair until a week ago, this is coming through.”

The funding announcements included:

  • A recommendation of $1,332,703 to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) that will go toward improving sewer infrastructure in the city of Fleming-Neon;
  • $1,219,000 to the Letcher County Water & Sewer District to help bring water to approximately 221 new customers;
  • A recommendation of $1,900,000 to ARC to rehabilitate the waterline serving downtown Whitesburg; 
  • $750,000 to make modifications to Jenkins City Hall that will improve accessibility for citizens and employees; and
  • $1 million to construct a 1 million gallon-per-day water treatment plant at the Letcher and Perry county line.
  • $250,000 for First Frontier Appalachian Trails to help develop a recreational trail system throughout an 18-county region;
  • $138,492 to help repair the Artisan Center of Kentucky Inc. in Hindman, which was damaged by floods;
  • A recommendation of $2,008,450 to Appalachian Regional Commission for the Knott County Water and Sewer District to extend waterline services to Quicksand and Saltlick Creek;
  • $50,000 to Knott County to help repair almost 3 miles along Wolfpen Creek Road.
Justin is LPM's Data Reporter. Email Justin at jhicks@lpm.org.