On Thursday night in Centertown, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the possibility of the county taking over State Route 1903, sometimes known as Rockport Ceralvo Road, from the state and perhaps closing it down so Armstrong Coal could mine through it.
Magistrates Brandon Thomas, Jason Bullock and Michael McKenney attended the meeting, but since the road was in Thomas’ district, he did most of the speaking. Thomas informed the crowd that about two weeks ago, the possibility of trading all or part of State Route 1903 for a county road had come up. Thomas said the more he investigated the opportunity, the more he believed it would not be beneficial to the county.
Armstrong Coal purchased land to mine that covered a 1.7 mile stretch of State Route 1903. The plan was for the county to take in State Route 1903 and the state would take in a county road that was no more than half the length of State Route 1903. Thomas explained that the road the state would take in was at the state’s discretion, as well as the mileage they would take.
It was believed that State Route 1903 would be shut down by the county so Armstrong Coal could mine the area, assuming it could get the fiscal court to approve it. Armstrong Coal would mine through the current State Route 1903 causing it to become two dead-end roads.
By law, Armstrong Coal can’t mine within a certain distance of any public road and State Route 1903 divides the land they intend to mine in half. Therefore closing the road would mean it could mine straight through the area.
Thomas said that in the agreement that Armstrong Coal proposed to the county, they would pay the county $169,003.20, paid out at $8,000 per year, when the road is deeded to the county. Thomas said that the $8,000 the county would receive to maintain State Route 1903 or what remained of it, would not nearly be enough.
Also in the proposal, after Armstrong Coal finished mining the area it would then reconnect the road, if the reclaimed land could support it and the fiscal court decided to reconnect it. The road would be built to fit county specifications.
Thomas said he didn’t know things had gotten so serious until he read Armstrong Coal’s notice to mine and in the notice it said that State Route 1903 would be closed for 10 years.
After talking with several people from the state, Thomas believes that this was Armstrong Coal’s best shot at getting State Route 1903 closed.
“I feel assured that Armstrong Coal had investigated closing it or doing what it wished through the state first.” Thomas said. “Maybe they realized it would be a lot cheaper and a lot easier to do it by getting four magistrates to vote to close it or take it in.”
Thomas had hoped that there might be some debate, but as he surveyed the crowd, he believed that most, if not all, in attendance felt the same as he did. Magistrates Kenny Autry and Larry Keown did not attend. It was explained Autry had a prior engagement. Judge-Executive David Johnston was also not in attendance. He, too, had a prior engagement. There were also no representatives of Armstrong Coal in attendance.
Thomas told the close to 40 in attendance, that he believed after talking with other magistrates the issue was dead.
“I talked to Jason (Bullock) and Michael (McKenney) and with Kenny Autry today,” Thomas told those assembled. “I feel like that we have already accomplished the fact that there’s not enough votes to let this happen. So that’s a good thing.”
McKenney, who is on the road committee, said he received a call from Johnston who told him to meet with the road committee and pick out a road that the county would like to trade for State Route 1903. McKenney said that the fiscal court was to vote on this matter at the next fiscal court meeting, which will be tomorrow (Tuesday).
McKenney said the road committee met that afternoon and he recommended that State Route 1903 not be considered for a trade. McKenney also believes that the issue is dead.
“If there’s any motions made at our next court meeting, it will be strictly on the hopes and dreams of the judge-executive and or anyone else that he’s gotten to go along with this project.” McKenney said.
In addition to a large crowd attending the town hall meeting, it was said a petition had been started that had well over 100 names on it against the county trading roads with the state. Some in the crowd also suggested it might be a good idea to attend the next fiscal court meeting in a show of solidarity.