Rogers sees future of E. Ky as 'Silicon Holler'; Beshear says he wants to fund 4-lane highway, broadband

12/09/2013 06:55 PM

PIKEVILLE — Part of the Eastern Kentucky’s future should be to invest in more broadband technology, Republican U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers told 1,700 people in Pikeville at the SOAR, or Shaping Our Appalachian Region summit on Monday.

While the “silicon holler” — as Rogers put it — is one step for the region, legislators who turned out suggested a variety of other potential answers for the region that has been plagued by decades of poverty and is now facing a decline in its primary industry: coal mining.

Coal is getting squeezed in the power market by natural gas, which has become cheaper and easier to reach with the rise of fracking from shale in states like Pennsylvania. Local officials and coal mine operators also point to President Barack Obama’s administration, which has tightening restrictions on coal-fired plants and mine permitting.

The summit featured a multitude of speakers as well as break out sessions for panelists to weigh in on possible solutions. Gov. Steve Beshear, who co-chairs SOAR with Rogers, took the tone of a southern preacher as he addressed the audience.

Beshear said as he looks at the first draft of the next two-year state budget, he would try to find money in the road fund to widen the mountain parkway into a four-lane highway and increase funding for broadband connectivity.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told the crowd early in the day that Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, will make widening the parkway a priority in the 2014 session. Combs begins her first budget session as chairman of the transportation budget subcommittee that handles road funding priorities.

The governor said Monday’s summit was just the beginning. From here, all the ideas will be looked over the next month and put in a report, Beshear said. That report will then be reviewed by Beshear and Rogers, and Beshear will seek to finance a permanent and paid board for the SOAR initiative.

Beshear and Rogers ended the event Monday telling the crowd they would likely come together again, and that this is the first step. Beshear ended with an “altar call” or commitment to seeing the region through.

“Amen,” he said — and so it begins.

Pure Politics will have a full wrap up of the SOAR conference and more details on Tuesday’s edition of the program: 7 p.m. EST/6 Central.


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