With more than 1,700 attendees at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) summit held Monday in Pikeville, Lanola Parsons, SOAR committee member and local businesswoman, said she came away from the summit with “hope.”
The summit, held as a joint venture between U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers and Gov. Steve Beshear, had 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats chosen to be on the SOAR planning committee by Rogers and Beshear.
“The summit was actually our third committee meeting,” said Parsons. “Now, we have people compiling all the suggestions made during the summit and 30 days from Monday the committee will meet again to sort and see which ideas will better serve our counties.”
Saying there “were a lot of great ideas and great minds” at the summit, Parsons said she submitted several ideas for Harlan County.
“Particularly, one of my ideas was directly related to coal,” said Parsons. “I wanted to talk about a coal gasification plant for the county so we could turn coal into liquid gas. Another thing I thought would work well was some kind of recycle reclamation of some of our coal refuge, which is slate, sludge and slurry ponds.”
Another of Parsons’ ideas was to grow mushrooms in abandoned mines in the county. She said the county could partner with Lexington for the fertilizer.
“I also thought we could grow some hardwoods in the county on some of our reclamation sites,” said Parsons. “Instead of the state enforcing reclamation just by sowing Kentucky 31 fescue, we could maybe get some type of tax incentive so that in lieu of property tax we could plant hardwoods.”
Parsons added the state received over $12 million in revenue during last year from the sale of hardwoods.
“Another thing that has really flourished in some of our smaller counties is distilleries being built,” said Parsons. “Distillery is not only a way to raise revenue; it’s also a way to promote tourism. Even though we’re in a semi-wet county, we couldn’t actually sell the product in the county, but we could market it out of the county. We could have tours and sell things in a gift shop.”
Parsons said the distillery could perhaps be promoted by the popular FX TV series Justified, which has a storyline centered in and around Harlan County.
“I think electric rail would be a good way to utilize the tracks we already have to do dinner tours or just tours of our county to let visitors see coal mining camps, tipples, our coal museum and then stop off and have dinner and shopping,” said Parsons. “We have some of the most beautiful natural resources in the country. I’d also like to see it looked into about obtaining broadband coverage for our county and phase three of U.S. 421 completed.”
Parsons said she feels “something good will come out of this summit for Harlan County.”
“I think this summit will go down as something historical,” said Parsons. “I think it will go down in the history books as the beginning of something great for our economy. I was honored to have been chosen to serve on the planning committee and anything I can do for my county I will do willingly and wholeheartedly. I was pleased with the turnout and representation of local business people and elected officials from Harlan County who attended the summit.”
Reach Nola Sizemore at 606-573-4510, ext. 115, firstname.lastname@example.org