Since 2014, the Tomblin administration has been working on an application to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Natural Disaster Resilience Competition. Qualifying communities would divide $1 billion for “resilient housing and infrastructure projects that were impacted by major disasters between 2011 and 2013.”
West Virginia applied for $140 million on behalf of Boone, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming Counties, which had five declared disasters during the time period, including the devastating derecho.
The proposal was called “Adjust, Adapt and Advance,” and it included detailed plans for water, sewer and infrastructure improvements, land use planning that lowered risks to the environment, and housing, school and business developments on old surface mine sites that would be out of the flood plain.
The application pointed out that these six counties have been hard hit not only by natural disasters, but also by the decline of the coal industry. Unemployment rates are higher and per capita income is lower. (It’s important to note here that the Obama administration’s environmental policies have contributed to coal’s struggles.)
Economic central planning by the government is inefficient. However, if ever there was part of the country that needed an investment in basic infrastructure, it’s southern West Virginia. Unfortunately, the Mountain State was not selected. HUD has not said why West Virginia was left out, but it is evident the competition included a “green” agenda.
California’s winning proposal included a bioenergy and wood products facility. North Dakota is getting money to build “affordable and resilient neighborhoods.” New Orleans will spend part of its $141 million grant “creating parks and green streets.” Massachusetts winning application includes an alternative energy power plant. Virginia is going to install a series of rain barrels and rain gardens.
Governor Tomblin was deeply disappointed by the rejection, saying his mouth dropped open when he read the list of winners. “We all like green spaces, but we’re talking about people’s lives here,” he said on Talkline Tuesday. “We’re trying to get people back on their feet.”
Tomblin pointed out that Kentucky’s application was also rejected, so none of the grant money is going to the Appalachian coal fields.
The constant refrain from the “beyond coal” crowd is that West Virginia must accept the decline of coal, begin planning for a post-coal era and work to diversify the economy. Meanwhile, the word from Washington is the Obama administration wants to help coal communities pick up the pieces and start anew.
Well, here was an opportunity to do just that, and we see what happened. Next time West Virginia will know to include in its application lots of rain gardens and rain barrels.