FRANKFORT, Ky. - Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05) announced on Tuesday November 1, 2016 that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) has approved a $12.5 million grant for the development of the Appalachian Wildlife Center in Bell County, Ky.
The money will fund the wildlife center that, when opened to the public in 2019, would contain a museum of natural and regional history, a theater, a hall dedicated to the natural history of elk, bird watching, an astronomy pavilion and a 15-mile, self-guided scenic loop road for wildlife viewing.
The center will be located on 19 square miles along the Cumberland River and is expected to attract 638,000 annually visitors by the fifth year of operation.
The grant is part of the $30 million in federal grant money that was made available from the U.S. government’s General Fund through the 2016 AML Pilot program for projects in Appalachian counties that have the potential to create long-term economic benefits. To that end, the Appalachian Wildlife Center is projected to generate more than $1 billion in regional economic activity over the first 10 years of operation.
Gov. Matt Bevin, who has called the pilot program a tremendous one-time opportunity for leaders in Appalachian counties to help grow a future for Kentuckians in the region, said he is excited by its vision.
“This pilot program provides an exciting opportunity for our leaders in Appalachian counties,” said Gov. Bevin. “By leveraging some of Kentucky's greatest competitive advantages — magnificent natural beauty, abundant wildlife and a strong sense of history and place — this program will help to create future opportunities for Kentuckians across the region.”
U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (KY-05), Chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, who worked to secure the funds through the FY 2016 Omnibus appropriations bill, has said the AML pilot project will be a double win for Eastern Kentucky by reclaiming and redeveloping abandoned mine land to spur economic development where it's needed the most.
“The new wildlife center will highlight the natural beauty of our region and provide up-close tours of the thriving wildlife now repopulating our mountains,” Congressman Rogers said. “It will also promote environmental education and economic development in the heart of the coalfields."
The Center is projected to cost $24 million, and will be developed over a five-year period. Revenues from admission fees and on-site spending are projected to make it financially self-sustaining in the second year of operation, while generating funding for scholarship, research and land conservation programs.
While fundraising efforts are ongoing, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) announced this week that the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation was awarded a $1.8 million grant under the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. The money will be used to install water infrastructure at the future site of the wildlife center.
The AML Pilot project is a joint effort by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, the Department for Local Government, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and the Energy and Environment Cabinet, Division of Abandoned Mine Lands.
Making the announcement Tuesday with Gov. Bevin and Congressman Rogers were Charles Snavely, Secretary, Energy and Environment Cabinet, Sandy Dunahoo, Commissioner, Department of Local Government, Greg Johnson, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Regina Stivers, Deputy Secretary, Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and Dr. Karen Waldrop, Deputy Commissioner, Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.
Besides the wildlife center, OSMRE has given preliminary approval to a $2.5 million grant for a manufacturing training project by the eKentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute, Inc. (eKAMI), a $5 million grant for an industrial park project by the city of Pikeville, and a $500,000 grant for Impact Outdoor Adventures in Clay County for adventure tourism.
Besides the four AML Pilot projects tentatively approved by OSMRE, additional information is being gathered on two other projects that have been sent to OSMRE for consideration.
David L. Ledford, Chief Executive Officer of the Appalachian Wildlife Foundation, said the ambitious project will need additional funding, through donations from individuals, foundations and businesses.
“The Center will lead the way in developing and demonstrating ecological restoration and sustainable land uses for coal mines throughout Central Appalachia,” Ledford said. “The visitors it attracts will demonstrate the value of ecotourism and begin to create that new economic paradigm in Kentucky's elk country.”
The pilot program is part of $90 million in funds that has been set aside for one-time grants to Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to return coal sites to productive uses that will bring new jobs to replace the thousands lost during the downturn of the industry.
“We are encouraging community leaders throughout the region to look at options that will have the best chances of bringing dramatic growth and jobs to Appalachia,” said the Cabinet for Economic Development’s Acting Secretary Erik Dunnigan. “For example, several communities may choose to band together to upgrade industrial sites, including providing the necessary infrastructure and possibly spec buildings, so that companies looking to expand in Kentucky can be up and running quickly.”
Counties that are eligible for projects include: Adair, Bath, Bell, Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Casey, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Garrard, Green, Greenup, Harlan, Hart, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, McCreary, Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Metcalfe, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Russell, Wayne, Whitley, and Wolfe.
" style="box-sizing: border-box; color: #00487f; background-color: transparent;" mce_style="box-sizing: border-box; color: #00487f; background-color: transparent;">Watch press conference video.