$30 million West Liberty, Morgan County rebuilding effort could be Kentucky's largest

jwarren@herald-leader.comFebruary 11, 2013 

WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty and Morgan County will get about $30 million to help rebuild from last year's devastating tornado in what could be Kentucky's biggest recovery project, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced Monday.

The money would come from various state and federal sources, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission, plus local and private contributions, they said. Rogers and Beshear estimated it would be about $30 million. Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley's estimation was about $34.5 million.

Conley said storm recovery projects to be funded include a new Cooperative Extension Service office in West Liberty, about $2.3 million; completion of the partially built new Morgan County Judicial Center, about $10 million; and a new wellness and youth center in West Liberty, about $9 million.

Also included, according to Conley: repairs on the Morgan County Office Building and Community Center in West Liberty, about $7 million; rebuilding the old Morgan County Courthouse, about $2.4 million; and a new parking garage for West Liberty, about $3.8 million.

The grants were announced Monday at Morgan County High School, where students, county residents, and local and area officials gathered to hear the news. Afterward, officials ceremoniously turned shoveled up dirt in a wood trough in the school gymnasium, symbolizing the breaking of ground for the new projects.

Rogers, Beshear and other officials emphasized that cooperative efforts by government agencies at different levels, from Washington to Frankfort, made funds for the rebuilding projects available.

"With what Congressman Rogers has been able to pull together from the federal side of this, what we have pulled from the state side, the local part and private sector participation ... it amounts to about $30 million that will be invested back into this community," Beshear said.

"We still have a long way to go," the governor said, "but this is a great start."

Rogers said it could be the largest storm recovery project ever in Kentucky.

"We don't know of any project this size in Kentucky history," he said.

The emphasis is on rebuilding infrastructure damaged or destroyed by last year's storm which, in turn, will stimulate jobs, Conley said.

Six Morgan County residents were killed and much of downtown West Liberty was reduced to rubble on March 2, when a massive, EF3 tornado swept across the county, generating winds of up to 165 miles per hour. Statewide, 25 people were killed by the raging storms last March and more than 4,500 homes were damaged or destroyed.

West Liberty and Morgan County have been recovering gradually since the tornado. But despite many improvements, damaged buildings, fallen trees and other signs of the storm remain.

Large pictures of several of the planned projects decorated the gymnasium at Morgan County High School for Monday's announcement. Each picture was emblazoned with the motto: "We're Coming Back!"

In his comments, Rogers noted that famed American author Mark Twain once observed that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

"Today, we are going to do something about it," Rogers declared. "It's time to rebuild West Liberty and Morgan County."

Some of the planned projects were already in the works, such as the new judicial center, which was partially completed when the tornado struck. Other projects, like the parking garage and extension office, are new, according to Conley.

Three of the planned projects must be put out for bid, Conley said. Those are the parking garage, the extension office and the wellness center. Bids will be sought in about a month, according to the county judge-executive.

"Within about 60 days construction should be going on all of the projects we're talking about," Conley said.

Meanwhile, he said Morgan County officials were working on plans for a public program next month to mark the one-year anniversary of the March 2 tornado.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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