Wednesday, February 26, 2014

County rejects FEMA flood maps

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
On Monday the Webster County Fiscal Court found themselves at a point where they had to make a decision about the highly debated FEMA flood maps. It was not a decision that the court took lightly, nor one that they had reached easily.
For the last month magistrates and Judge Executive Jim Townsend have been examining the maps and speaking with various representatives of local, state and federal government, including Congressman Ed Whitfield and Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White.
“Lyon county is the one county in the state that has told FEMA absolutely no,” Judge Townsend told the magistrates. “I’m not sure that we don’t need to be the second. There is a lot to weigh.”
Townsend told the court that he had spent some time speaking with White during a recent legislative session in Frankfort, and Magistrate Chad Townsend presented the court with an email that White had recently sent to The Journal-Enterprise.
“I am not willing to be party to a government agency that is knowingly hurting our people and their home values if I have a choice, despite their threats,” wrote White. “By staying a part of the program we felt we were legitimizing the maps.  By coming out, we did get FEMA’s attention.  I haven’t found another county that has done that.”
Since Lyon County voted to reject the maps, White said, FEMA has agreed to revisit his county’s maps.
The biggest reason the Fiscal Court has seriously considered voting to accept the maps, despite what everyone sees as errors, is the threat of losing FEMA funding that becomes available in the event of a flood. But according to White, that is a somewhat empty threat.
“If you read it closely, the FEMA funding rejection is only for areas where the flood zone touches, not the whole county,” said White. He added that during the 2011 flood, Lyon County did not qualify for individual assistance (IA).
“We did not have enough flood damage to homes. IA requires several homes in a long stretch to be wiped out and even if you qualify, its only around $30,000 per home.  Its very difficult to get individual assistance.  In areas where we actually have a true flood zone - if we lose every house in that flood zone - I don’t believe we would qualify for IA anyway.  So the threat is worthless to us.”
Lyon County did qualify for public assistance, which is for publicly owned property such as a county road or city street.
“None of that money we got was actually in a flood zone,” he wrote. “Most was out in the county where roads were damaged by heavy rains and washouts. FEMA will only deny you money if you are requesting money in those flood zones.  If we have a tornado or anything outside those small flood zone areas we still qualify.  They don’t cut off the whole county, only the specific area zoned to be in flood zone.”
With White’s words weighing heavily on the court’s decision, magistrates also heard from Water Conservation District Agent Mike Andrews, who is well aware of the reality of flooding in Webster County.
He said that the actual flood zone in Sebree is at 386 feet, the elevation used by FEMA on the map. In the Blackford area the flood zone begins at 363.5.
Rumors have circulated that FEMA used the Sebree measurement to establish the flood zones county wide, but Andrews said that he had his doubts about that. 
“The real issue in that area is the city of Blackford itself,” he told the court. “When they did the map, I think they just covered the whole town with the flood zone. There are a lot of structures in Blackford that are above the 363.5 foot benchmark.”
Andrews added that he didn’t think there was any way to change FEMA’s decision except for each land owner to go through the process of having their property surveyed.
Until FEMA presented the county with the new flood maps, Webster County was one of the only counties in the Commonwealth without FEMA flood maps. Instead, residents generally referred to the 1937 flood as a benchmark for flooding.
“The ‘37 flood is what is considered a 500-year-flood,” said Andrews. “It’s about a foot or so more than the 100-year-flood.”
The designation on the new FEMA maps is for the 100-year-flood level. Much of the debate around the maps in Sebree has centered on the fact that much of the new flood zone did not flood in the 1937 flood.
“Elevations don’t change,” Andrews said.
Judge Townsend told the magistrates that he felt like they were being “ram-rodded” by FEMA, and recommended that they not accept the maps at this time.
The ordinance to accept the maps was defeated with a unanimous vote.
In other business, Judge Townsend read a proclamation declaring March as Sever Storm Month in Webster County to help the Webster County EMA raise awareness of tornado and severe thunderstorm safety.

Two graduate from Drug Court

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The mention of Drug Court automatically makes some people think that the justice system is taking it easy on criminals, but those few offenders who manage to make it through the program will tell you different.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be sober,” said Justin Baker, a Crittenden County resident who was the 54th person to graduate from Drug Court in the Crittenden, Webster and Union County area. “I never thought I’d be able to get back into the mining industry again.”
Baker has done just that, after completing one year and three months in the program. During that time he attended 367 meetings and 147 drug screens. He has been clean for 470 days.
“Some people think that this is just a slap on the wrist,” said Circuit Court Judge Rene Williams. “Or that we are being easy on crime.”
To Williams and the drug court staff, it is a way to truly help people.
“Drug Court graduates have a 75 percent success rate of not re-offending,” said Williams. “That is much higher than someone who gets out of prison on parole.”
Drug Court is a post conviction court, meaning that to even apply for enrollment, you must already have plead guilty to a misdemeanor or felony related drug charge.
Williams said that most drug courts do not accept misdemeanor offenders, but that the local team feels that if they can catch someone early, they can keep them from progressing to worse crimes.
“Drug court is a privilege, not a right,” Williams said. “We do not force anyone into this program, although some people might feel they are forced if their option is prison or drug court.
To enroll in the program, offenders who have already plead guilty must apply. Those applicants are then considered by the Drug Court team, who decides which offenders they believe they can help.
Once enrolled, the participants must follow the strict requirements set up by the court. Those can include who the participant can see; where they can work; unannounced home visits; random drug screens; nightly call-ins; curfews; and even a ban on smoke shops.
“It hasn’t always been fun,” Baker said of his time in the program. “I was very hard headed the first month or so, but I’ve been very, very blessed.”
On Wednesday, February 19, 2014 Justin Baker was joined by Providence native Elizabeth Gray who became the 55th person to graduate the program.
“She was a little resistant and didn’t like us telling her who she could see,” said Judge Williams. “We even had to tell her not to see some of her family members.”
Williams pointed out that in some situations, family members can be the worst influences on people trying to turn their lives around.
“She has become a self sufficient person who is giving back to society,” Williams continued, adding she hoped one day that Gray could come work for the Drug Court program.
“No one who comes into this program is the same,” Williams said. “Everyone is here for a different reason, so their needs are different. We do what we think is best for each participant.”
Drug Court started in 2005.

Providence council votes to sell house on Nesbit Street

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The Providence City Council met in a brief session last Tuesday night, joined by delegates of the Providence Elementary “City Council” who were on hand to study exactly how city government worked.
Council member Shannon Layton was appointed Mayor Pro Tem in the absence of Mayor Eddie Gooch. Also missing from the meeting were council members Tom Skinner and Scott Frederick.
The only item of business on the agenda was a motion to declare a piece of property surplus so that the city could sell it.
“The city acquired 209 Nesbit Street in July of 2013 from Mary Cain,” said City Attorney Richard Peyton. “The residence has not been occupied in some time. Ms Cain donated the property to the city in order to stop her property tax.”
Peyton told the council that a few of the neighboring property owners had made inquiries about purchasing the property to prevent their own property value from dropping.
The four members of the council who were present voted to designate the property surplus so that it could be sold.
Council member Keith Ferrell expressed his concern about the property code enforcement board.
“I periodically have people ask me about certain property around town that has become rundown,” he said. “I don’t know. That is something for the property code enforcement board.”
“They have not met in some time,” Peyton said. “There have not been sufficient funds for them to demolish any structures.”
Ferrill pointed out that just because they did not have the funds to demolish any structures did not mean they could not meet to work on finding buyers for some of the properties the city has acquired.
In other businesses, Ferell mentioned that the city had requested a new franchise agreement from  Time Warner Cable.
“I think we need to get something in hand by March,” he said.
It was mentioned that Comcast’s recent purchase of Time Warner could cause that to be delayed.
Ferrell also mentioned that the city had not received an update from the Tourism Commission since last January, even though the council had requested to be kept up to date.

Man arrested after car chase, shots fired

Here in Webster County we are not used to police chases and shootings, but that was exactly what Clay and Dixon area residents witnessed last night, Tuesday February 25, 2014.

 At approximately 6:10 p.m., Kentucky State Police Post 2 received a call for assistance from the Webster County Sheriff’s Department and the Clay Police Department of a complaint that shots were fired into a residence in Clay, KY.
 Upon the arrival of law enforcement, the perpetrator returned to the residence, striking a deputy with his vehicle and firing additional shots into the residence. At this time, officers discharged their firearms at the perpetrator, striking his vehicle. 
Officers initiated pursuit as the vehicle fled the scene. The perpetrator, Tommy R. Branson, age 61, of Sebree, was taken into custody without incident on KY 132 near Dixon when witnesses say his vehicle had a flat tire.
 The Webster County Deputy struck during the incident was treated and released at Baptist Health in Madisonville.
Mr. Branson was charged with the following:

•4 counts of “Attempted Murder.”
•1 count of “Attempted Murder (Police Officer).”
•1 count of “Assault-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Wanton Endangerment-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Criminal Mischief-1st Degree.”
•1 count of “Tampering with Physical Evidence.”
•1 count of “Fleeing/Evading Police-1st Degree.”

The incident is under investigation by the Kentucky State Police-post 2/Madisonville. The Kentucky State Police was assisted by the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, Clay Police Department, and Webster County EMS.
Branson was in the news last summer for another incident. He was arrested and charged with arson following a fire on Starl Shelton Road near Sebree. On Tuesday, October 8, 2013 Branson appeared before a Webster County Grand Jury for that charge. The jury requested the matter be dismissed because “insufficient evidence was presented to warrant an indictment.”

No more 4-day school week

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
In a move that will change the face of education in the district, the Webster County School Board voted on Monday to eradicate the four day school schedule.
“It’s going to be a huge change for Webster County students, staff and parents,” said Interim Superintendant Pete Galloway. “You have many staff members who have never taught under a traditional calendar. You have many students who have never gone to school under a traditional schedule.”
Various reasons factored into the overhaul of the schedule. One being that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has increased the minimum number of instructional days schools must have in the schedule. Students will be in class eight more days in the 2014-2015 school year than they were this year.
Even with the increase in the number of days, Webster County will still only be meeting the minimum number of instructional days. The KDE is requiring between 170 and 177 days. The district’s new schedule includes 170 classroom days.
Officials listed the transition from the four day week to the traditional five day week as part of the reason for only doing the minimum number of days.
Under the newly adopted schedule, the first day for students will be August 7, 2014. Fall break will be from October sixth through the tenth; Christmas break will be December 22 to January second; Spring Break will be April sixth through the tenth; and final day for students will be May 15, 2015.
The change to the five day week will also bring about a change to the school day, but Assistant Superintendant Riley Ramsey said that a new start and stop time had yet to be determined, but there will be some changes. Students will be in class 20 minutes less per day.
Galloway told the board that among the changes would be an adjustment to the way teacher’s spend their “professional learning days.”
“These are not the traditional planing days this district is used to,” he said. “These days will be planned days. From the direction the district was going academically, I think you need to spend some time with your staff.”
In other business, Webster County High School Principal Tim Roy and science teacher Marsha Carver presented the board with a proposal for the district to enroll in a program called AdvancedKentucky.
“Eventually the purpose of this program is to work towards offering more AP (advanced placement) classes to Webster County students,” Roy told the board. “This is a grant program, so the majority of it will be funded from the state and federal level.”
The program works on a five year schedule. Initially it provides funding to train teacher to become AP instructors, and offers funding to provide equipment that is needed in the AP classrooms. During that five year span it also provides financial bonuses for teachers and students who achieve in the classroom.
At the end of the first five years, the district can continue with the program, but AdvancedKentucky will no longer provide funding to the district. The idea is that the program helps get the AP program kick started in order to create a culture of higher learning in the school. At that point it is up to the district itself to keep things going.
Traditionally AP classes are offered to honor students only in the higher grade levels. Under AdvancedKentucky there would be AP class opportunity for students as young as freshmen in high school. The program would also provide training to help pre-AP teachers in the middle school grades to help prepare students to begin taking the classes as freshmen.
It would also require the district to accept any high school student who wanted to take an AP class, even if that student was not an honor roll student.
“If we want our kids to improve academically and be ready for college, I think this is a no brainer,” said Galloway.
The proposal did not require board members to vote, as there was no up-front cost to the schools. Roy and Carver, however, wanted the board’s approval, which they got.
Superintendant Galloway told the board that the committee tasked with finding his successor had now been selected. The application period will end on Friday, and the committee will meet to start looking at resumes on Monday.

Whitfield addresses “The Flood Map Around America”

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
Webster County residents concerned over proposed FEMA flood maps gathered at the court house in Dixon last Wednesday morning for a meeting with Congressman Ed Whitfield. In fact, so many residents turned out that the meeting had to be moved from the Fiscal Court’s normal meeting chamber to the old Webster County courtroom on the third floor of the court house.
“We are all here because of flood plain maps that FEMA has come out with,” said Webster County Judge Executive Jim Townsend. “I had the opportunity the week before last to speak with FEMA about this.”
Townsend reported that during a recent trip he had made to Washington D.C., FEMA had indicated that they wanted homeowners to file individual complaints if they felt their property was incorrectly classified.
But that process would cost the homeowner at least $500 and could take up to six months to conclude.
In the mean time, customers who have their houses financed are being forced to buy high priced flood insurance. Tom Oldham of Blackford reported that some of his neighbors were paying $500-600 per month.
“It’s unbelievable,” Oldham said. “My wife and I are fortunate enough to own our house. Take some younger people who are both having to work to survive. How can they stand to have a $600 a month flood insurance bill?”
According to Oldham, the worst part is that Blackford residents don’t see the benefit of FEMA.
“FEMA is nothing to me,” he said. He said that during the 2011 flood, FEMA did nothing for residents of his area. “They did not help us out one bit. FEMA is nothing to me because they’ve never shown us nothing here.”
Sebree City Manager Emory Thomas told the crowd that he was looking at paying $5,500 a year for his flood insurance.
“We live in downtown Sebree,” he said. “I’ve lived there in that spot for 49 years. Water has never even gotten into my yard.”
Thomas also said that the bank had notified him that he had 45 days to get flood insurance or they would charge him to do so. He said that when he looked into it, it takes 30 days to get approval from the insurance company.
“FEMA came out in 2007 and told us they were going to do these maps,” he said. “But they said they were going to have hearings about the changes. We never heard from them until they sent the maps.”
Judge Townsend added that the county had been told the same thing.
“It sounds like FEMA did not follow through with their obligation to Webster County,” Whifield said.
He told those gathered that they were not alone in this struggle, pointing out that the same thing was happening from coast to coast as FEMA implemented what he called “the flood map around America”.
“We are beginning to hear from a lot of different people about the impact this has had on them personally as a result of their flood insurance rates going up or them being put in a flood plan,” said Congressman Whitfield.  
The Senate voted 67-32 earlier this year in support of a bill that would delay implementing of the maps for up to four years. To go into effect, the House of Representatives must also pass similar legislation.
 “It’s my understanding that the house is going to take up legislation addressing this issue next week,” Whitfield continued. “And then,  if it passes, they would have to go to conference (with the senate) to work out the differences.”
Whitfield told the gathered crowd that what would help him the most was to hear the individual stories of residents who had been affected by the changes.
He also told the crowd that in a conversation with the FEMA Director in Atlanta that morning, he was told that banks had the right to waive customers’ requirement to buy flood insurance.
Judge Townsend added that at least one bank in Webster County had already done so.
Melanie Legate of United Community Bank questioned whether this was accurate, saying that lenders were required by law to make borrowers insure structures in a flood zone.
“By federal regulations, banks are required to ask that anybody in a flood plain have insurance,” said Legate. “If they don’t get that, the bank force places it so they (the bank) can be under regulatory compliance.”
According to, the official website of the Natioal Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “Under federal law, the purchase of flood insurance is mandatory for all federal or federally related financial assistance for the acquisition and/or construction of buildings in high-risk flood areas.”
But the congressman and his staff still insisted that this was not the case.
“FEMA told us this morning that banks  can waive making customers buy that insurance,” said Michael Pape, Congressman Whifield’s District Director.
“Couldn’t the director of FEMA in Atlanta send a letter to the banks and let them know that this is an option?” asked Magistrate Chad Townsend.
Whiftield said that he would work on trying to get that done.
“It puts us in a situation where we have to pass the ordinance accepting these maps to get those people who actually are in a flood plain cheaper insurance,” said Judge Townsend. “If we don’t pass it, then we cannot get FEMA money for any damages that might take place.”
“I think we, as magistrates, are under an obligation to make sure that these maps are correct,” said magistrate Chad Townsend.
For homeowners who are affected by the new proposed maps, or any home owner concerned with flooding whether their home falls in a flood plain or not, the NFIP is an important resource to have.
On their website the NFIP says “Many people are under the misconception that they are ineligible for flood insurance because of where they live, or their mortgage status. But the truth is, as long as your hometown is an NFIP community, most homeowners, business owners and renters can get flood insurance. The NFIP urges consumers to remember the flood insurance basics:
•You CAN get flood insurance nationwide.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live in a floodplain or high-flood-risk area.
•You CAN get flood insurance if you live outside a floodplain, or a low-to-moderate flood-risk area, - and at lower cost.
•You CAN get flood insurance if your property has been flooded before.
•You CAN get flood insurance from insurance agents in your area.
•You CAN buy flood insurance even if your mortgage broker doesn’t require it.

You can contact the NFIP at or at 1-888-379-9531.