Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

June 16, 2013

Rebuilding West Liberty

Initiative seeks to be an example for other towns rocked by disaster

Staff report
The Independent

ASHLAND — Rebuilding West Liberty, an initiative aimed at reconstructing a town nearly destroyed last year by tornadoes, was part of the Clinton Global Initiative America’s annual meeting in Chicago last week.

Tim Conley, Morgan County judge-executive, told members of the CGI America Residential Energy Efficiency Working Group that affordable and energy efficient housing is a key to helping break the cycle of poverty.

“Even before the devastating tornado 15 months ago, many of our citizens could not afford to pay their utility bills. With this project we can demonstrate to all of rural America the extraordinary economic value of sustainability and energy efficiency,” Conley said.

 On March 2, 2012, West Liberty sustained tragedy on a massive scale. An EF3 tornado ripped through the community of 3,400, killing seven, destroying nearly 400 homes, businesses and government structures and much of the downtown.

While the disaster was an unprecedented crisis for the town, it also represented an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild itself with a modern, lower-cost, sustainable infrastructure and develop a path to create job-producing business opportunities, increasing the tax base and attracting new residents.

After a year of extensive discussions among key stakeholders and outside experts, the community completed a thorough visioning process to rebuild West Liberty in a thoughtful manner, giving careful consideration to the need to preserve the region’s Appalachian heritage and resources.

 In January, the town issued a strategic report called “Rebuilding West Liberty, Kentucky,” which outlined 13 locally inspired strategies that would make West Liberty not only a model for disaster-ravaged communities, but also for all of rural America.

Conley provided insight on one of the report’s most urgent stakeholder-inspired strategies and most critical needs: rebuilding roughly half of the 300 residential homes lost to the storm. The three-year project includes a $27 million investment of equity, grants, debt and operating grants. Next Step Network will scale innovations piloted for other disaster response efforts and affordable housing projects for factory-built homes across the nation.

The partners on the “Commitment to Action” include Frontier Housing, Next Step Network, NeighborWorks America, the Ford Foundation, Grassroots Financing LLC, Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise LLC, the Regional Technology and Innovation Center, the Morehead State University Innovation & Commercialization Center and the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research.

 Those who want to join the coalition may sign up at http://therecoveringpolitician.com/westliberty.