Depending on who you ask around here, the announcement last week that $118 million in federal money was being set aside for flood control efforts in humble Johnson County is many things: A blessing; a necessity for moving forward; perhaps even overdue.

The announcement from U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers and Sen. Mitch McConnell comes three years after deadly floods in Flat Gap and Staffordsville. This small town tragedy was no doubt front-and-center for the consideration of national lawmakers who approved the budget bill containing Johnson County’s $118 million.

But the announcement also comes after Paintsville’s grassroots efforts to improve its Community Rating System ranking. Rather than waiting for help from Washington, D.C., a committee of local leaders has been meeting regularly this year to discuss mitigation efforts and disaster plans to see how we could best help ourselves. 

Had the federal money never materialized, it would have been our only means for improving our local flood preparedness, while also showing the Federal Emergency Management Agency how serious we are about it, which in turn should help lower flood insurance rates for residents here. 

Whether lawmakers took note of these efforts or things just happened to align, these CRS efforts are now just one prong of the effort, the other being the gargantuan $118 million from the federal government.

Now that the U.S. government’s money and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are involved, anything is possible. The future USACE plan for Johnson County could involve levees, floodwalls, relocations or other construction to minimize flooding in the first place. It is simply more than we could do for ourselves, and it marks a new chapter for Johnson County.

The reality of the situation, however, tempers expectations. The fact is things involving the federal government can move slowly. Johnson County’s $118 million for planning was just part of a $200 million announcement, including another $80 million for the relocation project in Martin in Floyd County.

That Martin project has been officially underway since groundbreaking in 2004, and discussion and planning dating back to 1998. Granted, moving an entire town is a big undertaking, and if Johnson County’s flooding woes can be fixed easier than that, it would stand to reason that it could happen before 20 years elapse. 

Whether it takes a few years or even if it does take a couple decades, Lao-Tzu said the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. Last week was that first step. We will be eager to see what’s next.

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