“We can’t change what happened. It’s all water under the dam at this point — or water around the dam, maybe.”

So says J.D. Hamilton. As owner and operator of Lee’s Ford Marina, one of Lake Cumberland’s premier tourist destinations, Hamilton has been hurt by the Wolf Creek Dam crisis as much as anyone.

Now, he says, the time has come to do something to fix the mess that has been created — and he thinks the municipalities of the Lake Cumberland region might just have a plan that will work.

Hamilton, along with government officials from five lake county governments — Pulaski, Clinton, Russell, Wayne, and the City of Burnside — as well as marina operators, economic development gurus and key business leaders, met with Gov. Steve Beshear in Frankfort on Wednesday regarding the toll that the repair efforts on the dam have taken on the area’s financial picture.

“We went through several points: The importance of the lake, the economic impact on the region,” said Hamilton. “It was a very positive meeting. (Beshear) was very supportive.”

Gov. Ernie Fletcher was in office when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dropped the lake level 40 feet below its normal pool to ease pressure on the ailing Wolf Creek Dam. The decision, Hamilton reminded, has already cost taxpayers about $80 million, thanks to infrastructure changes, ramp extensions, adjustments to water intake at the Cooper Power Plant, and other considerations made necessary because of the lowered lake.

The decision created even more ripples in the local tourism economy. With a lake that generates about $200 million in recreation industry dollars, a lot of lives are depending on clear blue waters for support.

“(The lake) does have a huge impact on the economy not only in Pulaski County, but all around the lake,” said Pulaski County Judge-executive Barty Bullock, who attended the meeting.

With regular lakegoers staying away because of the perception that it’s all dried up — and a scan of once-busy boat ramps at places like Fishing Creek and Pulaski County Parks makes it easy to understand why — the trickle-down has harmed every corner of the economy. Marina owners have struggled; Hamilton has estimated his own losses could reach $4.5 million by the time the dam is repaired in 2012.

It’s no stretch to say that those losses felt at the local level are detrimental to the state’s bottom line as well.

“If no one locally succeeds, then the state doesn’t succeed either,” Bullock said.

Beshear hasn’t stepped foot in GOP-heavy Pulaski quite as much as his Republican predecessor, and Hamilton said Beshear “didn’t realize how big and important” Lake Cumberland is to the Commonwealth’s welfare. That’s now changed, said Hamilton, and Beshear has told local leaders to tell him what they need and his office “will definitely get to it,” as Hamilton put it.

“The Governor seemed very enthusiastic and willing to help,” Bullock said about the group’s reception in Frankfort.

The lake-area governments are in the process of putting together a list of seven key points they believe will guide the way to a healthier economic picture. They include supporting existing visitation levels, better branding and advertising, affordability, a new amphitheater at Pulaski County Park, and more.

This is the difference between now and this past March, when the same community officials that spoke to Beshear this week created a resolution stating that the Corps of Engineers harmed the region and has done little to remedy the wounds. The resolution asked the state and federal governments to “take a step up” — but that’s about as far as it went.

“We said what was wrong, but we didn’t give a solution,” said Hamilton. “We didn’t say, ‘Here’s the plan on how to fix it.’ We need to come together as a region and put together a plan that lays out long-term, sustainable recovery plan.”

Bullock said the lake’s border communities have embarked on a mission to better advertise the allure of the lake as a region — not as individualized counties.

“Hopefully, we can get some money back that we lost,” Bullock said.

Another aspect of economic recovery, specifically for Pulaski County, may lie with the creation of an amphitheater located at Pulaski Park, which is something that has been on the county’s wish list for some time.

“The state is very interested in it (the amphitheater) and pledged to help, monetary wise,” said Bullock.

Preliminary plans indicate the amphitheater would feature 1,000 fixed, covered seats and 25,000 additional lawn seats.

An approximate $12,000 feasibility study, funded by the Somerset-Pulaski Development Foundation, has already been conducted for the location, bringing the amphitheater one step closer to fruition.

Support from the highest elected official in the state won’t hurt the project’s odds, either.

“They (state officials) want it to happen,” Bullock said. “We are a step closer with the feasibility studies and everything else being done.”

Bullock said U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers has also pledged to help the lake communities in their recovery, although he wasn’t in attendance for Wednesday’s meeting.

“Gov. Beshear did say him and Congressman Rogers have a close working relationship,” Bullock said.

With those ideas mentioned above in hand, members of the governments and economic communities bordering Lake Cumberland are ready to look forward as one region in a mission to recover some of the losses that the area has absorbed.

“It was a good meeting,” Bullock said.

But it was more than that. This week’s meeting with Beshear was a first for those communities, and Bullock said that the united front represented by the 20 individuals or so left a lasting impression on Beshear.

“It meant a lot to the Governor that we were all there as a region and not as separate communities,” Bullock said.

As Hamilton noted, what’s done is done, and that can’t be changed. However, “this plan is about taking charge of our future. (It’s a plan) that allows us to recover more quickly, and when we do, maybe we’ll be even better off than we were before. This is about talking about what we need to do rather than just complaining about it.”

Trending Video

Recommended for you