Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement
Fletcher gets kudos for coal truck crackdown
Fletcher gets kudos for coal truck crackdown
GOVERNOR'S EFFORT TO END OVERWEIGHT HAULING IS CREDITED FOR SAVING LIVES
By Roger Alford
PIKEVILLE - Dangerously overloaded, some coal trucks traveling in Eastern Kentucky would slow to a crawl on steeper grades, creating a risk of rear-end collisions with passenger cars going twice as fast.
Almost as soon as Gov. Ernie Fletcher took office, his administration began a crackdown on truckers hauling overweight loads. Roy Crawford, an Eastern Kentucky forensic engineer who has pushed for years for safer roads in the coalfields, said the move has saved countless lives.
The crackdown on overweight trucks is one of a series of decisions made by the embattled governor to drum up support in Eastern Kentucky, where he faced criticism early in his term for disbanding a regional commission.
Fletcher, visiting the coalfields last week, received a standing ovation from about 150 people who packed into a restaurant in Pikeville to hear him rattle off what he considers the major achievements of his administration.
Plagued by a hiring scandal in Frankfort, Fletcher has been spending more time on the road in recent months, delivering speeches in small towns like Pikeville in an effort to build support for his re-election campaign.
Lexington attorney Larry Forgy, a staunch Fletcher supporter, said the tactic is paying off because it allows the governor to focus attention on accomplishments that have been overshadowed by the investigation.
A grand jury indicted Fletcher in May on misdemeanor charges that allege he rewarded political supporters with state merit jobs after he took office in December 2003.
Statistics from the Department of Vehicle Enforcement show fatalities involving heavy trucks in the coalfields declined from 40 the year before Fletcher's crackdown on overweight coal haulers to 13 over the past year.
Before Fletcher took office, Crawford said, vehicle enforcement officers rarely wrote tickets to coal haulers, even if their loads were so heavy they couldn't get their trucks up to highway speeds.
Crawford said Fletcher has done much to make Appalachian roads safer, and that could be the reason the first-term Republican is being welcomed with hugs and handshakes when he visits coalfield communities.
Regional advocates had feared the worst early in Fletcher's term when he disbanded the Kentucky Appalachian Commission, a state agency that was charged with helping the mountain region to improve economically.
Since then, however, Fletcher, now co-chairman of the federal Appalachian Regional Commission, has pushed for more stringent safety laws to protect coal miners, secured state funding to open drug treatment centers to help Eastern Kentucky deal with widespread prescription drug addiction, and successfully pushed for the creation of "coal academies" to train miners.
"I applaud the governor for what he has done in Eastern Kentucky," said state Sen. Ray Jones, a Democrat from Pikeville. "The governor has done some responsible things."
In Pikeville on Wednesday, Fletcher boasted about the region's beauty and natural resources and pointed to them as keys to job creation in the tourism, mining and logging industries.
Fletcher will host a meeting of the governors of 13 Appalachian states in Pikeville later this year to develop strategies for developing jobs from the region's natural resources.
That three-day meeting, which begins Oct. 11, will focus national attention on economic and environmental problems in central Appalachia from lingering poverty in isolated towns to the demolition of mountains to get coal out.
"Like any other governor, he has his supporters and his detractors," Jones said. "Do I always agree with him? No. Do we have philosophical differences? Sure we do. But I am going to work with him on beneficial projects."
Pikeville city manager Donovan Blackburn said Eastern Kentucky fared especially well under the last governor, Paul Patton, who lives in Pikeville, and people feared the region would be forgotten after Patton left office in 2003.
That, Blackburn said, is why Fletcher received standing ovations in Pikeville, London and other Eastern Kentucky stops last week.
"He hasn't forgotten about the region," Blackburn said. "Regardless of someone's politics, if they're trying to help the region, they're going to get respect."