Wednesday Roundup: Reclaim Appalachia

Abandoned Mine Lands funds sits unused while coal counties suffer • Rural hospitals have better results from surgical procedures • Rural Ohio schools oppose state spending plan • Agency recommends plan to fight Lake Champlain flooding • AT&T expanding wireless data service to residential market.

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Abandoned Mine Lands Fund. While Central Appalachian counties struggle to find resources with which to reinvent their coal-dependent economies, $2.5 billion that could be used for that purpose sits unused in a federal fund.

Willie Davis reports in LEO on the status of the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, a pot of money created by fees levied on the mining of coal. The fund is supposed to support the reclamation of abandoned mine lands, restoring those damaged areas to their pre-mining conditions. Davis (who has also written several pieces for the Daily Yonder) says the fund could be a springboard for creating jobs for out-of-work miners and preparing the Central Appalachian region for an economic makeover. Instead, the money, by and large, sits unused.

“It’s almost impossible for anyone in Eastern Kentucky to get their hands on that money,” says Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo. “Congress has kept that money bottled up for 30 years. It’s the hardest money to access … If I knew the answer to (why), I’d probably be the smartest man in America.”

Rural Hospital Performance. Rural hospitals ranked higher for the results of their surgical procedures than urban ones, according to a new Consumers Union report.

CU looked at data from 2009 to 2011 for common surgical procedures and gave ratings to hospitals, weighting the data to account for patients who were older and sicker – and therefore less likely to do well for reasons beyond the hospitals’ control.

“Rural hospitals did better, on average, than other hospitals, and many hospitals practically unknown beyond their zip code outranked famous ones,” Reuters reported. “CU also found that several urban hospitals did well despite serving many poorer, sicker patients, including Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.”

“For a complex procedure you’re probably better off at a well-known academic hospital,” Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told Reuters. “But for many common operations less-known, smaller hospitals have mastered the procedures and may do even better” with post-surgical care.

The CU study offers a different picture of rural hospitals than this spring’s review of Critical Access Hospitals.

Rural Education Funding in Ohio. Education Week reports on efforts to oppose Ohio’s state education budget because it will hurt rural and poor districts:

An organization made of 136 rural Appalachian school districts is calling Ohio’s latest spending plan the worst for poor districts in decades.

The Coalition of Rural and Appalachian Schools, which is a partnership with the Ohio University College of Education, represents a 35-county region of Ohio that is within Appalachia.

Tom Perkins, the group’s president and superintendent of the Northern Local school district, said in The Hannah Report story that the state’s poorest districts are being hardest hit by the new funding formula, and that the state is making it difficult to maintain excellent programs for students.

Another one of its past presidents said its member schools are going to have to rely more on local property values and taxes. That was a key problem in 1997 when the state Supreme Court found its funding formula unconstitutional.

Lake Champlain Flooding Study. The threat of flooding along New York’s Lake Champlain has prompted an international organization to recommend a $14 million study to reduce flood damage. The International Joint Commission says Canada and the United States should work over the next five years to find strategies to reduce flooding like the 2011 floods that damaged communities in New York, Vermont and Quebec. The lake level is elevated this summer, as well. Climate change could make flooding more likely in the future, some state officials say, according to North Country Public Radio.

Urbanizing China. The cost of China’s urbanization push could come to as much as $106 billion a year, a government think tank says. That’s the equivalent of 5.5% of the nation’s fiscal revenue, Reuters reports.

AT&T Markets 3G/4G for Residential Access. AT&T is selling technology most associated with smartphones as a way for people to connect with the Internet from their homes. Gigacom reports that AT&T is “offering a residential broadband and voice service that relies on a 3G/4G modem for its link back to the network rather than traditional wireline access technologies.”

AT&T is offering the service in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and parts of eastern Kentucky on the West Virginia border. Those are areas outside the phone company’s wireline service area, Gigacom’s Kevin Fitchard says.

The plan’s data limits, connection speed and cost mean it probably won’t appeal to anyone who has other broadband options, Gigacom says. Base price is $80 a month (bundled with voice service) for 20 gigabytes of data. Use more data? Pay more money. 

“This is clearly not the connection you want to use to stream Netflix to your HD TV or download iTunes movies.,” Fitchard writes.

 

 

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