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ARC adopts 5-year plan to improve life in region

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

More than $1 million per year has been allocated to help Appalachia's 114 economically distressed counties to get development and growth planning assistance.

That funding is part of a five-year, $10 million plan unanimously approved Wednesday by the Appalachian Regional Commission at a meeting in Shepherdstown.

According to ARC spokesperson Michael Kiernan, it will be spent in addition to the 30 percent of the commission's annual non-highway budget that is already committed to distressed counties, 26 of which are in West Virginia. That is estimated to be $23.2 million of $77.4 million in 2001.

Highways are slated for an additional $642 million in the upcoming budget, which is awaiting a presidential signature.

Jesse White Jr., co-chair of the commission, said the annual $1.1 million in technical assistance funding will be distributed as mini-grants of less than $10,000 to allow counties to hire temporary planners, grant writers and other development experts.

Other facets of the distressed-county policy include $300,000 per year to help county leaders study telecommunications needs and solutions; $200,000 per year to offer ARC conferences, workshops and other networking opportunities to county leaders; $300,000 per year for an online information clearinghouse of funding possibilities, and $100,000 per year for special opportunities such as providing matching funds for other grants.

The policy adopted at Wednesday's meeting was the result of eight meetings conducted earlier this year, Kiernan said.

It also includes an estimated five-year, $75 million investment in modernizing telecommunications and information technology across the 13-state region that stretches from New York to Mississippi.

That funding is partially based on hope for congressional appropriations, according to written information provided by Kiernan. Both presidential-appointee White and Gov. Cecil Underwood, the ARC's other co-chair, recently told the Exponent and Telegram the commission has good bi-partisan support in terms of future funding.

However, the ARC was nearly shut down during the Reagan presidency and Ron Eller, a University of Kentucky historian writing a book about the commission, said the prospect of a Bush administration does not necessarily bode well for future funding.

County leaders interested in more information on the new funding should contact Kiernan by e-mail at crea@arc.gov.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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