09 Apr

Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to visit Paintsville Lake, knows the beauty of the lake and its fifty-seven miles of shoreline. To borrow from the description of Paintsville Lake from the United States Army Corps of Engineers website, “Paintsville Lake gleams like a jewel in the crown of the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. With steep cliffs and wooded coves along the shoreline, the lake provides 1,140 acres of boating, skiing, and fishing pleasure.”

With all that Paintsville Lake offers to those who visit the lake, it is difficult to understand the Debra v. Goliath battle for control of the Paintsville Lake Marina which has raged for months, a battle being fought by Debra Blackburn, the owner of the marina, and what could best be described as tone deaf Frankfort bureaucrats at the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. Once again, it appears that what is good for these bureaucrats, is not always what is best for the people of Eastern Kentucky.

Beginning in August of 2010, Debra and her late husband faithfully operated the Paintsville Lake Marina. In 2017, Debra’s husband passed away leaving Debra as the sole operator of the marina. Although it was a challenging task, a task which often left Debra with having to provide for the upkeep of the marina from her savings, Debra gave it her all. Then, unexpectedly, sometime after the appointment of Russ Meyer as the Commissioner of Department of Parks, things went from good to bad and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet announced its plan to remove Debra from the marina.

Debra’s story is not unique. It is a story of a woman who has worked tirelessly to continue the family’s business after Debra lost her husband in 2017. After her husband passed away, Debra took on the task of upgrading the marina. And after severe damage to the marina during a winter storm, Debra took on personal debt to restore the marina, significant debt beyond the amount covered by insurance.

One is left to ask the rhetorical question of what happened between 2010 and 2021 when the Cabinet began its campaign to remove Debra? One is also left to ask the rhetorical question of why a group of Kentucky bureaucrats would choose to evict Debra from the marina, especially at a time when tourism is trying to recover after the two-year shutdown because of Covid? The likely answer to the question can best be summed up in the words of Albert Einstein when he said, “The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance.” In other words, the bureaucrats believe they can do what they want to do, that is evict Debra, because they are bureaucrats, unanswerable to the little people who get up every day and work hard to make Kentucky a wonderful place to visit.

While Debra has fought gallantly for the past months, and years, to salvage her investment in the marina, on March 31, 2022, the last shoe dropped when Debra was notified by Cabinet officials that she had fifteen days to remove the Marina. One is left to wonder just exactly how Debra is supposed to accomplish this task, and better yet, what plans do these same bureaucrats have to replace and/or operate its own marina. Oh, on another note, one is left to ask another rhetorical question of whether these bureaucrats have negotiated the taking of Debra’s marina with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the agency which owns the property where the marina is located.

Sadly, in the end, because of the unwillingness of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and its bureaucrats to negotiate in good faith, Debra’s only alternative was to take the battle to court. And like the story of David and Goliath, Debra will have to pick up a slingshot and five smooth stones to fight a battle against arrogant Goliath bureaucrats, a battle to save her life’s savings which she has invested in the Paintsville Lake Marina.

In the end, there is one more rhetorical question which needs to be answered, and that is whether Governor Andy Beshear has signed off on the taking of Debra’s marina, and if so, whether Governor Beshear and the Cabinet bureaucrats have ever read Section 242 of the Kentucky Constitution which provides in part, “…individuals invested with the privilege of taking private property for public use, shall make just compensation for property taken, injured or destroyed.”  Unfortunately, Debra has been told that the Frankfort bureaucrats are of the opinion that they do not have to provide Debra with any compensation, let alone just compensation for the taking of her marina.

So, as I often do, I would invite each of you to join me on my imaginary mountaintop, a place where all the people of the mountains can gather in support of Debra, a place where the people of the mountains can shout loudly that it is time to reign in the Frankfort bureaucrats and begin treating the people of Eastern Kentucky with the respect they are due for all of their contributions to the success of Kentucky tourism.

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