Column Date 2006-01-30

Where should we put Kentucky?

Here’s the story so far:

The little town of Pikeville, KY, is surrounded by the peaks of the Appalachian mountains. There are so many mountains around Pikeville, in fact, that only 16% of their land is flat.

This is a serious problem for a growing town, particularly when you want to build new homes or schools or shopping centers...or anything.

So the elders of Pikeville have come up with an unusual plan: to make room for the town to grow, they hired a coal company to come in and cut off the tops of two mountains!

Once the mountain tops are flattened, Pikeville will wind up with about 800 flat acres it didn’t have before. That’s a lot of buildable land for a small town deep in the Appalachians.

But now comes the tricky part: what does Pikeville do with the tops of those mountains? How do they dispose of all that dirt and rock? Or, to put it another way: what do they do with millions of tons of eastern Kentucky?

There’s no easy answer, of course. Environmental laws won’t allow them to just dump the remnants of mountain peaks into nearby streams and valleys. And you can’t just throw a couple of big mountain tops into the local Pikeville landfill without somebody noticing.

I have a few ideas to help them:

Send the mountains to flat places. Do you realize that there are school children in Florida, Kansas and Iowa who have never seen a real mountain? Who have never hiked up a steep slope, or skiied down one? And since we can’t leave any child behind these days, one of those height-challenged states might be thrilled to accept a couple of mountain tops from Appalachia.

Donate the mountain tops to the United Nations. Some members of the UN, like the Republic of Maldives, might be grateful to have them. The highest point in the Maldives, a group of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, is barely eight feet above sea level. As global warming raises ocean levels around the world, there is simply less and less of the Maldives above water. A mountain top or two would come in handy.

Auction the mountain tops off to other countries. Once the mountains are moved to the winning countries, anyone who lives on those mountains would automatically become an American citizen – after all, he’d actually be living on Eastern Kentucky land, won’t he? He’ll be eligible for Kentucky unemployment benefits, of course. On the other hand, he’ll have to start paying Kentucky income tax, as well as a 6% sales tax. There’s also a built-in trade advantage: if the mountains are moved to China, say, the “Made in China” label could be legally replaced by a “Made in USA” label.

What worries me is that this idea might actually catch on: it could be the start of a “let’s re-model the earth” trend. Kind of like a global re-arrangement of furniture in an old house.

Although we’ve lived with our planet for a long time now, let’s be honest -- isn’t it becoming just a teeny bit boring? How long can you look at the same old coastlines, and the same old mountains?

Maybe Pikeville, KY is just ahead of its time.

©2006 Peter Tannen