image credit: William Lemaster
The beautiful Kentucky town of West Liberty was struck by an EF3 tornado in March of this year, taking the lives of 6 people and leaving a mile-wide path of devastation.
A week after the tornado event, Tom Eblen, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote a piece in the newspaper offering advice gleaned from community leaders from disaster-damaged areas throughout the country, including former Greensburg Mayor John Janssen. Eblen wrote that Greensburg's "experience seemed to offer a good model for West Liberty. Several people in West Liberty thought so, too." Their local leaders studied Greensburg's comeback and arranged for GreenTown's Daniel Wallach to meet with local officials and speak at a public meeting. Daniel spent August 14-15 in this charming Kentucky town (population 3,435) nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains.
On August 14, Mr. Eblen accompanied Daniel and his hosts, Bobby Clark and Jason Delambre, as they went from meeting to meeting. (Mr. Clark and Mr. Delambre are consultants from Lexington-based Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise, who are helping with the town's revisioning and reconstruction.) His column, After the tornado, West Liberty explores a "green" recovery, gives a good overview of Greensburg's bold experiment and GreenTown's role in the Green Initiative. In addition to individual meetings with the representatives from the local Chamber of Commerce and elected officials, the evening presentation on August 14 drew 50 interested people from the community.
There are a lot of ideas being considered for West Liberty's comeback, including geothermal and adventure eco-tourism, and there is a great deal of enthusiasm for a bright future. Writes Mr. Eblen: "As horrible as disasters are, they can provide a clean slate for renewal if leaders seize the opportunity. Wallach stressed that the best hope for small towns such as West Liberty is to create authentic, innovative visions for economic development that will generate excitement and investment from locals and outsiders."
The Greensburg community sends its best wishes as the folks in West Liberty recover and re-imagine their town. Greensburg has always been about paying it forward and, in its position 5+ years out from the tornado event, continues to serve as a beacon of inspiration and model of possibility.