BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH, Ky. - The business community is throwing its weight behind a flood diversion plan as Pendleton County leaders prepare to explain the intricacies of a buyout to residents.
''We are organizing our goals for what we want FEMA to do for the community, and we want them to do something for the businesses,'' Conrad Hardware and Furniture owner Russ Conrad said Monday.
Disappointed to learn there are no grants available for private business owners, Falmouth's merchants are pulling together to ensure their voices are heard.
''We want water diversion,'' Kim Bastin said as she cleaned glass shelves inside This N That, owned by her father, Randy Bastin.
Merchants are working on their strategy and plan to present their demands to Falmouth City Council on Thursday.
Worried that a buyout of many homes on the northern end of town would leave downtown shops without the large customer base they have enjoyed, entrepreneurs, property owners and some residents say they would rather see flood protection than relocation.
A marquee in front of the Super America on U.S. 27 sends the message load and clear. It reads: Honk for the dam.
Mr. Bastin, who owns two businesses, wants to develop a strong coalition. ''We don't want to be left low and wet,'' he said.
A community meeting set for 7 p.m. Wednesday will give local officials a chance to tell residents how a buyout would work and what other options are available for rebuilding.
City council is now meeting twice a week to bolster efforts to revive Falmouth, Councilman Jeff Carson said. The test comes Wednesday, when the council will get its first large-scale feel for what residents want to do.
Business has yet to define its goals, but owners know they need to take action.
''Do we want to go full force for a floodwall or a dam? I don't know,'' Mr. Conrad said. ''My concern is, will I have a job?''
Merchants also are banding together to share information and resources.
Through conversation, Ms. Bastin found that some in town didn't know they could apply for unemployment.
Others want to be sure residents know they can use Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross vouchers at local stores. There is a misconception that vouchers are being issued solely for specific stores, but the Red Cross lets residents choose where they want to shop.
''Residents can choose the merchant of their choice, as long as the merchant accepts the voucher,'' Red Cross spokeswoman Michele Bayer said. ''If there are local businesses in Falmouth that haven't told the Red Cross they will take the vouchers, they should call the Red Cross.''
Mr. Conrad found that out after speaking with Red Cross workers at Pendleton County High School. He wants to make sure other business owners trying to regain customers know it, too.
A few stores are catching on. Bright-colored signs that read ''We accept FEMA and Red Cross vouchers'' and balloons are marking the city's reopened stores.
''A few customers are starting to come in,'' Mr. Conrad said. ''Now we just have to see if it will continue.''