BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MOUNT OLIVET, Ky. - Dewey and Patty Cooper will find out today how big a mountain they have to climb to recover from the Flood of 1997.
Robertson County Judge-executive Wayne Buckler and the five other members of the county's fiscal court will vote whether to make the Coopers and a half-dozen other local families eligible for Individual Family Grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
If a resolution passes, it will be advertised and voted on again 28 days later. Mr. Buckler said he is not sure whether passing the resolution would cost the county additional money but added he was confident Robertson County families would receive financial help regardless of the outcome of the decision.
Mr. Cooper said the ruling is worth $13,100 to his family and would be welcomed, even though it will not come close to covering his estimated $50,000 loss.
''But 13.1 is a lot better than zero, which is what we're looking at now,'' Mr. Cooper said.
The Coopers are still upset with the county because of a decision made two years ago by the fiscal court.
That's when Mr. Cooper asked officials to have his home designated on a flood plain. That would have allowed him to privately insure his home against floods.
But the fiscal court decided against enrolling in the plan because of its relatively high cost, Mr. Buckler said. Now, Mr. Cooper said, his homeowners' insurance will not cover recent flood damages.
Either way today's decision goes, the Coopers have had to ask for help. That was difficult.
''All I ever wanted to do was to take care of my family without involving the government in any way,'' Mr. Cooper said.
The Coopers are an important family in the county.
In 14 years as foster parents, they have cared for 90 children. Some have stayed as long as seven years.
One young woman, whom the Coopers have not seen in 11 years, will visit next week from New York. She is engaged to be married.
''She still called us 'Mom and Dad' on the phone,'' said Mrs. Cooper, 41. ''She said this would always be 'home' to her.''
Until last month's flood, home had been a children's paradise on the banks of the North Fork of the Licking River. The Coopers' 37-
acre tobacco farm rests on lowland on the Robertson County side of the water. On the other side is Bracken County.
Above the tobacco fields are more hills than a kid can climb in a summer. Mr. Cooper, 45, put in an above-ground pool and built a deck around it. A quarter-mile down the road he built a log cabin with a loft near the North Fork.
''We're kind of out here in the middle of nowhere, so we've tried to make it fun for the kids,'' Mrs. Cooper said.
On March 1, the North Fork poured from its banks. By the next morning, it was 7 1/2 feet into the house.
Receding water revealed the toll. The pool is a twisted heap of blue metal and plastic. The narrow deck floor resembles a helix.
The house is a total loss. Mr. Cooper's work on a new addition - a sitting room - has stopped and won't begin again. They're trying to dry out the oak kitchen cabinets that had been installed within the past year. A $2,000 living room set, awaiting removal, sits in the front yard.
Emergency workers hauled away two refrigerators and two chest freezers from the cabin. Everything in the cabin, except a bed, was destroyed. The cabin's structure, however, is sound.
The Coopers have moved into the trailer home of Mr. Cooper's parents. It's up the road from the farmhouse. Donald and Ina Cooper had bought a house in Mount Olivet and moved sooner than they had planned to make room for their son's family.
Dewey and Patty Cooper haven't been able to part with the new washing machine, clothes dryer and electric range - all bought since June.
''I know we're not supposed to try to use appliances after they've been in flood water,'' he said. ''It still looks new, but I opened the range up the other day, and water came pouring out from the insulation. I might have to take it apart and try to put it back together.''
The Coopers need household appliances and furniture if they are to continue caring for children who come from throughout Kentucky to find refuge in their home.
The five teen-age foster children now in the Coopers' care didn't lose any personal belongings. All girls, they shared a large room on the second floor. Foster families receive a stipend from the state, and foster children are given $60 a month for clothing and allowance. HD:Two of their own
The contents of first-floor bedrooms used by Mr. and Mrs. Cooper and their children were lost.
Christy Cooper, 20, is a junior studying elementary education at Northern Kentucky University. Her waterlogged collection of hardback Stephen King novels sits in the yard. She also lost a porcelain doll collection.
''She wanted to quit school,'' her father said. ''She is angry at everything right now. She has lost a lot of faith in the future.''
Eddie Cooper, 16, who attends Mount Olivet's Deming High School, lost clothes and his collection of baseball and football cards. Also beyond repair are a compact disc player and discs by the likes of Alan Jackson and Tracey Lawrence.
''Eddie doesn't want to talk about the flood,'' Mrs. Cooper said. ''He gets mad and walks away when we start talking about it. I think he's tired of seeing his mother cry.''