The Hancock County Chamber of Commerce held their first meeting of the year on Tuesday morning, January 10th at the Lewisport Library – a Chamber Breakfast and a State of the County meeting. Judge/Executive Johnny Roberts, Lewisport Mayor Chad Gregory and newly elected Hawesville Mayor Robbie McCormick spoke about their plans for this year.
Judge Roberts began the meeting with his list of challenges and positives for 2023. “I think everybody knows the elephant in the room when you’re thinking about challenges from a county perspective and a personal perspective for this year,” he said, “for us it was the closing of Century Aluminum.”
The shutdown affected 628 people and Roberts pointed out that 115 of those were Hancock County citizens. “It was a regional impact for everyone and if you were going home that night, you had bills and house payments and it was personal,” he said.
“From our perspective it was about a million dollars a year from our budget,” he added, “which was significant, about 20 percent of our budget. We’re still fighting, like everybody else, inflationary pressures of – whether it’s Dukes Fire Department that we’re going to have to rebid, or if we’re looking at (the purchase of) a new ambulance and the price doubles. So there are some challenges. I have a lot more of what I think are positives for the County. I’m really optimistic.”
“The announcement with Kenergy and Conexon – I think that’s the most impactful announcement in our region in a long time,” Roberts said. “I really think that could be a game changer for all of rural Kentucky. If you can change the rural communities’ internet in KY, it’s a generational impact for our state. For this region, I’m really excited about that. That’s moving forward. I got an update yesterday about finishing the work-ready. It’s a 25 million dollar work-ready with that for these 13 counties.”
Upgraded Radio System
“We were able to approve new radio system upgrades for our emergency services – our protective services,” he said, “which is a P-25 digital upgrade. When you call 9-11 anywhere in KY you need to be heard and we need to be able to respond and I think this is going to really impact that. It’s a joint venture with our school system so they’ll be on the same system.”
Vastwood Splash Pad – Domtar Donated $10,000
Roberts said they are still in the process of selecting an architect for the splash pad at Vastwood Park and that the project is contingent on pricing. “The date we applied, until now with the state, it takes time to get the confirmations on these grants,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of our bigger factories – Domtar, Southwire and Commonwealth, to see if they want to partner with us. Domtar has already responded with $10,000. We’re certainly appreciative of that. We’re working on some more.”
“We continue to replace outdated road equipment at our parks,” Roberts said. “We’re still making major investments at all three of our county parks.”
“We’ve been able, over the last 2 years, to double our budget for county roads,” he said. “We need to double that again. Our county roads and our state roads, everybody drives every day – you know where that’s at. So infrastructure is a big issue with us.”
“Another positive – even though we did take the bump with Century,” Roberts said, “we were able to move through that and our other factories seem to be running well. Some of our older, legacy factories – they seem to be in good shape so that’s a positive for us.”
Distillery Rickhouses in Lewisport
“Looking ahead a little bit,” he said, “in the next couple of weeks we may see a press release with Green River Distilleries. That’s certainly exciting. We’re glad they’ve decided to make an investment in Lewisport and Hancock County.”
Marketing the Coleman Site for New Industry
“We continue to work directly with Mike (Baker) and the Industrial Foundation in marketing the Coleman site,” he said, “which is really exciting. There are some issues there. We do think there will be something there that’s really positive for the community.”
“Next month I have a meeting with Kentucky’s AT&T president to discuss, what I think is, diminished service in our area,” Roberts said. “There are some issues when they do these upgrades – 3G to 4G and 4G to 5G. It helps urban communities but it doesn’t help rural communities. I think cell service in our area has been diminished so we’ll see where that goes.”
Hwy 60 – Widening
“The Widening of Hwy 60 – I think that’s moving forward now,” he said. “Hopefully in the next few months we’ll see some work on that. I think that is really important for our community. Every body knows how much traffic we have along Hwy 60 so we do have to get that widened. I think that will happen soon.”
Repairs of Old Courthouse
“I’m hoping in the next 2-4 weeks we’ll start some repairs on the old courthouse,” he said. “It needs some attention. We have to maintain that. I’m hoping that we can get that soon.”
In closing, Judge Roberts added: “I want to give a shout out to our staff and all the county employees. We are kind of the face of things sometimes but the people who do the work are behind the scenes and I think they do a great job.
I look forward to working with both of the mayors in the upcoming year. I’m more of a realist. I just see things like they are but I’m really optimistic about the year ahead. I think it’s going to be a really good year. We have a lot of economic activity. I expect some announcements and I’m excited. We’ve had a tough 2 or 3 years – covid and the tile plant and Century’s shutdown but I think the best days are ahead for Hancock County. There’s always challenges. We live in a challenging world. God is good. We’re blessed to live in Hancock County and I’m looking forward to this year.”
Lewisport Mayor Chad Gregory
Lewisport Mayor Chad Gregory spoke next and began by thanking the Lewisport Library for hosting the event. “I want to thank Judge Roberts for coming this morning and our newly elected Mayor of Hawesville, Robbie McCormick. I look forward to working with you,” he said. “I’ll continue to strive to work with the new mayor and council as I have in previous administrations. I’ve seen a few of them now. Anything you need, I’m a phone call away.”
Housing Incentives & Development in Lewisport
“In Lewisport, we have been working continuously, and it’s been a little bit of a mountain to climb,” Gregory said, “working on our housing incentives here and development. We don’t know how we’re going to take it from a tax perspective and that had a little bit more inflation in it than what we wanted. We’re probably going to go the route of infrastructure and black top roads. We’re having a little trouble getting that off the ground. There are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross. Hopefully here in these winter months we can get that all hashed out.”
Gregory congratulated John Garner (former Lewisport Chief of Police) for his newly elected position as magistrate and thanked Wayne Hodskins (previous magistrate) for his service to District 1 and to Lewisport.
“Lewisport wants to head-on in the upcoming year,” Gregory said, “the problems that all communities have, especially your smaller communities, with the backdated properties. That seems to be a hurdle for all smaller cities because a lot of that is governed by ordinances and those ordinances are about as good as a paper drawing. You’re not going to make it anywhere with these dilapidated properties unless you have the tools to work them property. Whether it be an appointed position or a higher position, I think with Fiscal Court, that we have the monies to do it (hire someone to revaluate those) because you’re not going to have housing development in any county or any city with some of the messes that you have.”
Regionalized Water Plant
Gregory said they are still in the preliminary planning stages of a regionalized water plant. “That is going to have a price tag of about 12 million dollars,” he said. “It’s going to be a long haul and it’s actually going to be this field right here (next to Lewisport Library). Eventually we want to extend the branch to have Hawesville come on. That’s one thing we’re looking at.”
Kentucky Distilleries Rickhouses
“We’re going to see the construction of Kentucky Distilleries rickhouses out here at the old tile plant,” Gregory said. “When Dowell Tile left it was, pretty much, years coming. We saw it from their gas usage, they were one of the biggest natural gas customers for the City of Lewisport. There was probably an excess of over a million dollars a year that ran through that through our revenue system. The gas usage started decreasing over the years so we figured that would happen.
Kentucky Distilleries, right at the moment, they’re not going to a huge gas customer. They are building rickhouses. The construction phase has already started on that. They’re going to be a pretty good size water customer from what I can see so far but eventually, I think, from what the preliminary stages are on that – they will be a good natural gas customer.”
Hawesville Mayor Robbie McCormick
Chamber President, Chelsea Boling, introduced the new Hawesville Mayor Robbie McCormick. He began by saying: “I can’t talk about what we’ve done or even what we’re doing now because I don’t know, just to be honest. We’re jumping in with both feet and we’re finding out from day to day. I have meetings today. I’m looking forward to that. You know, I’m a coach form way back. And that’s the way I’m going to lead this city – as a coach. I will work with Mr. Roberts and Mr. Gregory, side by side.
I’m very interested in the regional water plant. I think that’s a key for our county to really establish itself. We’ve got everything else. We just don’t have the water. We’ve got good water in Hawesville. You go down to the water plant and take a sample and I promise you, you can sit it right beside anybody else’s in the state and it’s good. It meets all the quality standards. It runs through the infrastructure of our pipes and I’m finding out there’s lead and there’s copper. That’s where the water is picking up contaminants, is in our lines.
Hopefully Ms. Shake And Ms. Miles (Suzanne Miles -KY State Representative and Joanna Shake-Assoc. Director of GRADD) will sit down with us today and we’ll talk about some of the possible avenues we can take to correct those. But it’s going to take all 3 of our energies in this county working together. One thing I am proud to say is Mr. Roberts and Mr. Gregory have agreed to sit down with me possibly once a month for about an hour and discuss what grants out there are available. And at first these gentlemen are going to have a lot more to hand to me than I will to them but hopefully, moving into the future, we’ll be able to contribute also as the City of Hawesville.”
By Jennifer Wimmer