Hancock County Fiscal Court met on Monday morning, January 9th, 2023. This was the first meeting for the 2 newly elected magistrates, Gary Baker (representing District 4) and John Garner (District 1). Those two seats were previously held by L.T. Newton and Wayne Hodskins.
HC EMA Update
Hancock County Emergency Management Director Kyle Veach provided a detailed update on their upcoming trainings as well as the fire school training they did in November, 2022. He said 30 first responders in the County completed 16 hours of training and that they will be continuing with these trainings in 2023.
Veach gave an overview of what they’ve done in the last several weeks. “We had an overturned semi on 69, a missing person, a fuel spill at Powers’ and we assisted Breck County with a road check they had on 60. In November we had about 15 or 20 downed trees and power lines that we were busy on. Our cold snap that we had, we got pretty lucky, we didn’t have any people displaced or issues with the stations,” he said.
“We did respond to the fire in Waupaca last weekend. We ran re-hab operations for Perry County EMA, along with Hawesville Fire Department. We’ve gotten the generator at the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) serviced. We’re working on assisting Atmos with locating high hazard areas that their transmission lines run through. We’re currently working on getting all the fire hydrants and dry hydrants updated and getting maps out to all of the departments.”
Veach said with handling the fuel spill at Powers’ Express, they exhausted all of their hazmat clean-up materials. “It’s not something we use very often. About every 5 years we have to replenish. I’m needing some more stay dry pads, etc. Probably about $500 worth of stuff I need to purchase.” The approval was made for monies to replenish those supplies.
“To go along with the missing person that we had, I’ve been looking into some of the thermal binoculars for awhile now,” Veach said. “They are useful even in daylight operations. It would not have changed the outcome we had with that missing person (Jacoby Gray) but it would’ve allowed us to search areas at a faster pace. We can use these for missing persons, lost children, capsized boats, missing boaters and things like that.” He presented three quotes for pricing on those and the court is looking at the options for purchase. The drone HC EMA currently has is inhibited by inclement weather, along with the issue of a short-term battery life and the binoculars could help ameliorate that.
Dukes Fire Department
Veach said there are two grants they are still working on. One is for building a new Dukes fire station. It’s been a couple of years now that it was announced of their plans to build a new one and he explained why it has been delayed.
“We applied for the grant about a month before covid started. That reeked havoc on everything as far as pricing goes and we’re still having issues with pricing,” Veach said. “We have scaled the station back to almost a bare bones structure. We’re still trying to get the number down to where it needs to be.
The grant itself, when we originally applied for it, was a $500,000 grant. After covid, they increased that to a $750,000 grant. After we got our initial quotes back, our bids back, we received an additional $250,000.” They have a million dollars total, he said, to build the new fire station but the last bids were a little under 1.4 million for a 3-bay steel structure.
“We still don’t have enough money,” he said. “The (fiscal) court has put in their part and the department has put in theirs. We have to go back out to bid February 1st and we’re hoping that with the slow decline in prices that we will be dangerously close to where we need to be.”
The second grant is through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, he said. “We have back-up generators purchased for the 2 remaining critical infrastructures in the county that don’t have automatic back-up generators. They are the rescue squad building and Dukes Fire Station. All other fire stations and EMS stations have automatic back-up generators.
The one at the rescue squad building will be hooked up to a gas line. The one at Dukes will be on a thousand gallon tank because there’s not a gas line out there. They base them on the kilowatts used a month so we’re looking at probably around 10 to 12 thousand a piece that we have the grant for.”
Veach said there is a competitive grant process and they have applied for other things like a generator for the EOC but were denied. “We’re hoping that there will be more money coming out for critical infrastructure,” he said.
Economic Report – Mike Baker
Director of Economic Development for the Hancock County Industrial Foundation, Mike Baker, gave his report at the end of the meeting. “The big story for us,” he said, “Century went down in August. It’s still down. Their official word is they’re still reviewing their electrical costs to see if it gets to a point where they can come back up. We’re, cautiously, optimistic about that.
Our other big industries are pretty strong. Domtar and Southwire have stayed busy. Commonwealth, the chip issue in the auto industry still hurts them. They’re doing well in common alloy and their other products but the auto industry just hasn’t rebounded yet. It’s going to be better in ’23 than it was in ’22 but it’s still going to continue to cause some problems with new car inventory and that kind of thing.”
Electric Vehicle Battery Industry Looking at Big Rivers Coleman Station
“The big story around here right now,” Baker said, “continues to be the electric vehicle battery industry. We’re getting a lot of activity out of that sector. The new Ford SK Innovation joint venture in Elizabethtown they announced, that’s creating some activity for us because we’re close enough that from a supplier standpoint you can have a product up there in a couple of hours but we’re far enough away that we’re not going to be competing for their 5,000 employee workforce, so to speak.
We’re seeing some activity especially at Coleman. That site, if they ever get it demoed and re-seeded and back, it’s going to be a prime industrial site. We had a big site visit last week from one of these suppliers to the Elizabethtown plant. We’re going to continue to see more of that type of activity at Coleman. It has a lot of amenities. One of the things that we’re seeing with these battery suppliers, they have huge water requirements. I’m talking about 26 million gallons an hour in some cases. The river gives us a real advantage because that Coleman Station has an Ohio River intake equipment on it so they can pull water out of the Ohio River and process it and use it with processed water, cool the water, clean it and discharge it back into the river.
The kind of needs these people have, the City of Lewisport, Hawesville, Breckinridge County and Owensboro couldn’t survive that (waterwise). So the river is going to be a big key there. We’re very optimistic about what could happen at Coleman. Most of these projects have anywhere from 500 and 1,500 jobs. They are big job producers and big dollar investors. We’ll continue to watch that.”
Green River Distillery Expansion – Lewisport Location
“The other positive is the Green River Distillery expansion on a rickhouses expansion that was announced in Lewisport,” Baker said. “That continues to go well so we’re excited about that and the diversification that’s going to bring to the County.”
“One of our biggest challenges,” Baker said, “continues to be broadband. As new industry comes in and small business grows, this broadband is going to be even more critical and we are, as most of you know, in the dark ages here.”
Concerning the progress toward broadband for the County, Judge/Executive Johnny Roberts said, “I think they’re on the tail end of the make-ready for the Kenergy $25 million dollar pole upgrade. The last update I had, the ice storm helped us a little bit in the south part of the county, especially with some of those pole upgrades. I think in the next couple of weeks there may be some people live on that system hopefully.”
By Jennifer Wimmer