MURRAY – The Calloway County Fiscal Court met Monday to discuss several items that will come up at Wednesday’s scheduled monthly meeting, including internet access throughout the county, bringing a couple of roads to federal environmental standards and commissioning a company to study the possibility of making energy-efficient updates to the courthouse.
Magistrates serving on the fiscal court meet one Monday a month with Judge-Executive Kenny Imes and department heads for a “work session” to prepare for that month’s regularly scheduled fiscal court meeting to get some of the more detailed discussions out of the way without voting on any items. In Monday’s meeting, Imes discussed a contract proposal from West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications to provide high-speed internet service to underserved areas of Calloway County. In addition to that proposal, Imes said he is also hoping to win a grant that would help provide service to an unserved area in the northeast section of the county that includes residences in the vicinity of Almo-Shiloh Road and Green Valley Road.
“(County Attorney Bryan Ernstberger) is getting with WK&T’s attorneys to get a final contract now,” Imes said. “If (WK&T CEO Trevor Bonnstetter) has to go to his board to make changes to the contract they proposed, then likely we couldn’t do it (this Wednesday). I want … the quickest and the most cost-efficient way on behalf of the county to get it done.”
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Andy Beshear announced at the end of June that the state is seeking input from broadband providers in the next phase of an effort to expand internet access. Republican lawmakers and Beshear, a Democrat, reportedly agreed to use $300 million of COVID-19 pandemic relief funds to extend broadband service and promote economic development.
The state is soliciting ideas, suggestions and comments from broadband providers, and Beshear’s office said that input will be used to select questions to be included in the upcoming formal Request for Proposals (RFP). The fund will assist in constructing the “last mile” of broadband access to unserved and underserved households and businesses across Kentucky, Beshear said.
Imes said he is waiting to see if the county can apply for some of those funds from the state to improve internet access for underserved residents or whether it would make sense to instead use some of the money coming to Calloway from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“My biggest priority is on the internet and getting it going, and yet we’re waiting on the state to say (how they’ll use) the $300 million they’ve got appropriated (so the fiscal court can decide) whether we’re going to be a participant in that or if we’ve just got to take our ARPA money and do the best we can with it,” Imes said.
Representatives with the Newburgh-Indiana-based company ESG (Energy Savings Group) were present at the meeting to discuss a proposal for assessing several county-owned buildings and what modifications could be made to make them more energy-efficient. Imes said the county sent out an RFP in 2019 and the fiscal court chose to work with ESG at that time, but the assessment was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Imes said he thinks there is a strong need to look at all the buildings owned by the county and consider how they could be potentially updated or restored.
“It’s one of those things I thought a lot about as I was coming into office (in late 2018),” Imes said. “(For example), our courthouse is a beautiful building; it’s architecturally perfect, it’s part of who we are, but it’s rather antiquated in the way it serves people.”
Imes said the court would likely vote on signing the contract with ESG at Wednesday’s monthly meeting.
“They’ve come in and basically told us how we can save money by (updating) windows, air conditioners and water, heating and air (systems),” Imes said. “We could save money to offset the cost of the investment on it, and basically, they’re guaranteeing 50% (return on investment). Whatever work they do, (they say) they would be able to demonstrate and show it would be paid for. … Half the (project cost) comes out of what you would otherwise be spending for utilities.”
In other business, Imes said the state has given approval for the county to bring back Martin Chapel Road to its original state prior to some construction last year. Imes said that after flash floods hit during the last weekend in February, the county made repairs to Martin Chapel Road and Crouch Road and later applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement. After the forms were sent in, FEMA informed the county that it had not filed a 404 permit as required by the Clean Water Act. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters, including wetlands.
“Activities in waters of the United States regulated under this program include fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports) and mining projects,” the EPA site says. “Section 404 requires a permit before dredged or fill material may be discharged into waters of the United States, unless the activity is exempt from Section 404 regulation (e.g., certain farming and forestry activities).
“The basic premise of the program is that no discharge of dredged or fill material may be permitted if: (1) a practicable alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment or (2) the nation’s waters would be significantly degraded. In other words, when you apply for a permit, you must first show that steps have been taken to avoid impacts to wetlands, streams and other aquatic resources; that potential impacts have been minimized; and that compensation will be provided for all remaining unavoidable impacts.”
“In essence, we should have gotten a 404 permit, which nobody thought about or was aware of,” Imes said. “We went in and built the road up, and then after all the flooding this spring, it washed substantial parts of the roads out. It got gravel and piping over in a guy’s field and it just wasn’t engineered properly. So we’re going to take it back to pretty much what it was (before the previous work) and put in whatever drainage the engineer says we need to put in there. Then likely we’ll surface that part of the road to cut down (on debris) when the waters do get up. Water’s going to go downstream, so you’ve just got to make it as practical as you can, where you don’t cause damage beyond that, either to a person’s property or environmental standards.”
Imes said the court has not yet decided whether the county road department would do the work itself or if the county will hire a contractor. He said the county would eventually do the same work on Crouch Road when it received the same approvals from the state.
Magistrates also discussed the county’s ongoing efforts to enforce its nuisance abatement ordinance. The county’s solid waste coordinator, Gidget Manning, recently announced she would soon be leaving county government to take a job at Peel & Holland, so Imes thanked her for her service. He said former Sheriff Bill Marcum, who served as deputy judge-executive under former Judge-Executive Larry Elkins, would be filling that position for the time being.
The July fiscal court meeting will be at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Miller Courthouse Annex.