Ohio Valley ReSource

WKU Public Radio is part of a new regional journalism collaborative known as the Ohio Valley ReSource.  It's made up of public media stations across Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.  The collaborative will focus on the changing economy in the region and its effect on jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. 

Each station taking part in the Ohio Valley ReSource is hiring a reporter to contribute to the effort.  WKU Public Radio's reporter is Becca Schimmel, who will be based in the Bowling Green newsroom. 

The Ohio Valley ReSource is made possible by member stations and through a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. 

Ways to Connect

Sydney Boles

Jason Walker spends $50 per month on bottled water. He spends three hours each week standing by the small stream that runs near his house, pumping creek water into a thousand-gallon tank.

“You have to catch the creek at the right time, when it’s clear,” Walker said. “Whatever you pump, whatever the creek looks like, is what you’re going to pump, and that’s going to pump right into your house.”

Walker, 31, used to get water from a well he shared with his mother, Sherry Walker, who lives next door. But they noticed changes after mountaintop removal mining started nearby.


MSHA

The United Mine Workers of America is suing the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, after the agency reduced its heightened oversight of a West Virginia coal mine with a poor safety record.

MSHA has the power to declare mines with a history of significant safety violations as having a “Pattern of Violations.” Known as “POV status,” the declaration is an enforcement tool that allows the agency to increase regulatory scrutiny at a mine with repeated safety issues.

Brittany Patterson

More than 100 people braved freezing temperatures to both listen and have their say in front of Ohio environmental officials at a recent hearing in Belmont County, Ohio. For the three dozen or so people who testified, the stakes were high.

The hearing at Shadyside High School focused on a nearly 300-page, densely technical, draft air quality permit. The permit is one more step towards a massive, multi-billion dollar petrochemical plant proposed for the banks of the Ohio River just a few miles away from the auditorium.


Mary Meehan

New federal data show the Ohio Valley again led the nation in rates of fatal drug overdoses last year.

The data confirm what local officials have reported: Synthetic opioids are fueling the increase.

West Virginia had the nation’s highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in 2017 with 57.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

Ohio had the second-highest rate with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people. And Kentucky was fifth in the nation with a rate of at 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

CDC

Health officials are tracking record-breaking rates of sexually transmitted disease, including a resurgence of some infections which had been considered rare, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. These STDs are on the rise amid cuts to public health budgets dedicated to testing, prevention, and public outreach.

In the Ohio Valley, for example, a review of state and federal government data shows some communities in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia have seen chlamydia infections rise by more than 200 percent between 2011 and 2017. And in four counties in Kentucky and West Virginia, reported cases of gonorrhea jumped by an astonishing 1,000 percent or more in that period.

J. Tyler Franklin

Grant Oakley’s second day of work was the last day of his life.

Seventeen, sandy-haired and tall, Grant liked to fish, tinker with motorcycles with his father, Mike, and play tuba in the school marching band. He was excited in the fall of 2015 when he landed his first part-time job at a farm supply business. The location was convenient; Bluegrass Agricultural Distributors was just across the highway from the Oakley family’s farmhouse near Lancaster, Kentucky, in rural Garrard County. 


Michelle Hanks

While most of the Meade County public works crew finished their lunches, Pius “Gene” Hobbs was raking along the edge of the road, oblivious to the dump truck backing quickly towards him. 

Unbeknownst to the driver, Hobbs was knocked to the ground and crushed under the truck’s weight. When the truck accelerated forward, Hobbs’ coworker ran him over a second time. He was killed on impact. 

The only eyewitness to the December 2016 incident, a bystander named Greg Turner, said that he didn’t hear a backup beeper on the truck as it reversed. Maybe Hobbs hadn’t either. 


Sydney Boles

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”


Mary Meehan

The political ads in the Ohio Valley are playing on what seems like a constant loop. That’s not unusual for election season. But what is unusual this year is how many ads focus on health care. Consider this one from Kentucky Republican Andy Barr, who’s facing a tough challenge in the 6th Congressional District from Democrat Amy McGrath.

McGrath supports maintaining the Affordable Care Act and its essential benefits with some tweaks. Barr’s campaign ads proclaim her a radical socialist whose plan “doubles your federal taxes and ends Medicare as we know it.” It is complete, of course, with dramatic background music.


Aaron Payne

Thousands of union coal miners and their families gathered this summer in Columbus, Ohio, wielding signs and wearing camouflage United Mine Workers of America shirts.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts led the crowd in a call-and-response chant.

“I want you to send a loud, clear signal that we are one! We are one!”

But the miners weren’t there for a strike or to picket a company over a contract dispute. They were demonstrating to draw attention to an often overlooked issue: Pensions.


Ashton Marra, WVPB

When Dr. Rahul Gupta started work as West Virginia’s chief health officer his state was already ground zero for the opioid epidemic, with some of the nation’s highest rates of addiction and overdose fatalities.

That was 2015, and 735 state residents died from overdoses that year. 

Preliminary data for 2017 show there were 1,011 overdose deaths last year, a record high for the state.

“Not a day goes by that I’m not constantly thinking about it,” Gupta said. “We’re losing three, three-and-a-half West Virginians per day. So, the clock’s always ticking in my head.”


Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

Westmoreland Coal Company, one of the oldest mining companies in the country, became the second major coal bankruptcy of the Trump presidency Tuesday when the company filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Texas court.

The company, which has a substantial presence in the Ohio Valley, has for years faced mounting difficulties as it continued to take on debt while many of the power plants that used its coal announced they intend to close or switch to cleaner fuels.


Appalachian Regional Commission Facebook

The Appalachian Regional Commission announced Thursday the latest recipients of grants designed to help struggling coal communities. The ARC will spend an additional $26 million for 35 new grants in its POWER initiative, the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization. Sixteen of those awards will go to projects in the Ohio Valley region.  

 

The Center for Rural Development in Somerset, Kentucky was awarded one million dollars for their Community Oriented Access to Learning program. The initiative is focused on the health and information technology sectors. The program expects to add 50 health worker students in a field related to their training, 110 in information technology and 26 in broadband technology. Wendy Wasserman is the spokesperson for the Appalachian Regional Commission.


JESSE WRIGHT / WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING

The Justice family companies’ difficulties paying taxes over the years are well documented. But tax collectors haven’t been the only ones trying to recover debts from companies once operated by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and now in control of his family.

A review of court documents by the Ohio Valley ReSource found at least five cases in which judges ruled that Justice family companies failed to pay suppliers for goods or services. When compelled by courts to pay, the companies either refused or failed to meet agreed upon payments.


JAGA / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A multi-state commission charged with protecting the Ohio River decided Thursday to postpone a decision to dramatically alter pollution controls.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, or ORSANCO, has been considering a proposal that would reduce its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River. The proposal, called "option 2" would eliminate the body's water pollution control standards for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the river.

Pages