Liam Niemeyer

"Liam Niemeyer is a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource covering agriculture and infrastructure in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and also serves Assistant News Director at WKMS. He has reported for public radio stations across the country from Appalachia to Alaska, most recently as a reporter for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio. He is a recent alumnus of Ohio University and enjoys playing tenor saxophone in various jazz groups."

 

 
 

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

By now it’s become a familiar scene: Marchers fill the streets with placards proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” and chants fill the air as the demonstrators recite the names of those lost. 

But there’s something different about some of these protests around the Ohio Valley in the past week. They’re not just happening in the larger cities such as Louisville, Lexington, Columbus and Cincinnati. Smaller college towns such as Athens, Ohio, and Morgantown, West Virginia, have seen marches. Communities in Kentucky farmland and the heart of Appalachian coal country, such as Hazard and Harlan, Kentucky, have seen people protesting against racial injustice and police violence. 


Liam Niemeyer | WKMS

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. to include information issued by the Murray Police Department

video posted to social media shows a man assaulting protesters with a chemical spray during an evening march on June 2 in Murray, in a second day of protests in the city related to the recent killings of unarmed black people across the country.

More than 50 protesters marched from a Confederate memorial featuring a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee aside the Calloway County courthouse, through the streets of Murray. Murray police cars escorted the protesters through the streets, with marchers disrupting traffic and holding signs with phrases including, “I can’t breathe,” and “Breonna Taylor,” the name of the black woman who was killed after Louisville police shot her in her apartment.

Liam Niemeyer I Ohio Valley ReSource

Debby Dulworth has a lot of conversations with her cattle each day. She swings open a gate, driving the herd with repeated calls and the Hereford cattle, respond in kind with groans and snorts.

“They talk to me,” Dulworth said with a laugh, as the cows come bounding out into a fresh field of Kentucky fescue and buttercups. She’s been corralling them from pasture to pasture on her farm for decades near Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, nestled in a bend of the Ohio River.

Most of the time, they move at her call. The more stubborn ones she herds with the threat of an electric wire she slowly drags through the field. The wire isn’t hot usually, but the cows don’t know that.

Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

A new study shows the Ohio Valley has some of the nation’s highest rates of food insecurity among older adults, and anti-hunger advocates say that situation could be made worse by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual study was published May 21 in partnership with researchers from the University of Kentucky, researchers from University of Illinois, and the nonprofit food bank organization Feeding America. The researchers used Census Bureau survey data from 2018 which asked households with adults aged 50-59 a series of questions to determine whether they were food insecure.

Liam Niemeyer, Zoom screenshot

It’s the uncertainty that gets to Darlene Davis. The uncertainty of when she’ll see her 87-year-old mother in person again. The uncertainty of her co-workers’ health. The uncertainty that comes with the novel coronavirus.  

When a co-worker of hers at the JBS Swift meatpacking plant in Louisville died from COVID-19, she said that uncertainty turned into fear for many of the 1,200 employees at the plant. The Louisville Metro Health Department was made aware of the death on April 4. 


Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

As President Trump ordered meatpacking plants on Tuesday to keep operating amid the coronavirus pandemic, more details are emerging about the concerns workers had about their safety at a facility in Louisville, where dozens of workers were infected and one died. 

 

The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reported as of Monday, the state was aware of 220 coronavirus cases at four meatpacking plants, including 34 cases at a JBS Swift plant in Louisville. The cabinet also reported one death — at that Louisville plant. 

 

Records of complaints filed with the Louisville Metro Public Health Department show that in early April employees were concerned that the company was not doing enough to protect them.

 

 


Daniel Schneider/U.S. Army

The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed 220 employees at meatpacking plants across Kentucky have tested positive for the coronavirus, with one employee death related to the virus in Louisville.

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman Susan Dunlap in an email Monday afternoon said the Beshear administration is aware of cases and one death at four meatpacking plants in the state:

USDA/Alice Welch

Dozens of coronavirus cases have been confirmed at two west Kentucky meatpacking plants, following concerns Ohio Valley worker safety advocates have raised about the spread of the coronavirus in these kinds of facilities. 

Green River District Health Department Director Clay Horton said as of Thursday afternoon at least 62 people associated with a Tyson Foods meatpacking plant in Henderson County, Kentucky, have coronavirus. Horton also confirmed 19 cases at a Perdue Farms poultry processing plant in Ohio County, Kentucky. 

“We know there are a number of confirmed cases outside our jurisdiction as well but don’t have specific data at this time,” Horton said in a statement. “We are working diligently to identify every case and close contact. Those individuals are being isolated and quarantined to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

USDA

Kentucky and West Virginia have recently been added to a federal pilot program to allow food stamp recipients to purchase groceries online, and Ohio Valley anti-hunger advocates say it’s a good move to improve food accessibility amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The pilot program lets those receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to make grocery purchases online. The program began in New York in April, 2019, but many states including Kentucky and West Virginia have just recently joined the program to let SNAP recipients buy food with less face-to-face interaction. 

 


Michael Brumage

As new cases of coronavirus mount in the Ohio Valley, health officials are bracing for an onslaught of patients and what could be unprecedented demand for beds, medical staff and specialized equipment.

Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia have disproportionately high rates of people vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19. But the region’s capacity to treat them has been sharply reduced by the closure of some 21 hospitals over the past 15 years. An analysis by the Ohio Valley ReSource shows some of the communities where hospitals have closed have some of the nation’s poorest health outcomes, making them especially vulnerable.

Still more hospitals in the region are being closed now, even as the pandemic unfolds. 


Kentucky Hospital Association

Local public health departments and hospitals are on the front lines of facing the coronavirus throughout the Ohio Valley, yet the health professionals who run these facilities say years of underfunding and hospital closures have diminished these services that now face the crisis.

Dan Brown, a former councilman for the riverside village of Bellaire, Ohio, believes the emergency management services in his community and Belmont County are strong in facing the coronavirus, with several volunteer fire departments in “spitting distance” from his village. But that’s not what he’s worried about.

Belmont Community Hospital in Bellaire closed last April, and five miles upriver, East Ohio Regional Hospital and Ohio Valley Medical Center near Wheeling, West Virginia, closed their doors. One hospital remains in Wheeling.

Liam Niemeyer | WKMS

A $69 million lawsuit over control of Owensboro-based hemp processing company Bluegrass Bioextracts has been settled amid controversy surrounding the company not paying out potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts to hemp farmers.

Plaintiff Gerald Edds is one of the former Bluegrass Bioextracts owners who sold his company last year to a Nevada-based limited liability company, DTEC Ventures. Edds, along with other former owners, sued DTEC Ventures last month for multiple reasons including not fulfilling contracts to hemp farmers.

Edds said the settlement will have former owners reacquiring hemp processing equipment owned by Bluegrass Bioextracts, with no money being exchanged between DTEC Ventures and the former owners. With the equipment, Edds said he’s planning on starting a new hemp processing company by this summer, called Precision Biotech, LLC.

Andrew Marsh/Conn Center.

Kentucky lawmakers want Congress to redefine the federal definition of hemp.

A state resolution that passed overwhelmingly in the Kentucky House Tuesday asks the federal government to loosen regulations that could require farmers to destroy their hemp crops.

Farmers grew 92 percent of Kentucky’s hemp harvest last year for CBD. It’s a popular compound users claim has medicinal benefits. CBD-rich hemp also has low levels of the intoxicating compound THC, which is found in marijuana.

Hemp must have THC levels below 0.3 percent or else the government can classify it as illegal marijana and require farmers to destroy the crop.


Liam Niemeyer I Ohio Valley ReSource

John Fuller is waiting for another farmer he’s never met before to talk about a situation he never imagined he would be in.

It’s an overcast January day on his farm in west Kentucky, where he grew 18 acres of hemp last year, investing more than $250,000 of his own cash. He’s one of nearly 1,000 licensed hemp growers in 2019 who helped grow Kentucky’s biggest hemp crop since the state reintroduced it, trying to cash in on what could be a $1 billion industry for CBD products made from hemp.

But now, Fuller is wondering how much of that investment he’ll get back.


Liam Niemeyer | WKMS

One of the largest hemp processing companies in Kentucky is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

GenCanna’s filing Thursday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Kentucky, if granted, would allow the company to operate while seeking options including refinancing or finding an entity to buy the company.

GenCanna launched in Winchester, Kentucky, in 2014 when the state legalized the cultivation of hemp under a pilot program. GenCanna processes hemp into products made from CBD, a compound many users claim has medicinal benefits. The company in past years had invested heavily in marketing throughout the state, buying billboard space in west Kentucky and becoming last year’s title sponsor for the Kentucky State Fair.

Company CEO Matty Mangone Miranda in a statement said the bankruptcy process will allow GenCanna to navigate several ongoing issues that include an uncertain regulatory environment surrounding hemp and CBD and a “legal dispute” in west Kentucky.

 


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