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."

 

 
 

Alice Welch

A study published Thursday in a prestigious scientific journal links significant increases in COVID-19 transmission rates to meatpacking plants, especially those facilities that the federal government has allowed to speed up processing lines.

Researchers found evidence that linked meatpacking plants to a “high potential for community spread” in the surrounding areas. The findings have implications for the Ohio Valley, where Tyson Foods plants in western Kentucky and southern Indiana received waivers this spring to increase work line speed even as dozens of workers were falling ill to the virus.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

David Meinschein’s teachers, staff and students have sacrificed a lot this year amid the staggering challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. 

He opens the door heading inside Ballad Memorial High School’s basketball gymnasium — known locally as the “Green Palace” for its school colors. The school’s emptiness is another reminder of COVID-19’s impact. But as assistant superintendent of his school district, he’s proud of the resilience his teachers, students and staff have shown. Meinschein thinks the pandemic could compare to another historic event. 

“I think in a decade from now, we will see that this will be similar to going through the Great Depression,” Meinschein said. “That stoicism and that mentality that came out of the Great Depression, I think you will see that in people as we move forward.”


marsyslaw.us

Unofficial results show Kentucky voters will again approve the constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law, aiming to expand and ensure rights for crime victims in the justice system.

The Kentucky State Board of Elections reports Kentuckians approved Constitutional Amendment 1 on Tuesday with 63% of the vote tallying 1,135,511 votes in total, in unofficial results with all counties reporting. The constitutional ballot amendment is designed to ensure rights for crime victims including the right to be notified and present at hearings including pleas, sentencing, and the consideration of commutations and pardons.

State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Republican Whitney Westerfield co-sponsored the bill that put Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment on the ballot. He said voters’ approval is a win for crime victims.

AppHarvest

An eastern Kentucky agritech company is breaking ground on a third greenhouse in the region after cutting the ribbon on one greenhouse and breaking ground on another last week. AppHarvest said Monday that the planned 15-acre facility in Berea will use recycled rainwater like the company’s other facilities.

The company recently cut the ribbon on a 2.76-million square foot greenhouse growing tomatoes in Morehead and broke ground on another similarly-sized greenhouse in Madison County. The facility near Berea will be used to produce leafy greens.

AppHarvest

An eastern Kentucky agritech company that is cutting the ribbon this week on a massive greenhouse in Morehead is also announcing construction of another large-scale greenhouse in the region. 

AppHarvest said in a release Tuesday that the second large-scale greenhouse will exceed more than 60 acres when completed in Madison County, south of Lexington. The company states the greenhouse would double AppHarvest’s growing space for fruits and vegetables, to go along with the company’s freshly-minted 2.76 million-square-foot greenhouse in Morehead.

Rick Murdock drives past his neighbors on rural back roads in southwest Calloway County, Kentucky, most days in his pickup truck, where he’ll pass by some signs of the season — “Trump 2020” flags and signs.

Murdock said he’s never been the type to put up signs or banners himself supporting a particular candidate — “I would not want to offend my brother, or my neighbor” — but he does consider himself to be a conservative, a Christian. He recalled a past Election Day when he took his then 8-year-old daughter with him to the voting booth to show her what the process was like. He voted for former President George W. Bush that year. 

 


Aaron Payne

  Christian County Clerk Mike Kem in western Kentucky has already seen COVID-19 enter his doors — three of his employees are currently isolated with the virus. 

Since his office is in charge of coordinating local elections in his county, he says that up-close experience with the virus has emphasized to him the importance of having people vote early in person this election. Simply put, if more people vote early, fewer people are likely to crowd in line on Election Day and risk COVID-19 exposure.

Sydney Boles

A line of blue and yellow pop-up tents stand along the North Fork of the Kentucky River during a sunny September weekend in downtown Whitesburg, Kentucky, and Valerie Horn is doing her part to keep the Letcher County Farmers Market rolling. 

 

Pumpkins and watermelons fill tarps laid out on the ground next to a farmer, and another is offering bottles of maple syrup. As chair of the farmers market, Horn finally has a moment to relax after a busy week leading up to this day. 

“OK, the market’s open, we have good produce, we have customers, we’ve made our invite out, we’ve done what we can do to set up and create a successful market for today,” she said. “Just enjoy seeing who comes by, and stir a little when and if it’s helpful.”

 


KET

Kentucky health officials are suggesting revisions to a proposed regulation that would have dramatically increased food safety inspection fees for some small food producers. 

Department officials said they received hundreds of public comments on the proposal with concerns about fee increases and they now plan to limit fees according to a producer’s income.

Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Resources officials spoke to the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture on Thursday about the planned rule revision, getting feedback from state lawmakers on concerns about the rule’s impact on small farmers.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Tina Ryan knows the hallways of East Calloway Elementary better than most. Besides working as a school nurse here for 20 years, Ryan, who is 55, was also a student here herself. 

“I’m probably one of the older ones here as far as staff and things. Or maybe the oldest one here,” she said with a laugh. “I was happy to know I was coming to East Elementary when I got the job. Because I was an alumni here.”

A pencil-shaped sign that reads “Nurse’s Office” hangs in the hallway next to her door, with all the classic supplies of a veteran nurse inside: tongue depressors, a blood pressure cuff, itch cream — “bug bites all the time” — and loads of bandages and band-aids.

 


Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Small food producers in Kentucky aired their disapproval during a virtual public hearing  Monday for a proposed rule that could increase permitting fees for some producers by more than 1000%. One Democratic state representative believes the proposed regulation could also clash with a bill signed by Governor Andy Beshear this year to help local public health departments become more sustainable.

The hearing heard from many small food producers, saying the Kentucky Department for Public Health proposal would cripple their business, especially given the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Seth Long runs a maple syrup operation in Letcher County and was one of those producers who spoke at the hearing.

Animal Wellness Action

An animal rights advocacy group published a report Thursday that says Kentucky is “a center” for illegal cockfighting breeding that ships tens of thousands birds across the world to the Philippines, Mexico, and other countries.

The Animal Wellness Action report details video interviews and social media posts of seven suspected breeders, ranging from Bowling Green in southern Kentucky to Manchester in east Kentucky, as evidence of these operations.

In one example, the group cites a man named Chris Copas near Bowling Green who claims to have participated in the World Slasher’s Cup 2020, an international cockfighting tournament in the Philippines. Copas finished in second place, according to a social media profile.

USDA/Alice Welch

Tyson Foods sought and received federal permission to increase the operating speed at poultry processing plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana even as public health officials reported dozens of coronavirus cases among Tyson workers. Now, a union representing workers at meatpacking plants in Kentucky and southern Indiana is one of several plaintiffs suing the federal government over waivers that allowed Tyson Foods and other companies to operate faster.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) granted waivers in April to several plants across the country, including to Tyson Foods plants in Henderson County, Kentucky, and Corydon, Indiana, near Louisville. The waiver program, which started in 2018 following USDA denying a petition from an industry group to remove processing limits, allows select poultry slaughterhouses to increase their top processing speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute.

Lake Cumberland District Health Department/Facebook

A west Kentucky television station manager told his employees they need his permission before getting tested for coronavirus, after an employee at the station tested positive for infection by the virus. Some employees of the station’s parent company, Paxton Media Group, say that policy discourages them from getting a test. Health and legal experts say the station policy is problematic, putting employees of the station and the public at large at risk for spreading the virus.

Some employees of WPSD-TV in Paducah say their coverage promoting safety measures against the spread of COVID-19 is disconnected from how the company protects employees from the virus. The Ohio Valley ReSource spoke on background with three people associated with Paxton Media Group  which owns WPSD, the Paducah Sun newspaper, and numerous other media outlets in west Kentucky. Those people, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid reprisal, say they fear their health and safety is not a priority at the company.

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. 


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