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."

 

 
 

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.

 


Liam Niemeyer I Ohio Valley ReSource

Ohio Valley farmers planted more than 27,000 acres of hemp last year — about four times more than in 2018 —  to cash in on a booming market for popular CBD products made from the crop.

Yet with that growing boom, the price of CBD-rich hemp has crashed, dropping more than 75 percent in just 6 months. Many farmers are now feeling the financial pinch of that bust.

A report from Colorado-based analytics firm PanXchange said Kentucky farmers last July on average could get $4.35 for each percent of CBD in each pound of hemp. For example, if a pound of hemp contained 6 percent CBD, then each pound of hemp could sell for about $26. Multiply that by thousands of pounds of harvested hemp, and the potential payday could be significant.


Alexandra Kanik I Ohio Valley ReSource

When 78-year-old Jim Casto looks at the towering floodwalls that line downtown Huntington, West Virginia, he sees a dark history of generations past. 

The longtime journalist and local historian is short in stature, yet tall in neighborhood tales. On Casto’s hand shines a solid gold ring, signifying his more than 40 years of reporting at the local paper. “It was a lot cheaper to give me a ring than to give me a pay raise,” he said with a chuckle. 

 

He walks up to the entrance of Harris Riverfront Park, one of 21 gate openings in the more than 3.5 miles of floodwalls covered in decades of charcoal-colored grime and dirt.


Glynis Board I Ohio Valley ReSource

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates almost 700,000 people across the country will lose food stamps in a new Trump Administration rule announced Wednesday. Regional anti-hunger advocates and policy analysts say the Ohio Valley — and Appalachia in particular — could be disproportionately affected by this rule.

In general, the rule will make it harder for states to waive requirements that low-income able-bodied adults without dependents work (or participate in a work program) for at least 20 hours or lose their food stamps. USDA officials said the rule is to encourage SNAP recipients to find employment.

“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an infinitely giving hand,” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a conference call Wednesday. “What’s happening is that states are seeking waivers for wide swaths of their populations, and millions of people who could work are continuing to receive SNAP benefits.”

Adrian Cable/WikimediaCommons

Kentucky is one of 12 states that holds elections for agriculture commissioner, which facilitates and promotes the state’s $5.9 billion agriculture industry that has more than 75,000 workers.

Kentucky’s commissioner of agriculture in many ways is a marketer and advocate for the various agricultural organizations and associations in the state. The department also helps farmers and businesses grow various crops, monitors the needs and health of agriculture in the state, regulates hemp growing licenses and even inspects 60,000 gas pumps across the state.

Liam Niemeyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Tony Silvernail swings a heavy machete at a stalk of bushy hemp and chops the plant near the root, grabbing the five-foot-tall shoot with his sun-weathered hand.

It’s an unusually hot October day on his farm, Beyond The Bridge LLC, tucked in the hills outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. But the heat doesn’t faze Silvernail, sporting a sweat-soaked shirt, a huge smile, and a fat cigar between his teeth.

Silvernail and hundreds of others of farmers across the Ohio Valley are finally getting to harvest thousands of acres of hemp, the first harvest since the federal government legalized hemp cultivation last December.


Andy Beshear, Matt Bevin official photos

Republican Governor Matt Bevin and his opponent, Democrat Attorney General Andy Beshear continued to battle over contentious campaign issues at this fall’s first gubernatorial debate Thursday in Paducah. 

The two candidates for governor discussed issues ranging from how to control the invasive Asian Carp in west Kentucky reservoirs, infrastructure investment including the state’s middle-mile broadband system KentuckyWired, economic development with recent layoffs in west Kentucky, and how to continue to fund the state’s pension systems.

 


WFPL

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said he believes the whistleblower, who filed a complaint alleging President Trump asked the President of Ukraine to investigate a political rival, and that White House staff intervened to “lock down” the record of the phone call, should come forward and be identified.

Paul made his comments to media Tuesday after a roundtable discussion hosted by the Purchase Area Development District in Graves County. 

“I think we probably deserve to know who the whistleblower is. You know, our criminal justice is predicated on if I accuse you of something, I have to show up in court and accuse you of it. So I think there’s reasons to have whistleblower statutes and to have anonymity,” Paul said. “But if you’re accusing a person of something where the ramifications are impeachment, I think that person ought to come forward.”

Fort Campbell

Almost $63 million dollars in federal funding slated to build a middle school at the Fort Campbell United States Army Installation is being diverted to fund construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

CBS News reported Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper signed off on transferring $3.6 billion dollars in military construction funds, including funds to construct a Fort Campbell middle school, to instead build 175 miles of southern border barriers.

U.S. Congressman James Comer of Tompkinsville said in a statement that he supports the Fort Campbell Middle School project but that “baseless opposition” from Democrats blocked necessary funds for the border wall. He said the transferred funds might delay military construction projects.

Liam Niemeyer

Tom Folz drives around on a sunny, August afternoon and surveys the thousands of acres of dark green, leafy soybean plants and tall stalks of corn he grows on his sprawling farm in Christian County, Kentucky.

At 54, Folz has wispy, white hair matching his white mustache. It’s taken him several long work weeks to get his crop to where it is today.

“You got to be a little bit ‘off’ to be a farmer,” Folz said. ”You don’t get to enjoy anything during harvest and planting season because we’re working.”


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