Local, state, and federal officials voiced their excitement on Wednesday about the $843,000 grant recently awarded to Highland County for a targeted crime-fighting and economic development program in the Rocky Fork Lake region.
As reported online Tuesday and in Wednesday’s print edition of The Times-Gazette, the Rocky Fork Lake Area Safety and Advancement Planning Process (RFL-ASAP) project was awarded the grant, which was just one of 10 such awards given nationally. The grant is through the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and is the culmination of more than 18 months of planning.
A formal announcement of the award was made at Wednesday morning’s meeting of the Highland County Commissioners.
“After a long time of planning and a lot of dedication from a lot of different people,” said commissioner Shane Wilkin, the county was awarded the grant. The grant was the result of work from numerous entities, including many local agencies as well as the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion and Ohio University, the county’s research partner.
Federal and state officials placed phone calls to the commissioners’ office during Wednesday’s meeting. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who Wilkin described as “a good friend of Highland County” and a “strong supporter” of the grant, called commissioners and by speaker phone addressed the large audience that was gathered, saying, “I’m proud to represent the county, and it’s always a pleasure to talk about something good.” He added that the grant will be “critical” to combating crime in the lake area.
A second phone call came from Congressman Brad Wenstrup (R-2nd Dist.), who Wilkin called “another great friend of Highland County.” Wenstrup discussed the drug problem that is “very heavy in southern Ohio, as well as across the country.” Wenstrup added that he is looking forward to helping the county implement the RFL-ASAP plan.
Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) also called into commissioners on Wednesday. Wilkin introduced him as an “excellent partner for the county.” Rosenberger described the grant and the plan for Rocky Fork Lake as “exciting,” and he thanked everyone who was involved in the process.
Finally, Ohio Senator Bob Peterson (R- 17th Dist.), who was present at the meeting, echoed the sentiments expressed in the phone calls. He added, “We’re going to win this fight (on drugs) together.”
Wilkin then described working with federal and state officials, saying, “We are incredibly fortunate that we can reach out … there’s always a response.”
LuAnn Winkle, the director of the Turning Point Applied Learning Center, which spearheaded the application for the grant, said that the county “came away with a wonderful plan.”
“It’s just been an incredible team effort,” she said.
Winkle shared highlights from the RFL-ASAP plan, which include: working with Highland County Community Action Organization (HCCAO) to create a land bank; having an HCCAO representative in the lake region; working with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office to identify areas of interest around the lake; having a community-oriented officer in the lake area; having all deputies at the sheriff’s office trained in community-oriented policing; implementing a 411 anonymous tip line; working with the Highland County Department of Health for a part-time sanitation officer in the lake area; and creating a contract position to address economic development at the lake, with a focus on recreation and tourism.
Commissioner Tom Horst said that Winkle has already reached out to the Highland County Visitors Bureau about the lake’s economic potential.
Winkle said, “I look forward to moving forward with this.”
Several local officials—HCCAO Director Julia Wise, Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera, Diane Uhl, of the Rocky Fork Community Alliance, Robert Moots, of Turning Point, FRS President Joe Adray, Highland County Health Department Director Jared Warner, Paint Township Trustee Randy Mustard, and Hillsboro Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin—all thanked the many people involved in the grant process.
Uhl said, “We have already made strides in a lot of things just with the communication, and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves.”
Mustard added, “This (grant) is going to turn the lake around.”
Todd Wilkin said, “Rocky Fork has finally gotten its voice.” He added that a prosperous lake area is beneficial to both the city of Hillsboro and the county as a whole.
Wise then discussed the goal of land banks to improve areas throughout the county. “We need the support of the community as a whole,” she said.
Also, Adray told commissioners that FRS is working to add transportation routes in the lake area.
Shane Wilkin said that in the grant process, the map office’s up-to-date technology had played a “critical” role. He acknowledged county engineer Dean Otworth’s investment there.
“We are under contract and ready to go… I have no doubt we’re going to hit the ground running. We look forward to seeing the advancement,” said Wilkin.
In other matters on Wednesday, commissioner Jeff Duncan said that the weekend’s “Hope for Highland County” event “looked like it was very successful.” The event was held to raise drug abuse awareness.
“There is hope,” Duncan said. “But it’s a tough process for those who struggle with addiction.”
Warner highlighted one of the exhibits at the event, where the Care-A-Van had been converted into a mock teenager’s bedroom. Drug, alcohol, and tobacco paraphernalia were hidden throughout, and parents were given the chance to try to find those items and learn about the different risks facing young people. Warner added that about 100 people visited the exhibit.
Barrera thanked Warner for implementing the Narcan program in the county. He said that a young man’s life was recently saved when deputies used Narcan.
Shane Wilkin also said that the business retention and expansion surveys are continuing.
Finally, Horst said that construction on the administration building’s handicap ramp is about two weeks away from completion. Dance Construction, he said, has done “an excellent job” so far.