As a “tug-of-war” match between Highland County commissioners and Department of Justice officials continues over an embattled economic development grant for the Rocky Fork Lake area, two Ohio lawmakers have signed on in support of an extension of the grant’s lifetime.
Commissioners reported on Wednesday that U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup have written to the DOJ requesting that officials approve a 24-month extension for the $844,000 grant, which was originally awarded in 2016 but stalled several times since due to objections from the feds.
In a Nov. 14 letter to Jon Adler, director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice, Portman and Wenstrup both implore him to “give all due consideration to the request,” which commissioners made earlier this fall after a 12-month extension was granted in September.
As previously reported, commissioners Gary Abernathy, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton requested the two-year extension because, as the lawmakers’ letter states, “this extension would match the original implementation timeline Highland County was given when they received the grant and would allow them to utilize the grant in a more effective way for their residents.”
Abernathy said commissioners continue to communicate with DOJ officials and had a conversation last week.
“We’re still doing the same tug-of-war with them where they’re wanting us to proceed with some things, and we’re not proceeding with things until they release funds, and they won’t release funds until we proceed with some things, so it’s kind of a vicious circle that doesn’t end,” he said.
Abernathy said Duncan and Britton were both in attendance at a November meeting of the Rocky Fork Lake Community Alliance keeping the organization updated on the progress of the grant.
“(The alliance has) been an integral part, working with us on the background when we were having all the meetings in that area,” Duncan said. “We feel like we need to keep them up to date on what’s been happening, and to see if they had any specific questions as we go forward.”
There have been some positives so far in the grant process, Duncan said, pointing out the new medical facility being built by Highland District Hospital, upgrades that have been made in the area by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, pending construction of a branch of the Highland County District Library and investors considering the lake region for construction of a new housing development.
“These are things that I think wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t started down this road,” Duncan said.
Britton said commissioners would keep working to resolve the issues.
In other matters, Abernathy told the board that he had met with Dr. Evan Blumer, who is working with developers on a set of solar projects being planned for the Mowrystown area.
Blumer’s function is to be “the messenger to get the word out” through the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission and the Appalachian Regional Commission, he said, and to answer questions from the community regarding plans to construct a pair of photovoltaic power generating facilities in the southern part of the county.
Also Wednesday, Britton said commissioners are continuing to “grind through the budget,” and hope to have final figures for county department heads to review and confirm soon.
He said he’s confident the 2019 budget of $10.15 million will be in place by mid-December.
Commissioners also gave approval for the purchase of two trucks for the Highland County Dog Pound and Emergency Management Agency. Duncan said that in this case, purchasing was a better option than leasing, since both current vehicles are experiencing maintenance issues due to the high number of miles they have been driven.
The board also approved routine financial resolutions and appointed attorney Dennis Kirk to the Law Library Resources Board for a five-year term ending Dec. 31, 2023.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.