Highland County Soil and Water Conservation District Operations Manager Pam Bushelman and SWCD Technician Chuck Williams briefed the Highland County commissioners Wednesday on an $873,152 five-year grant that was awarded Monday.
Williams said the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) had awarded the grant to the Highland Soil and Water Conservation District, with the strategy being to help protect water quality, reduce soil erosion, and provide habitat for at-risk species in the Rocky Fork Watershed.
“This is a huge opportunity we have in front of us,” Bushelman told the commissioners. “We’re one of 10 districts nationwide that received this funding, and of the 85 applications that were filed, only half were funded, with only three of those here in Ohio.”
Williams said a previous grant was for the Clear Creek Watershed, which plays a role in the drinking water for the city of Hillsboro. But he said the many hours of work on the new grant were intended to include the entire Rocky Fork Watershed.
“There’s also about $2 million in match that will be tied to that grant,” he said. “The grant will entail a lot of conservation practices in the Rocky Fork Watershed.”
The huge economic impact that Rocky Fork Lake contributes to Highland County was one of the main reasons for seeking the grant. Williams said that large amounts of sediment come into the lake every year, necessitating the spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars in dredging operations.
“By installing over 15,000 acres of cover crops, we hope to eliminate many of the nutrients and sediments, and the algal blooms coming into the lake,” he said, adding that the grant will enable the lake to continue to be a recreational draw for the county.
In addition to recreation, he said that half of the nearly 92,000 acres of the watershed is agricultural land, meaning that the grant will have tremendous benefit to farmers in preventing soil erosion into the lake.
He said that a study completed in the 1990s showed that almost 60 percent of the soil that eroded from nearby farms eventually ended up in Rocky Fork Lake as sediment.
“The timeline that we’re looking at is moving really fast,” Bushelman said. “We have a meeting with the national office next week, and the week following that we’ll be negotiating with the National Resource Conservation Service since they’ll be the one that all of the funding will run through.”
She said her office will be partnering with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, the city of Hillsboro water treatment and waste water treatment plants, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Ohio Division of Parks and Watercraft.
Williams advised area farmers that they could apply for grant funding through the Highland County SWCD office starting in the fall, with the funding cycle expected to start in the spring of 2022.
“It’ll help a lot of farmers who haven’t been able to get funding for cover crops,” he said. “We’re hoping to target beginning farmers, and those that haven’t participated in cover crops. It will allow them to not put a lot of money out of their own pocket so they can see that it really does benefit their operation.”
The commissioners issued a proclamation designating the month of May as VFW Buddy Poppy Month in Highland County.
Rick Wilkin, commander of VFW Post 9094 in Hillsboro, said that all of the donations from Buddy Poppy sales remain local and go to a relief fund to help veterans in need.
“The money all stays here in Highland County and it’s all for our local people,” Wilkin said. “Everything that’s donated in is put into the relief fund for veterans. No one person keeps any part of it.”
Senior vice-commander Dwight Reynolds pointed out that the familiar little red flowers on a wire stem were all made by disabled veterans.
Commissioner David Daniels said he had fond memories of the program, recalling that one of his earliest recollections from childhood was going to his local grocery and supporting a Buddy Poppy drive.
“It’s a good program, and it’s lasted because of the work that goes into it and the significance that it shares,” Daniels said. “We’re proud of doing this proclamation today, and we proud that it has been as successful as it has been.”
Also Wednesday, a formal letter of resignation was accepted from former HighlandCounty Job and Family Services Director Katie Smith, who told commissioners she and her family are moving to South Carolina.
In other matters, commissioners approved a budget modification resolution and four other contracts.
Commission chair Jeff Duncan said that roofing issues at the Hi-TEC Center are being addressed, and that a state-approved contractor will be utilized to effect repairs.
An additional appropriations resolution from unappropriated funds was approved to cover the cost of the Duro-Last Re-Roofing project, with Resolution 21-79 authorizing an expenditure of $31,853.30 for the Hi-TEC Center.
Commissioners also approved a letter of support on behalf of Highland District Hospital, which Duncan said was with the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission and the Appalachian Regional Commission.
He said the support letter will assist in a funding request for the acquisition of new equipment.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.