Jefferson County Plan Commission formed a sub-committee Wednesday to consider the potential impact of solar energy farms in the county and what regulations might be needed to address future development by that industry.
The decision to form a seven-member, sub-committee came after both the Plan Commission (JCPC) and Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) fielded questions concerning reports that solar energy companies have either acquired or secured contracts to acquire large blocks of land to develop solar farms locally.
At BZA, Saluda Township resident Sam Sloffer questioned reports he’s heard that a solar energy operation was seeking to acquire 14,000 acres in Jefferson County for a solar farm that would involve “a large amount of farm ground used up.”
Lynette Anderson, secretary at the Planning and Zoning Office, said the office has received communications from both Scout Clean Energy and Avangrid Renewables concerning Jefferson County. She said Scout has inquired about 1,000 acres in the southwest portion of the county in Saluda Township while Avangrid had asked about 1,500 acres in far northwest Madison Township.
Anderson added that she has also heard reports of interest in Jefferson County from Orion Renewable Energy Group, but so far no communication has been received from that company at the Planning and Zoning Office.
According to company websites, Scout Clean Energy is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, while Avangrid Renewables is based in Portland, Oregon and Orion Renewable Energy Group is headquartered in Oakland, California.
Anderson said she has informed Scout and Avangrid that if they pursue developing solar energy operations in Jefferson County they will need approval of the Board of Zoning Appeals since major utilities must apply for a conditional use permit to operate. Part of that requirement involves contacting adjoining landowners and sharing details of the proposed project at a public meeting.
“We have reached out to them and let them know about the process, but we have not heard back from them,” Anderson said.
Linda Sloffer said she has heard reports that solar companies have already signed contracts with some area landowners.
BZA president David Ferguson said the companies “are allowed to do that, but before they do anything on the ground they have to contact us. As long as nothing has been built, they have done nothing wrong.”
However, Anderson emphasized that JCPC and BZA need to know if and when any work begins and asked local residents to assist with that process by notifying her office to ensure that companies do not begin projects without going through the proper channels.
“If you see any activity going on, please let us know,” Anderson said. “Be our eyes and ears.”
During the discussion at Plan Commission, Warren Auxier noted there are different types of solar operations — those for residential use, those for commercial buildings, and those that provide power to off-premises communities — and the county’s focus should be on solar power utility companies that provide off-premises power.
Indiana gives local counties, cities and towns authority to approve or deny development of wind and solar farms in their jurisdictions. A bill that would have taken away that local control, House Bill 1381, died in the state legislature last month due to a lack of support in the Indiana Senate.
According to a report in the Indianapolis Star, the bill had the support of energy groups, consumer advocates, environmentalists and the business community, saying it would bring significant investment to the state and help with Indiana’s energy transition, but local officials and groups opposed the bill, including the Association of Indiana Counties and Indiana Association of County Commissioners, while raising concerns over loss of control and local land use.
Auxier, the JCPC president, said establishing a solar sub-committee will allow Jefferson County to “gather information” and report those findings back to the Planning Commission on how Jefferson County can best manage solar energy development in the county.
The sub-committee includes County Commissioner David Bramer, County Surveyor Mike Pittman, County Extension Educator Britt Copeland and Plan Commission members Auxier, Ferguson, Virginia Franks and Gene Riedel.
In other business:
• The Plan Commission unanimously recommended that the county’s Comprehensive Plan be adopted by the County Commissioners.
“From the public hearing, there was a nice correlation with the city and county that I think will help the plan,” said Pittman. “I think we should move forward.”
• The Board of Zoning Appeals approved a variance request from Larry and Dianna Pace, 415 North 1525 West, Deputy, in Graham Township, for a variance of 20 feet from the center of the road instead of the required 90 feet for a 10 foot by 16 foot front porch they want to build onto their home. Board member Mike Shelton noted there are nearby homes “that are a lot closer to the road than that” and he “sees nothing wrong” with the request.
“It doesn’t interfere with the traffic at all,” Shelton said, noting it’s all farm ground in that area, and he thinks the porch “will add to the value of the area.”
Madison city officials, members of the Street Department and others watched a demonstration of a new road sealant the city is betting a half-million dollars on extending the useful life of Main Street for the next five years until federal funding becomes available to mill and repave the roughly 4.5 miles from Jefferson Street to the top of Hanover Hill.
Madison City Council has approved spending about $500,000 this summer to patch and seal the highway — up to four lanes wide plus parking in places — after assuming maintenance and control of the stretch of highway last year as part of the state’s agreement to design and build a new gateway to the city to and from the US 421 bridge.
The solution, called TopShell, is a cement-based microsurface solution that will bond with existing asphalt. When applied, the jet black sealer (you can get it in any color you choose) smooths out current imperfections and provides a tough top coat that can stand up to traffic demands and changing weather conditions from 100-plus-degree summers to sub-zero winters.
The city could have spent its money on repaving a very small section of the highway while tackling the decaying roadway a few yards at a time — pretty much the patchwork approach the state has used since the road’s last repaving about 20 years ago — but instead will use the cash to seal the entire highway this summer in an effort to extend its useful life until a $5 million federal highway grant arrives in 2026 so the city can re-do the entire stretch.
As Mayor Bob Courtney, members of the Street Department, INDOT and local contractors looked on, representatives of TopShell applied the liquid concrete polymer to a spot of pavement on East Second Street near the intersection of Baltimore Street on Thursday. They used a squeegee to spread the solution much like a driveway or tennis court sealer and a brush to apply texture in a process that took just minutes to complete and dried enough to re-stripe in two to three hours.
When contractors begin work in Madison next month, the process will be carried out on a much larger scale using a vehicle wide enough to spread and brush up to 12 feet at a time at almost a walking pace.
TopShell President George Wilson, the developer of the product, said it will probably take longer to prepare the some 200 severely damaged rough spots and cracks in the highway than it will to apply the solution, allow it to dry and re-stripe the lanes and intersections.
“You apply the product and it dries in about two hours depending on moisture and humidity — high humidity and overcast weather slow it down some — and then you can start striping the roads the same day,” Wilson said. “We’ve done sample sections of this all over the country and it’s been used on about 75 roads from Alaska to Aruba and it’s held up well on all of them.”
“When we get done with this it will look almost as good as a new highway,” Courtney said while watching Wilson apply the product to about a 10 x 10 foot area. “This will allow us to extend the useful life of that road until the federal grant kicks in and we can repave the road. That grant will be awarded in 2025 with the money available in 2026 so we’ve just got to make the road last until then.”
Courtney and Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Mindy McGee both liked what they saw at the demonstration and if the product performs as advertised on Main Street, residents could start seeing it show up in other areas of the city as a lower cost alternative to have a new looking and performing street for a fraction of what repaving costs.
“Main Street is a high traffic area so if it holds up there it will do well anywhere,” Courtney said, noting the spot treated Thursday looked just like new. “We’ve got streets that this product could extend the life on for years and give entire neighborhoods nice, new looking roads rather than paving sections here and there.”
Jefferson County will be receiving about $6.2 million from the federal American Rescue Act, and now county Commissioners need to come up with a plan for how it will be used.
On Thursday, the Commissioners unanimously approved an American Rescue Plan Ordinance that they are required to endorse in order to receive the funding that was approved as part of an economic stimulus plan, also called the COVID-19 Stimulus Package, that was enacted by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.
“We now need a plan that will detail how we’re going to use the funds” according to the criteria in which they are allowed to spend it, said Commissioners President David Bramer.
The Commissioners must adhere to the following criteria in using the funds:
1) To respond to the coronavirus health impacts or its negative economic impacts including assistance to households, small businesses, nonprofits and impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.
2) To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers of the county that are performing such essential work or providing grants to eligible employers that have eligible workers who perform essential work.
3) For the provision of government service to the extent of the reduction in the revenue of the county due to the COVID-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in 2019, the most recent full fiscal year of the county.
4) To make investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act included $350 billion for state and local governments throughout the US with the monies distributed in 2021 and 2022 to be used by Dec. 31, 2024.
In other business:
• Bramer announced that bids have been received for the new Jefferson County Sheriff and Justice Center, but are still in the process of being reviewed to determine the overall cost of the project. In April, the Commissioners approved a resolution that authorized the building corporation (that has been established for the project) to borrow up to $42 million, but the actual amount that will be borrowed will be based on the bids.
“We’re working to see where we can save money,” said Bramer. “We are currently evaluating the bids and developing a list of items to be considered. We do not have any finalized list and this may take a little time to complete.”
Bramer said four bids were received for site work, three for the general contract, three for electrical, three for mechanical and three for kitchen equipment. He said they have 60 days to award the bids, which would be June 21.
• Adopted the county’s Comprehensive Plan that provides a foundation for land-use decisions and establishes a county-wide vision for future growth and development. “I want to thank those who worked on it,” said Bramer, noting the plan will benefit the county. “They put a lot of time putting it together ... we have talked with the consultants to keep checking that we’re sticking with the plan. This will provide us a good roadmap to move forward.”
• Agreed to change the county’s employee prescription plan. Susan Walker, senior vice president of USI Insurance, proposed that the plan be changed from a Kroger Pharmacy Program to one offered through Magellan Rx. Walker estimated the change would amount to a savings of $140,000. Bramer asked about the ways they can evaluate the savings, and Walker said the county will be able to track the savings in the first 60 days. The change won’t be effective until Aug. 1. “Any savings we can have, especially in healthcare, is a plus,” said Bramer.
• Highway Superintendent Bobby Phillips announced the awarding of a $160,000 bid to KLB Excavating of Austin for replacing a bridge on Swan Road. The bid involves $129,600 for the bridge, $14,000 for road construction at the bridge, and $16,400 for guardrails. Phillips said it was the only bid received for the project.
• Phillips opened several bids for equipment rental and labor. The bids covered projects that involve paving, bridges and culverts, with rates provided for labor and equipment that the county highway department may use on occasional projects. Bidders included KLB Excavating, Dave O’Mara Construction of North Vernon, All Star Paving of Seymour, and Riverside Group LLC of Milton, Kentucky. Phillips said he wanted to review the bids, and asked they be taken under advisement and awarded at the next meeting.
• Agreed to purchase a John Deere Grader from the Ripley County Highway Department for $85,000. Phillips said the county has an inoperable grader that would cost $40,000 to repair and a new grader would cost $230,000 while the one from Ripley County is in good working order with 7,800 hours use. “I’d rather get the newer one than spend $40,000 to repair,” Phillips said, adding the county uses three graders and keeping them all in good working order is important in maintaining the county’s roads.
• Larry Alexander, 2701 South Rogers Road in Republican Township, appeared before the Commissioners with concerns about a dead-end road near his residence.
“A lot of people are coming down and turning around. I have a circle drive and they feel free to circle my drive,” he said, adding, “a lot of people think it takes them to Sharon Road, but it does not.”
Alexander asked about having signs installed informing motorists that in addition to being a dead-end there is no outlet.
He also commented on the poor condition of a portion Rogers Road, in which the “last quarter of mile drops off the edge. He said Rogers Road is recognized as a county road but that portion is not paved and doesn’t look like a county road.
Bramer said it’s difficult to explain why over time some roads were paved and others were not, but the county has a gravel road conversion program in place and an application can be made to initiate the conversion process. Bramer said he would be glad to look at that area.
Jefferson County remains in under an “Orange” advisory — indicating community spread is approaching high levels — but the Jefferson County Health Department (JCHD) has announced an expansion of its vaccination program to take the vaccine to resident starting next week.
The JCHD will be offering mobile COVID vaccination clinics of the Moderna vaccine the week of May 17 to reach out to residents in several of the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County as well as another in downtown Madison.
With the exception Friday's stop at House of Hope in Madison, locations, days and hours follow the county's trash pickup schedule so anyone dropping off trash can also get a vaccination. The same schedule will be used a month later for the second of the two required shots.
Locations and times are:
• The Chelsea/Saluda area across the highway from Chelsea General Store from 2-6 p.m. on Monday
• Deputy at the grain bins at the feed mill from 2-6 p.m. on Tuesday
• Dupont at the feed mill from 2-6 p.m. on Wednesday
• Rykers Ridge near Wolf Run Road from 2-6 p.m. on Thursday
• Downtown Madison at the House of Hope, 100 East Second Street from 9-11 a.m. on Friday
• Canaan Fire Company from 1-3 p.m. on Friday
• Brooksburg at the park from 4-6 p.m. on Friday.
Meanwhile, COVID restrictions in Kentucky are beginning to ease with announcements Thursday by Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear that small groups of individuals are no longer mandated to wear facial coverings indoors in private businesses or homes if all individuals present have received their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior.
In addition, Beshear announced that starting May 28 all events and businesses with 1,000 or fewer people present can increase to 75%t capacity. Also on that date, indoor and outdoor events with more than 1,000 people can be held at 60% capacity.
“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now projecting a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases by July. I’m hoping we’ll be fully done with all capacity restrictions by July. That is my expectation,” Beshear said. “We don’t have to be patient for that much longer, but we do have to finish our work and protect the people around us.”
In Kentucky, 1,869,737 Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine with 1,487,289 now fully vaccinated.
On May 6, the Kentucky Department of Public Health reported 655 new cases of COVID-19. The positivity rate in Kentucky was 3.51% Thursday. There have been 447,582 positive cases overall and 6,548 deaths including five new deaths, and one additional from new audit deaths.
On Thursday, Trimble County was showing the KDPH’s current incidence rate map as “Orange” status having an accelerated spread of COVID-19 with the rate of its average daily new cases at 21.9 cases per 100,000 population, based on a seven-day period. Carroll County’s rate was four cases per 100,000 population putting it in “Yellow” status. Overall, Trimble County has reported 709 cases and seven deaths during the pandemic. Carroll County has reported 1,003 cases of COVID-19 with 19 deaths.
On Friday, Jefferson County and Switzerland County both had no new positive cases of COVID-19. There have been a total 3,288 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County with 81 COVID deaths. Jefferson County’s current seven-day average positivity rate is 8.8% and the seven-day positivity for unique individuals is 23.5%.
Switzerland County is in a “Yellow” advisory status on the county metrics map, which indicates a moderate community spread. Switzerland County has had 784 positive cases with eight deaths. Switzerland County’s current seven-day average positivity rate is 3.8% and the seven-day positivity for unique individuals is 10%.
As of Friday, 11,097 Jefferson County residents are fully vaccinated and 12,102 residents have received at least a first dose of COVID vaccine. Switzerland County has 2,008 fully vaccinated and 2,171 that have received the first dose of a two-dose vaccination series.
The Indiana Department of Health announced Friday that 1,189 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 727,764 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus. To date, 12,983 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 17 from the previous day. Indiana now has had 2,077,914 fully vaccinated individuals including 2,418,692 that have received the first dose of a two-dose series.
COVID vaccines are continuing to be administered Monday through Friday at the Jefferson County Health Department for those 18 years of age and older. Appointments can be scheduled by visiting www.ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211. Walk-ins are welcome Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 p.m.-5 p.m., and Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Vaccine is now eligible to 16 years of age or older. All 16- and 17-year olds must receive a Pfizer vaccine.
Switzerland County Health Department is operating a vaccine clinic at the Switzerland County Technology and Education Center, 708 West Seminary Street, Vevay.
Kentuckians should visit vaccinemap.ky.gov to find a COVID-19 vaccination site near them.