With very little business requiring official action, Madison’s Board of Public Works and Safety took Monday’s first meeting of the new year to hear status reports on several 2020 projects ranging from city streets and sidewalk upgrades to historic preservation work and a new addition to the office of Historic Preservation and City Planning.
The only official business that took place was board approval for a final payout of $7,500 on a PACE grant to replace windows on a home at 213 West Second Street. The grant had been approved last year with work finally completed in December.
Looking at photos of the completed work, Mayor Bob Courtney noted that he appreciates the property owner’s attention to detail while upgrading windows because the new windows match the old windows and maintain the aesthetic historic look and character of the home.
“The new windows I cannot tell from the original windows that were there,” Courtney said, applauding the attention to preservation.
In other reports, board member Karl Eaglin reported that windows are now being installed on the north side of the former Eagle Cotton Mill Building that is being renovated into a Fairfield by Marriott boutique hotel overlooking the Ohio River on Vaughn Drive.
The building, which sat unused and without windows for several years until the city was able to find an investor to repurpose the brick, former textile manufacturing site into a hotel, now has a new roof, the brick facade has been cleaned and tuck pointed and windows are going in. Meanwhile, work on the interior is also progressing and there are plans to open in May.
City Planner-Preservation Coordinator Nicole Schell, who has worked closely with both the PACE and the Cotton Mill projects, introduced a new staff member to that office with the intent on splitting duties with Schell handling city planning and new hire Brooke Peach taking over as Madison’s historic preservation coordinator.
Peach, a native of Louisiana who most recently lived in Tennessee where she owned and operated a historic preservation business, recently relocated to Madison and is now on the job at City Hall. Schell said Peach’s background in historic preservation makes her a perfect fit to take on those duties in Madison.
Schell has held both the historic preservation and city planner positions for the last five years, a span in which dozens of homes and businesses have been upgraded through PACE and the city has tackled several major projects after receiving Stellar Community Designation — a busy workload for one person.
In other reports, Courtney said the city and the Indiana Department of Transportation have held preliminary discussions on how to keep heavy trucks from frequenting Hanging Rock Hill — a situation the mayor says is not only a safety issue but also damaging to the pavement. While he supports a lower weight limits, the state is considering that and other options.
Courtney said INDOT is evaluating not only Hanging Rock Hill but also the US 421 Ohio River bridge approach to the city — especially in terms of how large trucks are navigating the traffic signal at Harrison and East Second streets just a block from the bridge.
The new gateway to the city was designed to channel all truck traffic through that intersection on US 421 but apparently a few trucks are heading west on East Second Street, a narrow, congested neighborhood that creates the bottleneck which necessitated the new bridge approach in the first place.
Courtney said INDOT is reviewing that intersection as well as ways to best handle the massive influx of traffic now seen on East Main Street now that almost all bridge traffic is being routed directly off the bridge and onto Main Street.
“East Main Street is seeing a lot more traffic and further east than ever before,” Courtney said, noting that it has made it almost impossible for pedestrians to cross that area of Main Street until traffic is forced to stop at the signal at Main and Walnut streets.
Courtney said the city hopes to work with INDOT on reaching a solution to the problem and he thinks INDOT will develop a plan by the spring when the project contractor is due back at the site to finish paving the new highway.
Courtney said he would also like to address the pedestrian crossing at Main and Jefferson streets — the route US 421 follows through downtown Madison — because lighting and crosswalks are not sufficient for safe crossing by pedestrians.
The mayor noted that the Jefferson-Main intersection is just one of the hurdles the city will be crossing over the next few years to upgrade and improve Main Street in downtown Madison. Some of that work begins this year while some of it could take years to complete on the 4-mile route through downtown Madison to the top of Hanover Hill.
“We’ve got a lot of work in store for us in 2021,” Courtney said, noting that a state Community Crossings grant received in late 2020 will help get the ball rolling but it will ultimately take bigger federal dollars to get it over the finish line years down the road.
Mindy McGee, Courtney’s chief of staff, said the first project will be to use the matching Community Crossings money to seal and stabilize Main Street as a stopgap measure to extend the roadway’s life until bigger federal grants can be found to fund a complete redesign, with roadway milling and repaving as well as new crosswalks and some sidewalks.
“It will look like a new road but not be a new road or cost as much as a new road,” McGee said of the work coming up this year. “But we will have to do all new striping and crosswalks when we’re finished.”
Courtney said using stopgap measures like the sealing is the only way the city can keep the road safe and usable until money can be found for the bigger overhaul. “It’s like 13 or 14 lane miles over the 4-mile roadway,” he said, noting parts of the highway are four lanes wide. “There’s a lot of work to do there. It’s a big and expensive project.”
While the entire bridge access project won’t be completed until the spring, Eaglin said that the alternative access sidewalk from Harrison Street to the pedestrian walkway over the bridge has now been completed and is open for public use.
“I used the new bridge walkway just the other day,” Eaglin said. “It’s very nice and provides a lot easier way to get to the bridge on foot and a walk to get to Vaughn Drive and the river from up top.”
The Indiana side of the bridge was originally built with only one access to the walkway, requiring climbing up a series of ramps from Vaughn Drive while the Kentucky side was designed with a more direct route from the start.
McGee also reported that a sidewalk project connecting Cragmont Street to the Madison Junior High School campus along Eighth Street on Madison’s hilltop is nearing completion except for a railing at one stretch of the walkway.
Eaglin also recommended the board consider spending time this year developing a system for naming alleys throughout the city. He said naming the alleys would provide more accurate addressing and assist the 911 dispatch with providing better directions to emergency responders.
Two local conservation officers were recognized recently — one as the district’s officer of the year and the other for retiring after 33 years of service.
Indiana Conservation Officer Josh Thomas, who serves Jefferson and Switzerland counties as well as nine other counties in the Department of Natural Resources’ District 9, has been selected as the 2020 District 9 Indiana Conservation Officer of the Year.
A former US Marine and seven-year veteran of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division from Madison, Thomas currently serves as a drill instructor and is a member of the Honor Guard program. He is an instructor is use of force, patrol rifle as well as a field training and public relations officer.
The district award places Thomas in the running for the DNR’s Pitzer Award, which is given to the top overall conservation officer in Indiana and selected from the state’s 10 district award winners. The Pitzer award is named after Indiana Conservation Officer James D. Pitzer, who was fatally shot while investigating illegal hunting activity on Jan. 2, 1961, in Jay County.
In addition to Jefferson and Switzerland Counties, Thomas also serves Ripley, Jennings, Dearborn, Ohio, Decatur, Fayette, Franklin, Rush and Union counties.
District 9 Lt. Andy Crozier, of Jefferson County, worked his final shift with the DNR Law Enforcement Division on Dec. 31, retiring after a 33-year career.
Crozier, also of Madison, took his oath of office to begin serving as a conservation officer on Oct. 13, 1987, and had been promoted from field officer to Corporal and later to Sergeant before retiring as a Lieutenant.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — The state’s newest nature preserve is a hilly 338-acre refuge a few miles from the Kentucky River, much of it wooded, with a beautiful creek running through it and the potential to restore endangered plants and rare mussels.
The Drennon Creek State Nature Preserve in Henry County is the first new preserve added to the state system in a decade.
The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) took title to the land in early 2020.
“It was just really an extraordinary property,” said Zeb Weese, executive director of the agency.
Mary Margaret Lowe and Eugene Lacefield, both former employees at the University of Kentucky, bought the land as a getaway in 1978.
They built a solar home and trails, eradicated invasive plants and practiced good forest management.
Ultimately, they realized they wanted to do something with the land to benefit others far into the future, which led to donating nearly all their 350 acres to OKNP.
The designation as a nature preserve carries the highest level of legal protection for the land.
“We’re interested in preserving the habitat,” said Lowe, who also worked many years at Georgetown College.
The land they donated was valued at just over $1 million.
Lowe and Lacefield said they hope their donation encourages other people to think about ways they can help protect the environment.
“We were amazed ... that two people could offer and provide a state nature preserve for all of Kentucky and surrounding peoples to come visit,” Lacefield was quoted in OKNP’s annual report.
It’s not uncommon for the state to add land to existing nature preserves, but it doesn’t often create a new preserve, for a number of reasons.
Owners must be willing to sell or donate the land because OKNP only acquires land from willing participants, and the state has to have the money to buy property and to manage it. It also helps to have larger tracts of land because that creates more potential for conservation work.
In addition, the land has to have particular attributes to qualify for protection as a nature preserve. Those include the best remaining examples of rare species populations or some of the best scenery in the state.
“For us to really acquire something as a state nature preserve, it has to be one of the best examples of that ecological community, of that habitat type, have federally endangered species” or species listed in Kentucky as endangered or threatened, Weese said.
One thing that qualified the preserve in Henry County was the potential to restore a federally endangered species called Braun’s rockcress, which is rare globally.
It has been found only in Franklin, Henry and Owen counties in Kentucky, often on the steep slopes along the Kentucky River, and in two Tennessee counties.
The Drennon Creek preserve is near the northernmost spot where the flower has been found.
The first priority for the preserve is to plant Braun’s rockcress to try to develop a sustainable population, according to OKNP’s annual report.
There also is potential at the site to restore another endangered plant called the Kentucky bladderpod, and to restore rare species of mussels, Weese said.
Once restoration of Braun’s rockcress has reached an acceptable point, the state will consider opening the preserve to hiking and other low-impact activities, such as bird-watching.
OKNP provides hiking and other activities on conservation lands it manages, but its main mission is to protect land recognized for its natural significance, including rare species.
Of 372 plant species in the state designated as endangered, threatened or of special concern, for instance, 206 are conserved in OKNP’s nature preserves or natural areas, according to the report.
In addition to nature preserves, OKNP uses other programs to conserve land and protect the environment and rare species, including conservation easements and partnerships with federal, state and local governments, non-profit agencies and private landowners.
The agency also manages the state’s wild rivers program.
The agency added 2,700 acres to protected status in Fiscal Year 2020, which was between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.
At the start of the current 2021 fiscal year, there was a total of 143,435 acres under protection through various OKNP programs, including more than 40 state nature preserves. That amounted to less than 0.6% of the land in Kentucky.
The agency is about halfway to the goal of conserving some property in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties, Weese said.
It’s not unusual for botanists and ecologists with OKNP to find new populations of species listed as endangered or threatened as they carry out the constant work-in-progress of locating, assessing and protecting rare species and significant natural areas.
In the 2020 fiscal year, for instance, the agency found dozens of new populations of plants. Perhaps the most notable was the discovery of a population of the four angled rose gentian in Pulaski County, according to the annual report.
The plant had never been recorded west of the Appalachian Mountains.
It’s a challenge to keep ahead of impacts such as development and a changing climate, but there are successes.
One example: Survey work in the most recent fiscal year showed that the state’s population of a plant called running buffalo is stable enough to remove it from the list of endangered species, according to the OKNP report.
“I’m sure that we’re falling behind on some species and we’re making progress on others,” Weese said of the effort to preserve species in Kentucky.
The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves began working with the state Transportation Cabinet in the 2020 fiscal year to look for rare plants and grasslands, and habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, on the rights-of-way along state roads.
Botanists did surveys along 7,000 miles of roads in 23 counties in fiscal 2020 and found more than 20 spots that could provide top habitat for pollinating insects, and many had rare plants, according to the OKNP report.
The agency plans to survey all state roads over five years.
Funding for conservation work has gone down from some sources in recent years, but it was good news for OKNP that the one-year budget approved by the legislature in the 2020 session did not take money from the Kentucky Land Heritage Conservation Fund to use for other purposes.
It was the first budget since 2014 that didn’t sweep money from the fund.
The land conservation fund gets money from a number of sources, including the state’s portion of a tax on unmined coal, environmental fines, interest income, donations and the sale of nature license plates.
However, revenue from the unmined minerals tax has dropped sharply because of a reduction in the assessed value of coal, so OKNP received nothing from that source in Fiscal Year 2020.
Revenue from nature license plates also has gone down, from $678,117 in 2010 to $361,460 in 2020, mostly because the state has approved more specialty plates, creating other causes for people to support.
Weese said buying a nature license plate is a simple way for Kentucky residents to help support land conservation, habitat management and eco-tourism.
People often ask why it’s important to preserve a particular plant or insect. The answer is that all of them are part of what makes Kentucky unique, Weese said.
“They’re part of who we are,” Weese said. “When we lose these places, not only do we lose these areas, we lose part of our history. It is protecting what makes Kentucky, Kentucky.”
The City of Madison’s new online portal for accessing Parks Department programs, reservations and rentals went live at noon on Monday as a link on the city’s website at www.madison-in.gov.
According to Parks Department Director Matt Woolard, the portal RecDesk — available at madisonin.recdesk.com — is designed to be “very user friendly” and will allow users to schedule reservations for services like golfing at Sunrise Golf Course and camping at the Madison Campgound at Vaughn Drive and Ferry Street. It will also serve as a portal where parents can register their children for youth leagues, adults can sign up and pay for adult leagues and patrons can reserve shelter houses and pay user fees for various facilities within the parks system.
Woolard said the portal will include directions that are easy to follow and a payment system that allows users to make one-time online payments or set up an account for ongoing payments like golfers who play several times annually.
“It’s a very clean and simple site,” said Woolard, who noted that various programs, memberships, facilities and leagues for the first time will be accessible online and that setting up an account should take less than five minutes.
“We can run all of our leagues exclusively through this now, including tee times at Sunrise and space reservation at the campground,” Woolard told members of the city’s Parks Board last week. “The site allows the city to collect data — daily, weekly, monthly and seasonally — for use in evaluating what programs are working and which ones are not ... As long as we input everything correctly, we will have all of the data right there.”
Woolard said having data is especially important — and something the parks department has lacked easy access to in the past — because it allows the city to better understand which programs are drawing the most participants and how that participation relates to the costs of providing those services.
“On the back end we can do a lot of the reporting and financial things and on the front end we can help people sign up,” he noted.
So far recdesk is accepting reservations for the campground and payment for annual usage fees for the Madison Dog Park on Vaughn Drive and the Sports Courts for pickleball and Bocce at the former Madison Country Club property on the west end of downtown.
Woolard said registration for girls youth basketball and men’s adult basketball is also available through the site and that others will be added as their registration periods draw closer.
He said officials are still trying to determine how far ahead golfers will be allowed to reserve tee times —the concern is that some golfers might try to lock in preferred tee times for an entire season — but season pass golfers who use the site will be recognized as as having already paid when they check in at the clubhouse.
In other business, Woolard reported that registrations for this year’s boys youth basketball league was unsuccessful in attracting enough participants to form teams.
“We had only 10 participants sign up after registration was open for five weeks,” he said. “As recent as 2016 we had 70 to 80 kids participating so I’m going to chalk it up to COVID since basketball is a little more of a contact sport. So we think it’s COVID, hopefully, and we’ll try again next year.”
Woolard said he hopes the response to boys youth basketball does not carry over to the upcoming girls and adult men’s basketball leagues, which are accepting registrations this month for play in February and March.
He said the men’s adult basketball, formerly contested in the spring and fall, will now be played in winter and summer — the thought being that as college students return home during the summer there will be more players interested in basketball leagues then.
“During the summer there are a lot of people in from out of town — I know I would of played when I was home from college during the summer — so we hope to have better participation and competition,” he said.
Woolard also reported that senior programs coordinator Dave Stucker recently requested and was granted a transfer from Parks to the Street Department so Parks is currently without a senior coordinator.
However, the city’s Senior Citizens Center remains shut down currently with programs suspended during the coronavirus pandemic. He said the facility on Main Street is still being used as a COVID-19 test location he sees no immediate changes in that status.
Meanwhile, Woolard said the city is surveying and seeking feedback on how to develop more adult programs like age 40 and over basketball and softball programs and/or developing more adult coed leagues.
“We want to see what kind of participation we can get and if get enough positive feedback, we will add programming,” he said.