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I-65 beautification project on tap for 2020
 Wes Swietek  / 

Bowling Green will be hard to miss for the millions of people who travel Interstate 65 annually if the BeautifI-65 project is built as expected later this year.

Under the direction of community beautification group Operation P.R.I.D.E., the effort will include four-plank wooden fencing, colorful flags and landscaping at exits 22, 26 and 28, as well as building two gateway signs at exits 20 and 30 for drivers coming to the city from the south and north.

The beautification effort has a strong economic development component to it, said former Bowling Green Mayor Johnny Webb, who is the Operation P.R.I.D.E. board chairman.

“It will encourage them to pull off and spend some money” in Bowling Green, Webb said of the 20 million vehicles that annually pass through the city on I-65.

The funds are being raised from numerous donors – “private people who love Bowling Green, believe in Bowling Green,” as Webb described them. Webb said Operation P.R.I.D.E. has raised about $1.6 million of the estimated $2.5 million cost.

Angie Alexieff, executive director of Operation P.R.I.D.E., said final designs for the project are expected to be completed in the next six to eight weeks.

“That should give us a (better) estimate of the cost of the project,” she said.

Webb said the group hopes to raise more than the $2.5 million in case costs are higher.

The state and federal governments have given preliminary approval for the project, and Alexieff said “we don’t have any reason to believe” the final design plans would be rejected.

Designs for the gateway signs at exits 20 and 30 call for raised stone planting beds with free-standing red letters that spell out BOWLING GREEN surrounded by colorful flags. The signs would be lit at night.

“It will be the most beautiful landscaping on I-65 from Chicago to Mobile, Ala.,” Alexieff said.

While the project was at one point expected to start with planting and construction this spring, the new timeline calls for it to start this fall.

What still must be worked out is the maintenance of the interchanges. Operation P.R.I.D.E. has proposed that maintenance costs – essentially mowing – be split three ways among Warren County, the Bowling Green Convention and Visitors Bureau and the city of Bowling Green.

The original estimate for the annual maintenance cost was $500,000, or about $166,000 for each entity.

While Operation P.R.I.D.E. has not formally asked for the funds, the issue was discussed at a recent city of Bowling Green retreat.

“It was not a definite yes or no” on chipping in for the costs, Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson said. “There are some mixed opinions (and) we are still studying the issue.”

Webb said Operation P.R.I.D.E. hopes to get some maintenance funds from the state since it will no longer have to maintain the interchanges. The state currently just bush-hogs the areas, and the plan is to have them mowed for a more manicured look.

He said whatever the city and the other entities decide, “we’ll figure it out.”

But he said he views chipping in for the maintenance as a “no-brainer. We are saying ‘here’s a gift, will you maintain it.’ The money will come back to Bowling Green. ... It’s an investment, not an expense.”

Petco Foundation donates $250K to humane society
 Will Whaley  / 

The Bowling Green Warren County Humane Society staff was surprised Friday with a $250,000 grant from the Petco Foundation to help local pets in need.

The celebration was part of more than $10 million in grants the Petco Foundation committed to animal welfare organizations as part of its annual process to invest in the “most effective lifesaving animal welfare organizations nationwide,” according to Rachel Webb, marketing and events coordinator for the Petco Foundation.

Webb added the celebrations are part of the foundation’s “Love Changes Everything” campaign that invites pet lovers to celebrate those who work hard daily to save the lives of animals.

“At the Petco Foundation we invest in organizations across the country and as part of our Send Love to Shelter Pets and Valentine’s Day initiative we have selected a few shelters we are really proud of and who have staff that just deserve a world of thanks,” Webb said.

“We are super fortunate today to have a presentation from Petco Foundation that is awarding a grant for a five-year plan we submitted about a year ago,” said Lorri Hare, executive director of the Bowling Green Warren County Humane Society. “It is going to go toward many programs to help us save as many lives as possible. We are truly grateful. We worked really hard on that grant and it is a blessing.”

Hare said the grant goes to all the animals at the shelter but does have a focus with the Community Cat Program.

“Right now … cats are the most euthanized animals in shelters right now,” Hare said. “It will also go toward low-cost spaying and neutering. We will continue the $10 spay and neuter for cats for anybody and we will also continue with the $10 pit bull spay and neuter because cats and pit bulls, when you go into any shelter in the United States, are the animals in the most danger. We want to do everything we can to target those and prevent them from ending up in shelters.”

With the grant presentation being a surprise for the humane society, Hare had to keep the entire presentation a secret.

“I never knew I was so good at keeping a secret but I’ve known for about a month,” she said. “I knew that once they announced what it was that everybody would be so thrilled and have that same feeling I did. When I was on the conference call I cried and I was speechless. There’s no worse feeling than having to have a pet euthanized because of no room or lack of resources but there is no better feeling than saving a life and we know this grant is going to help save millions more.”

Hare also said the local support from different organizations and individual volunteers in Bowling Green and Warren County also allowed the humane society to continue.

“The biggest thing we want everyone to know is that we could not keep our doors open without our awesome community. We get that support 365 days of the year and we are extremely grateful,” she said.

Also as part of the Valentine’s Day celebration, the Petco Foundation provided a gift of ordering BOBS from Skechers shoes for all members of the humane society’s staff.

Speaker: Vote on medical marijuana bill possible next week

FRANKFORT – Medical marijuana is getting a serious look in the Kentucky legislature.

In another sign of momentum for the push to legalize cannabis for treatment of some medical conditions, House Speaker David Osborne said the bill could come up for a House vote as soon as next week.

The measure cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a 17-1 vote Wednesday. One of its lead sponsors, Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, has predicted it would pass the House by a wide margin.

House Republicans will discuss the measure internally to gauge support and develop a plan for it when the GOP-led legislature reconvenes Tuesday, Osborne told reporters Friday.

The speaker praised the bill’s supporters for crafting a version that has drawn a lot of support.

“I think they’ve done a good job of building support for it,” Osborne told reporters.

Supporters point to strong grassroots support for the legal use of medical cannabis for people battling chronic pain and certain debilitating medical conditions.

The committee hearing was packed with supporters of the bill Wednesday. Some committee members pointed to overwhelming support from constituents back home to legalize medical marijuana as they voted for the measure.

Medical marijuana is already legal in 33 states.

Smoking medical cannabis would not be permitted under the Kentucky bill. Consumption could take place through such forms as pills and oils. State regulators would decide whether to allow chocolate or cookies containing THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Under the bill, a regulatory board would determine what conditions would qualify for doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. The board would consist of eight doctors, four public advocates and a pharmacist. The bill also would set up a regulatory process allowing at least 25 dispensaries statewide to fill doctors’ prescriptions for medical marijuana.

If the legislation clears the House, it would still need to pass the Senate, where its prospects appear less certain. After the committee vote Wednesday, the bill’s supporters started turning their attention to the Senate, urging Kentuckians to express support to their state senators.

After the lopsided committee vote for the bill, medical marijuana advocate Eric Crawford cautioned that it was only an initial victory. Crawford openly acknowledges that he uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms. Crawford suffered spinal cord injuries in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers recently described the issue as a “balancing test.” The Republican leader told reporters that he doesn’t want to see anyone suffer but also wants to make sure medical cannabis matches up as an “appropriate drug” for certain medical conditions.

“There are some real benefits to it, but we need to know what it benefits – what things are there without creating bigger health hazards,” Stivers said. “And that’s the same way with any drug. It’s a balancing test of do the goods outweigh the bads.”

Warren emergency response calls decrease last year
 Don Sergent  / 

No red flags were raised in response to Warren County Emergency Management’s annual report submitted Tuesday to Warren Fiscal Court. But the use of red (and yellow) flags might have contributed to numbers that were surprising only because of an unexpected downward trend in a county where population figures are heading upward.

Emergency Management Director Ronnie Pearson submitted a report showing a 28 percent reduction in total response calls in a year’s time. That drop – from 446 responses in 2018 to 321 last year – included a 75 percent reduction in water rescue calls and a 63 percent drop in missing person calls, figures that Pearson believes can be chalked up to a couple of factors.

In the case of the water rescues, those red and yellow flags could deserve the credit.

The use of such flags to warn of dangerously swift or deep water, implemented in 2017 and upgraded with the use of U.S. Geological Survey data in 2018, might finally be having an impact, Pearson reasons.

“The flag system may be part of their decision-making process,” Pearson said of canoe and kayak enthusiasts. “I think water recreationists may be paying a little more attention to water levels when deciding when or where to participate in those activities.”

Pearson also speculated that a beefed-up law enforcement presence and an increased use of signs in Warren County parks might have contributed to the drop in water rescues.

As for the reduction in missing person calls, Pearson believes technology might play a role, particularly with the elderly population.

“The use of technology helps,” Pearson said, “particularly with those persons with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. There are devices out there that allow you to track where a person is when they walk away, so we never get a report.”

Pearson was also pleased to see a downward trend in accidents involving hazardous chemicals, which he says might be a result of trucking companies and their drivers taking more precautions.

“A lot of drivers are carrying absorbent pads that can be used to mitigate the release of diesel fuel or other chemicals into the environment,” he said. “A spill can be cleaned up without any notification.”

The annual report did reveal a 10 percent increase in weather-related incidents, something Pearson believes can be reduced by paying better attention to news reports and better utilizing available technology.

“The weather incidents can be related to heat, cold, flooding or other severe weather,” he said. “News outlets are doing a better job of predicting when these may come, and that should allow us to better prepare.”

The drop in emergency response calls also contributed to a 3.6 percent reduction in the county’s emergency management budget, from $268,432.73 in 2018 to $259,279.91 last year.

Pearson is content with a shrinking budget, as long as it comes with a continued drop in emergency responses.

“The fewer incidents we have, the less likelihood there is that someone’s life has been disrupted,” he said. “I hope the trend continues into 2020.”