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County's growth areas to get help from rural roads program

With more funding available this year in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet’s Rural Secondary Road Program, some heavily traveled roads in the fast-growing southern end of Warren County will get some much-needed work.

The 2021-22 fiscal year rural roads allotment for Warren County is $2,786,773, up from last year’s total of $2,138,412.

The biggest chunk of that allotment ($894,900) will be spent on routine maintenance on 155 miles of the county’s rural roads, but that still leaves a healthy amount of money for some upgrades to such well-traveled roads as Ky. 242 (Rich Pond Road), Ky. 240 (Petros Road) and Ky. 622 (Plano Road).

“It’s a little more money this year, and that’s wonderful news,” said Wes Watt, public information officer for the KYTC District 3 office in Bowling Green. “Last year, a lot of projects were put on hold because of the (COVID-19) pandemic, so there’s more money available this year.”

With some of that extra money, the KYTC will fund a $545,500 project to resurface and repair 5.732 miles of Ky. 240 beginning at U.S. 68 and extending to Ky. 884.

Another $331,275 will go to resurface and repair 3.463 miles of Ky. 242 from U.S. 68 to U.S. 31-W.

Other projects getting funding:

  • $427,106 for reconstructing the shoulder and striping the pavement along Ky. 1320 (Girkin Road and Penns Chapel Road).
  • $212,550 for resurfacing and repairs on Ky. 622 from the Simpson County line to the intersection with Ky. 242.

Josh Moore, Warren County’s public works director, said those projects will meet many of the county’s rural road needs.

“I thought the list of projects was good, particularly in the southern end of the county where we have a lot of growth,” Moore said.

“We work with local officials to get projects that are needed,” said Watt. “These are some pretty highly traveled roads.”

The KYTC’s Rural Secondary Roads allotment for Warren County also includes $372,858 in “flex funds” that will go for projects identified and completed by Warren Fiscal Court.

“The flex money is up,” Moore said. “That’s encouraging to me. That amount will do two or three large roads.”

Moore said he will be working with the county’s magistrates and Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon to come up with the projects to be funded with the flex funds.

“I’ll ask the magistrates for their lists, and we’ll work up cost estimates,” Moore said. “We’ll find the greatest needs and narrow the list down.”

With KYTC District 3 responsible for Rural Secondary Road projects across its 10-county region, Watt isn’t sure when the Warren County projects will begin.

“A lot of projects last year weren’t completed because of the virus,” Watt said. “There will be a lot of construction projects across the district.

“These (in Warren County) are going to be worked into the schedule. We’re just now at the beginning of the construction season.”

Easter Sunday worshipers listen to music atop the Stadium Park Plaza parking garage downtown in The Presbyterian Church's first "He has risen" rooftop Easter service.

Planning begins on rehabilitation of popular Mammoth Cave trails

Mammoth Cave National Park officials recently began planning efforts to replace deteriorated cave trail materials with new sustainable materials along the popular Frozen Niagara Tour Route.

Located between the new entrance to the cave and the Frozen Niagara Entrance, the Frozen Niagara Tour Route features unique dripstone formations that attract countless visitors each year.

The project is meant to provide safer walking surfaces for park visitors, staff and volunteers, reduce or eliminate the impact of lint and dust on delicate cave resources and protect cave resources by keeping visitors on defined trails and away from sensitive cave resources.

“We are widely known for our cave trails,” Mammoth Cave Park Public Information Officer Molly Schroer said. “This is continuing the trend of looking at our most used trails and how we can improve those for visitors and our cave environment.”

Schroer said a number of improvements will be made to the well-known route.

The largest development will be the total use of concrete as paving. Schroer said concrete is more durable and needs less maintenance compared to how the trail is now constructed.

The existing trail surface along the route is composed of a variety of materials including concrete, aggregate, dirt, fiberglass reinforced plastic and recycled lumber.

“Just maintaining the infrastructure in our park is a good benefit for us long-term,” Schroer said. “Keeping up our infrastructure is very key to our visitors’ experience.”

The project will also include the removal of dust and surface dirt from existing trail surfaces, installation or replacement of steps and elevated walkways along with the installation of handrails and guardrails.

New benches will be installed at two gathering areas and electrical and communication conduits under the trail surface will be added to facilitate existing and future cables.

The National Park Service will conduct an inventory of potential historic and archaeological resources along the trail route.

These resources will be evaluated for their eligibility for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, and potential impacts of the project on the resources will be analyzed.

Schroer said there is no timetable for when the project will be completed. The park is in the beginning planning phase, which is focused on taking comments from the public.

Schroer said the park is aiming to complete the project “within the next few years.”

The park is inviting public comments and ideas regarding potential issues and concerns that should be considered.

Such comments may be provided by mail or online. Comments are requested by May 26, 2021.

Comments online are preferred and may be submitted through the NPS Planning, Environment, and Public Comment (PEPC) website at: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/maca. All comments submitted will be considered during the planning process.

Prosecutors seek nearly 25 years for Warren man in federal sex case

A Warren County man’s prior conviction on charges that he attempted to meet a minor for sex could be used against him when he is sentenced this month on similar charges in federal court.

Mark Allen Johnson, 31, of Rockfield, is due to be sentenced April 13 in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green on charges of distribution of child pornography, attempted enticement and attempted transfer of obscene material to a minor.

Johnson pleaded guilty to the charges in January without having a plea agreement in place.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 24 years and four months in prison for Johnson, arguing that the nature of the federal offenses and a prior conviction in state court merit a lengthy punishment.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Madison Sewell details that Johnson pleaded guilty last year in McCracken County to a state charge of prohibited use of electronic communication systems to procure a minor.

The McCracken County case stemmed from an allegation that Johnson communicated for a week in 2016 with an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a juvenile, asking to engage in sex acts with an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old girl and traveling to Paducah in hopes of meeting with the juveniles, court records show.

Johnson pleaded guilty last year in the McCracken County case but was already under investigation in the federal case.

Sewell’s memorandum includes an electronic message Johnson purportedly sent last year to who he believed was a 13-year-old girl in Roswell, Ga.

The message said the FBI had seized his phone, and Johnson is alleged to have asked the person on the other end not to send any messages to that number.

Sewell said Johnson was going by the name “Jonathan” in his messages to the supposed Georgia teenager, who was actually an undercover police officer based there.

“He had been talking to her for a week, with overtly sexual conversations, and on Feb. 11, 2020, he had sent her a video of child pornography,” Sewell said in the filing.

Johnson also sent a picture of the federal search warrant to the undercover officer, who contacted the FBI agent listed on the warrant.

“The FBI agent explained that, like the Georgia officer, he too had an undercover account and had been chatting online with Johnson,” Sewell’s memorandum said.

Johnson is alleged to have sent the FBI agent a picture of his genitals and offered to meet with who he believed was a juvenile for sex.

Sewell explains that the message to the Georgia officer and the video of child sexual exploitation were sent after Johnson had pleaded guilty to the charge in McCracken County, for which he faces a five-year sentence.

“Given the serious nature of Johnson’s repeated criminal conduct, a significant sentence is in order,” Sewell said in the filing.

According to court records, Johnson initiated a conversation with the undercover FBI agent, posing as a 15-year-old girl, on a dating app in 2019.

Over a two-month period stretching into last year, Johnson sent a number of sexually explicit messages to the agent and arranged to meet with the purported juvenile for sex.

FBI agents set up surveillance Feb. 10, 2020, near the place where Johnson agreed to meet with the undercover agent, but Johnson was not observed at the location, federal court records show.

A criminal complaint said Johnson used a profile listed under the name “Jason Edwards,” but investigation of internet and phone records enabled the FBI to establish the account belonged to Johnson.

“It appears that the suspect is not using his real photos and may actually be using the photos of other unknown individuals,” FBI Special Agent Bradley Smith said in the criminal complaint.

FBI agents executed a search warrant at Johnson’s home in February and seized multiple cellphones and other devices.

On Feb. 14, 2020, the FBI was contacted by the detective in Georgia.

Federal sentencing guidelines, which take into account the details of a defendant’s crimes and prior criminal history, recommend a sentence between 24 years, four months and 30 years, five months for Johnson in the federal case.

The plea agreement in the McCracken County case recommends a five-year sentence on the state charge, to be served consecutively to any sentence Johnson receives in any other criminal case.

In this 1922 photo provided by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation from the Ernest Hemingway Collection Ernest Hemingway stands with his first wife Hadley Hemingway in Chamby, Switzerland. A new three-part documentary about Hemingway, which relied heavily on the archives at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, debuts April 5, 2021, on PBS. (John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston via AP)