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Road project sparking unprecedented ‘level of controversy’

Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

“We have never had a project with this level of controversy before,” Kevin Russel, director of the Harrison County Highway Dept., said at Monday night’s Harrison County Council meeting.

Russel was speaking of a Community Crossings grant project for the highway department that was applied for in October of 2020.

The grant, for $1 million, is a 75-25 split, and Russel was requesting to use $400,000 from the highway department’s money to complete the project on Old Highway 111, with $200,000 coming from the Motor Vehicle Highway fund and the remaining $200,000 from the local road and street fund.

The council spent much of the meeting debating the request.

Richard Gerdon and Jennie Capelle both immediately expressed support. Gerdon said he supported it because, if the county were to turn this down, it could look bad on future grant applications, and Capelle said she believed this was a decision to be made by the county commissioners.

Other council members remained on the fence, however, with concerns ranging from funding issues to this grant only benefiting the first of three phases for the project to how the road was acquired from the state.

Councilman Kyle Nix said he had recently drove the stretch of road that would be redone as part of the project and there was no doubt in his mind that it needed work done to it.

“I want to support this project because of that road, but it’s hard when (the Indiana Dept. of Transportation) has neglected something for 70 years and it’s now just our problem because they gave it to us,” Nix said. “This has been a big struggle for me about this vote. I think we needed to take a year and look at finances, but we weren’t given that opportunity by it already being applied for after we voted not to apply.”

Russel told the council he believes this would not reflect positively on the county if they turned down this grant.

“At the heart of this issue, I think I can say the reason this happened is the commissioners and my team felt that we were doing good for the 600 people who use this road every day,” Russel said. “To the extent you think this isn’t good, I apologize for that, but the intent was to do good.”

After being reassured the money was there in the highway department’s funds to pay for the project, the council voted to approve the project 6-1, with council member Holli Castetter voting against.

Nix said there was “no way in hell” he would agree to start the second or third phase of this project within two years as he believes the county needed to prioritize stabilizing its riverboat funds immediately.

At a previous meeting, Sheriff Nick Smith requested the council approve $8,320 for body cameras and equipment for the four new police officers the county approved. However, he told the council Monday night he has since found dollars in the jail fund he can utilize for this.

So, Smith requested the council add $8,320 to its annual budget for the sheriff’s department, as this is money he is not positive will always be in the sheriff department’s funds as extra and would like it allocated to his department.

The council unanimously denied his initial request for the $8,320 for body cameras and made note to, instead, add that amount to the annual budget.

Also at the meeting, representatives of Leadership Harrison County detailed the 2021 class project. The class is working with Harrison County Hospital to bring a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program to the county.

With the completion of the program, registered nurses will have specialized education and clinical preparation in the medical forensic care of patients who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. Currently, Harrison County does not have a SANE program so victims of sexual assault or abuse needing forensic care must travel to Floyd County or to Louisville.

The class, which is hoping to raise $10,000, is nearing the $5,000 mark.

Julie Moorman, a member of the class and CEO/president of the Harrison County Community Foundation, encouraged the council and members of the community, if they felt compelled, to donate to the project at

Larry Shickles, superintendent of the Harrison County Parks Dept., asked the council for an additional $1,000. The money would go toward incentivizing sales staff during their follow-up sales calls.

Potentially, staff could have the opportunity to earn a portion of added sales they complete over the phone or extra nights, firewood or ice sales. The money would come out of the parks and recreation fund.

The council will vote on Shickles’ request at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday, April 26, at 7 p.m. at the government center in Corydon.