January

Just a week into 2021, during a procedural vote to certify the results of the presidential election, the U.S. Capitol building was breached by rioters who believed the election was stolen by President Joe Biden.

During his weekly COVID-19 press conference, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine addressed the events that unfolded on Jan. 6.

Yesterday was a dark day in the history of this great republic. Any day when Americans would have watched their TV and seen a mob storming the U.S. Capitol would have been a bad day.” He continued by describing those who engaged in violence as “thugs” and called the insurrection “despicable” and “devastating.”

The core of the issue is an erosion of faith according to DeWine. Faith in our system, faith in the Constitution, and faith in our country are being negatively impacted by the continued onslaught to the democratic process. He went on to describe loss of faith as a disease and described the events of Jan. 6 as, “a direct attack on the Constitution on everything that we hold dear.”

DeWine urged trust in the system and unity in the face of adversity during the final days of the Trump presidency stating, “Our shared bonds as Americans will always be stronger than our differences. What binds us together is so much more than what tears us apart. We are people who unite in the toughest of times. Right now we are facing some tough times.”

In contrast to five Ohio congressmen, those being Jim Jordan, Bob Gibbs, Warren Davidson, Steve Chabot and Jackson County’s own representative Bill Johnson, DeWine proclaimed his vote would have been to certify the Electoral College results and that the evidence just isn’t there to prove election fraud.

February

A statewide curfew also ended on Feb. 11 after DeWine opted to not extend it. During a press conference later in the month, DeWine said that Vinton County became the only county in Ohio that has managed to dip below the high incidence level for the COVID-19 virus. This follows a pattern for the county as it was also the last to have a recorded case of the virus back on April 25, 2020.

The low incidence level meant that the county had relatively few cases in comparison to its population size, with a rate of 99.4 cases per 100,000 people at the time. With a population of just over 13,000, Vinton is the least populated of all Ohio’s counties. This coupled with the distance between dwellings in the area could have contributed to the low rate.

The Wednesday, Feb. 24 meeting of the McArthur Village Council was the last for Police Chief Matt Kight after he moved to a new position in Gallia County. Mayor Steve Hammond awarded Kight with a plaque commemorating his years with the force and expressing gratitude from the village for his service.

The position was filled in the interim by Chief Tom Heaton. Chief Heaton had been with the department for over four years as police captain. He is also the K9 handler for police dog Zara. Heaton held the position for 60 days to test the waters and before ultimately being selected as the village’s police chief.

Brian Bledsoe also took the seat of former member Adam Jones who left his position in October.

This month saw several instances of inclement weather in the county, with snow emergencies declared in Vinton County on Feb. 1, Feb. 9, Feb. 15, and a winter advisory was issued on Feb. 12. At the end of the month, on Feb. 28, a flood warning was issued for Vinton County.

March

The Auditor of State Keith Faber’s Office released information concerning a $5,692 overpayment to former Village of Hamden employee Kenny Sheets. The findings date back to the 2018-2019 financial audit of the village and stem from the cashing out of unused sick and vacation time.

Per village policy, certain requirements are necessary at the time an employee leaves for them to be eligible to cash out unused vacation and sick leave. In order to receive sick leave payouts, an employee must have been employed for ten years and either have disability or retirement under OPERS. Furthermore, for the length of time that Sheets was employed, his number of vacation hours was capped at 240.

At the time he departed, Sheets had 677.85 hours of unused vacation leave accumulated. His payout totaled at $8,812 in the gross amount with a net amount of $6,721.

After calculations were done, the overpayment was discovered and notice of such was sent to the statutory legal counsel of Hamden for the use of collecting the necessary funds.

Reimbursement responsibility to the Village’s Water Operating Funds falls on Sheets but former Fiscal Officer Vicki Patton, former Mayor Michael Woodruff, and their bonding companies Ohio Plan Risk are considered liable as they signed off on the overpayment at the time.

Later in the month, DeWine and First Lady of Ohio Fran DeWine visited the Vinton County Health Department (VCHD) and spoke with vaccine recipients on March 29, the same day vaccines became available to all Ohioans aged 16 and older.

Vinton County became the 18th county in the state to be visited by the governor in his efforts to encourage Ohioans to get vaccinated.

Gov. DeWine spoke with county health officials about the progress of the vaccine rollout in Vinton County.

VCHD Health Administrator Janelle McManis said that the health department has been receiving 100 to 120 doses a week and are giving out approximately 40 vaccines a day. Despite concerns of a slowdown in vaccine willingness, McManis explained that they only have just started seeing open spots for vaccinations. The department previously had a more than 700 person waiting list for the vaccine, but has since gone through that list.

The biggest challenge has been spacing, according to McManis. The possibility of a drive-thru vaccine clinic is there if a need becomes apparent. Openings are available on March 30.

When asked about vaccine allocation for more rural areas, the governor explained that this is considered each week in order to allocate the correct number of vaccines. The state is informed on Tuesday of each week how many doses they will be receiving and from there allocation within the state is determined.

“We will continue to assess if we have to move vaccines from one area to another. We will continue to be focused on making sure that every Ohioan that wants the vaccine has the ability to get the vaccine,” he continued.

Gov. DeWine emphasized the need for younger Ohioans to get vaccinated in order to keep those around them safe. As a group that is less harshly impacted physically while also spreading the virus, it is imperative that more young adults get their vaccines.

“Even if someone 25 years of age is not worried about getting the COVID, they get vaccinated and they may help their grandmother or help their aunt or help someone else,” DeWine explained.

County commissioners spoke more personally with the governor after the press conference ended, with discussions turning to the issue of clean drinking water availability. Commissioner Mark Fout stated that the issue is “a lot worse than people think.”

Over 120 homes on Garrett Ridge don’t have access to clean water and have sent photos of undrinkable water to commissioners in the past. The main issue to getting clean water to the area is due to a lack of available funds.

The governor noted that the state does want to help and will be back in touch.

April

Moonville Tunnel was added to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service. The announcement came after a year of applications and a 40 year long fascination for Richard Dahn.

Dahn, a member of the Moonville Rail Trail Association, took the lead on completing the application. He has fostered an interest in Moonville since his time as a student at The Ohio State University.

For a folklore class assignment, Dahn wrote about Moonville Tunnel, a site he stumbled upon with a friend when they were camping in Vinton County in the late 1970’s. A copy of that paper along with photos taken by Dahn of the tunnel is currently on display at the Hope Schoolhouse Welcome Center.

“Its been such a wonderful ride.” said Dahn, “I did this out of love and passion for Moonville and the area.”

Dahn continued by explaining, “What makes it fun for me is because there is very little real information about it anything I find is kinda new.

He has dedicated the application to the residents of Vinton County and Brown Township as well as the workers of the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad who built the tunnels, the Coe family, and the former residents of Moonville.

Caleb Appleman of the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau expressed hope that with the recognition will come more tourism. He also hoped that they would be able to place historical markers in the area as well.

Later in the month, the Vinton County Commissioners signed a proclamation designating the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month after meeting with members of the South Central Ohio Job and Family Services along with the Vinton County Family Children First Council to discuss child abuse in the county.

During 2020, 141 cases of child abuse or neglect were investigated in the county. This number is lower than average, most likely due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The proclamation was read by Commissioner Mark Fout and states that child abuse and neglect is a complex and ongoing problem in our society and that every child is entitled to be loved, cared for, nurtured, made to feel secure and be free from verbal, sexual, emotional and physical abuse and neglect.

Language in the proclamation goes further by stating, “our communities are stronger when all citizens become aware of child maltreatment prevention and become involved in supporting parents to raise their children in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Pinwheels were placed in front of the Vinton County Courthouse, one for each of the cases investigated in 2020. They were used as a reminder to those who see it that the issue of child abuse is real and can happen anywhere.

May

After over a year of isolation and social distancing, Ohioans were finally given the chance to let their hair down at the 36th Annual Wild Turkey Festival in McArthur. The weekend was chock full of food, fun, live entertainment, and the first taste of normalcy since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The question of whether a festival was even possible was up in the air for quite some time. With health orders limiting the number of people allowed to gather to ten signed by Governor Mike DeWine back in April 2020, this put a hold on the festival for that year.

However, the Wild Turkey Festival came back with a vengeance in 2021, with the committee pushing through with plans to hold the festival following confirmation by the governor on April 5 that there would no longer be capacity limits for outdoor events.

This sudden change only a month before the festival was set to begin posed a challenge for the committee, as they still had finalization plans to account for with a much shorter timeframe.

With COVID-19 still being present, Wild Turkey Fest looked a little different than previous years. Despite the rescinded limit on outdoor gatherings, other COVID-19 restrictions remained.

According to the festival guidelines posted throughout the festival grounds, mask wearing and social distancing would be practiced at all times on festival grounds, gatherings of more than six people were discouraged, and festival staff, volunteers, vendors, entertainers, and visitors would perform daily health assessments and stay home if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

Despite these guidelines, sightings of masks were rare for much of the festival, and social distancing was fairly nonexistent. There was essentially no way of enforcing the guidelines, either, as having a “mask police” was not required of the festival per Gov. DeWine’s new guidelines.

The health order stated that for large gatherings “organizers and managers should conduct the event in a way that discourages individuals from sitting or standing close together in buildings or on other parts of the grounds or premises.”

When seating was arranged for the festival, it was socially distanced and within the guidelines, but without a mode of enforcement, there wasn’t much stopping festival attendees from bringing their own chairs and sitting however close they pleased to each other.

A visible violation of these rules came around the time of the 2021 Wild Turkey Festival Queen crowning as photos of the crowd show what could be described as a sea of maskless faces with only a handful of attendees following posted masking guidelines.

Lilian Jayjohn was crowned queen, while Mika McFadden and Lydia Nichols were crowned as First and Second Attendants respectfully.

According to the Emcee Dr. Cassie Rice, the 2001 Wild Turkey Festival Queen, the deliberation for this years contest was the longest in pageant history.

June

The Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) approved of a solar facility proposed to be built in Vinton County during OAQDA’s meeting held June 8, 2021. Financial assistance for the plan will be given under the state’s Solar Generation Fund, previously named the Nuclear and Renewable Generation Program.

Vinton Solar Energy LLC is a 125-megawatt solar project that is owned by a privately held, global developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions named Invenergy. The facility in Vinton County is expected to cover approximately 2,000 acres.

The approval came after the passing of House Bill 128, which extended the deadline for application to the program until March 1, 2020 helping the facilities remain eligible for assistance until the program’s completion in 2027.

Solar energy credits of nine dollars per megawatt hour are available to the facilities approved by OAQDA as long as they report the information back. OAQDA is tasked with overseeing the labeling and tagging process on top of each facility’s quarterly generation reporting.

The total amount of annual funds for the program is $20 million. This will be split between five solar projects across the state including Highland Solar out of Highland County, Hillcrest Solar of Brown County, and Willowbrook Solar I LLC in both Highland and Brown counties.

State representatives Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Jay Edwards (Nelsonville) both expressed their support following the facility’s approval.

“I’m proud to welcome Vinton Solar Energy LLC to Vinton County,” said Edwards. “I would like to thank the OAQDA for giving the people of Vinton County the opportunity to be a part of the growing renewable energy industry in Ohio.”

The Vinton County Health Department also suspended its daily COVID-19 updates due to the low number of cases in the county in June, opting instead to post weekly updates.

The statewide case average at the time dropped to 39.1 cases per 100,000 Ohioans according to data shared by DeWine on June 10. The total number of cases across the state since the pandemic began currently stood at 1,107,521.

At the time, in Vinton County, 4,000 (30.57%) of Vinton County’s population had received a first dose of vaccine. A total of 3,766 had been fully immunized.

The health department on June 14 reported one active case in the county, with 764 confirmed cases in total and 97 probable cases.

July

Sixteen girls and four young women competed for the titles of Little Miss Vinton County and Miss Vinton County at the Vinton County High School Athletic Boosters Fourth of July Celebration held at the VCHS cafeteria on July 3, 2021.

The title of Miss Vinton County was won by Courtney King with Tomi Sue Schweikert continuing her reign as First Attendant and Alexis Hollingshead becoming the new Second Attendant. For Little Miss Vinton County, Mia Johnson was crowned alongside her First Attendant Vivian Timmons and Second Attendant Drew Leach.

Each of the six winners received a trophy, crown, sash, and flowers. Winners of Miss Vinton County also received scholarship funds to help them with future academic endeavors.

Besides court positions, awards were given to the People’s Choice and chosen by way of audience votes. Zavan Grace won this honor for Little Miss and Madyson Zimmerman won in the Miss Vinton County competition.

Further awards were available to Miss Vinton County contestants. Queen Courtney King, on top of her overall win, was honored with awards for Best Evening Gown, Show Stopper Award for best talent, Outstanding Interview Award, and Miss Congeniality which was voted on by the contestants themselves. The Most Creative Parade Sign award went to Alexis Hollingshead.

Later that month, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) confirmed on July 12 that it had been investigating a June waste spill in Raccoon Creek originating from a treatment site owned by a sanitation company in Vinton County, adding that a cleanup process is still ongoing.

On June 8, following a complaint filed two days earlier indicating the possibility of the presence of sewage in Raccoon Creek, representatives from the Ohio EPA conducted a site visit to a land application field — areas used for the treatment or disposal of waste — owned by A2Z Sanitation near State Route 328.

The OEPA contacted Todd Zuspan, owner of A2Z Sanitation, who told agents that his crews had applied over 100,000 gallons of waste to its permitted land application fields around June 1, adding that heavy rainfall affected the site, flushing waste from the land application fields off the property and into Raccoon Creek.

However, the OEPA observed “extremely heavy” bacterial growth at the bridge crossing on State Route 328 near Mitchell Hollow Road, indicating that the release of waste into the creek may have been occurring for “at least three to four weeks, if not longer.”

Additionally, “residual staining” found on the banks of a roadside ditch that was higher than the level of grease found in the ditch at the time of inspection indicated that the discharge of material into the creek was “likely not a one time event,” according to the OEPA.

Following its investigation, the OEPA found A2Z Sanitation in violation of 13 different Ohio environmental laws, regulations and conditions of their land application permit with the OEPA. Thousands of gallons of grease and septage entered Raccoon Creek, according to James Lee, a media relations manager for OEPA.

When contacted about the spill by The Courier over the phone, Zuspan refused to comment at the time, later providing a written statement via email.

“My company considers itself a good neighbor to all the people that live in our community, and I have always complied with all the rules and regulations that the EPA requires to make sure that local citizens, and our environment, remain safe,” Zuspan wrote.

A2Z Sanitation has 50-acres of land in which it is permitted to apply waste to, but, according to a notice of violation from the OEPA, the sanitation company accepted “roughly twice the amount of liquid waste” allowed to be land applied.

One resident who lives next to the creek, who wished to remain anonymous, said “As far as I know, behind my house, nothing is alive right now.”

In a written statement, Zuspan said that he was contacted by the OEPA following a severe rainstorm over concerns that the rain runoff caused by the storm could pose a threat to the environment.

“Because I live here and work here and want to stay here to raise my family, I am firmly committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure that any environmental impact is minimal and, if mitigation and cleanup requirements are suggested, that I will complete those to the best of my ability,” he wrote.

“Finally, I am deeply saddened that a few of my neighboring community members would misstate the scale of this issue and try to use the same as an opportunity to hurt my name and business. They are trying to needlessly scare local citizens for their own benefit. I will, as I always have, continue to cooperate with all governmental agencies and do as required to make sure all of us have a clean and safe environment in which to live, work and play.”

A2Z Sanitation had until July 31 to provide the OEPA documentation with any steps it has taken or will take to resolve violations.

August

In August, The Courier received a letter to the editor from Bill Beckley, committee chair of the Vinton County Wild turkey Festival, clarifying who was crowned Little Miss of the Wild Turkey Festival. The letter read:

“For years the Wild Turkey Festival has held a competition for elementary-aged children to be crowned Little Miss Gobblerette and Little Mister Gobbler. This competition is won by the child who raises the most money and donates it to the committee by an announced deadline.

“In 2021, a lapse in judgement by a member of the committee resulted in money being accepted after the deadline, causing the wrong child to be crowned Little Miss Gobbler. According to the member, the parent of the child who ultimately received the title attempted to turn in the money as cash while the member was at home. Not wanting to be responsible for holding a large quantity of cash, the member instructed the parent to purchase a money order or cashier’s check and turn it in later. It was not turned in until the festival began, which was well after the deadline. Despite being advised that it would be wrong to accept the late payment, the member accepted it anyway.

“The family of the child who was denied the recognition and the crown discovered what had occurred and demanded an equitable resolution. Upon hearing of the situation, the committee agreed that an injustice had occurred. After discussion and negotiation, a solution was reached to award the aggrieved party the new title of Little Miss Wild Turkey Festival, with requisite crown, sash and other such benefits that go with similar positions, including representing the festival at local events, given that expenses associated with attendance and travel to events would not be reimbursed by the committee.

“So again, we announce: Addilyn Rose was named the 2021 Little Miss Wild Turkey Festival by festival organizers. Addilyn is the 5-year old daughter of Kayla and Curtis Rose. She will be representing the festival at regional fairs and festival along with 2021 Wild Turkey Festival Queen Lily Jayjohn, First Attendant Mika McFadden, and Second Attendant Lydia Nichols. The festival earlier recognized Grayson Albright as Little Miss Gobblerette and Zander Ierum as Little Mister Gobbler.”

September

Updating its policies, Vinton County Local Schools made masking mandatory for students and staff in all buildings, beginning on Sept. 2 after reviewing COVID-19 data.

“This change is necessary in order to reduce quarantines and keep our doors open for learning,” Superintendent Rick Brooks said in a press release. “We want your child(ren) to receive high quality, in-person instruction in the safest environment possible.”

Children wearing a mask at the time they were exposed to the virus will not need to be quarantined, according to the press release.

The Vinton County Health Department confirmed to The Courier that at least one case of student to student transmission in a classroom had likely occurred.

Later in September, Midnight at Moonville, a Halloween themed event at the Moonville Rail Trail in Vinton County, was canceled following a surge of COVID-19 cases in the county.

“After consulting with the local health department and reviewing what other events in the state are doing, the organizers of the Midnight at Moonville festival have decided to cancel this year’s event in the interest of public safety,” said an organizer in a Facebook post on the Midnight at Moonville page.

“Festival organizers did not want the hassle of dealing with problems associated with requiring proof of vaccination, proof of negative tests, or the use of masks, so a unanimous decision was made to cancel the 2021 event entirely.”

The event was canceled in 2020 too for similar health concerns, according to previous reporting by The Courier.

October

A former fiscal officer for Vinton Township pleaded not guilty on Oct. 18 to charges related to the theft of over $287,000 from the township after he was arraigned following an investigation by the state auditor that alleged the money was used by the fiscal officer for his own benefit.

Investigators found that between Jan. 2016 and July 2020, former fiscal officer CY, who had legally changed his name from Cyril Vierstra in 2017, had allegedly used Vinton Township debit and credit cards and issued checks on the township’s bank account for expenditures for his own personal benefit. These included renovations to his home as well as to Union Ridge Wildlife Center, a non-profit wildlife refuge owned by CY, a press release said.

Investigators also uncovered evidence that CY allegedly forged and created false records — “including invoices, billing slips and other purchase and payment documents,” — and also falsified township trustee minutes, “in an effort to disguise the true nature and purpose of various personal expenditures,” a press release said.

CY was indicted on 13 counts, which include engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft in office, telecommunications fraud, theft, dereliction of duty and eight counts of tampering with records. He awaits pretrial in the Vinton County Court of Common Pleas.

November

Vinton County Probate Judge Robert Grillo approved the creation of the Vinton County Park District during a hearing Nov. 12. Motions were officially filed on Nov. 15.

The park district was first proposed by Vinton County Marketing Director Caleb Appleman on behalf of the Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau at a county commissioners’ meeting in September. The commissioners then passed Resolution 9-28-21, which served as application to the probate judge to consider a hearing for its creation.

Appleman presented evidence to support that a park district would be to the benefit of the county, and provided plans, concept artwork and letters of support from local organizations. He is also developing a strategic plan that will identify areas of the county where parks would be ideally located to promote economic growth.

The park district will be used as a tool for economic development, capturing some of the more than four million visitors who visit Hocking Hills State Park every year.

December

The Vinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) purchased the historic Hotel McArthur building after owner Kathryn Matteson accepted the organization’s $275,000 offer on Dec. 17.

The CVB is planning a $2.5 million renovation to remove the more modern additions — mainly remodeling efforts from the 1970s through the 1990s — and to restore the hotel to look as it would have in its heyday years of 1840 through 1940.

The plan for utilizing the building space includes relocating the Vinton County Visitor Center into the main lobby, where guests will check in and can purchase souvenirs from the gift shop.

The building currently has 16 guest rooms, but the floor plan will have to be adjusted to include full bathrooms in each room. Rooms will be themed and named for local historic sites and persons.

The CVB also hopes to market the hotel’s paranormal aspects, connecting it to other supposedly haunted locations like Hope Furnace and Moonville Tunnel.

“I see the restoration of Hotel McArthur being a catalyst for downtown revitalization,” Appleman said. “Already, we’ve been approached by some local businesses that are looking forward to the new customers such an attraction will bring into Vinton County and are coming up with creative ways to partner and cross promote. They’re supportive and excited.”

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