Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Court hears expansion foes

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — A group opposing expansion of the jail urged Kenton Fiscal Court on Tuesday to reject that option, saying the county's economic gain over 20 years could be as much as $65 million if it relocates the jail.

        “The report presented this evening has presented millions of reasons to remove 303 Court Street from consideration,” said Licking-Riverside resident Steve Casper of the Citizens Economic Impact Committee. The group includes about 200 Covington residents and business owners who oppose expansion of the county jail.

        Mr. Casper asked the fiscal court to vote on July 17 to remove expansion of the jail at 303 Court St. from consideration, as county officials did earlier with a controversial site on the 3L Highway and a regional jail serving Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

        Fiscal Court took no action.

        Besides his group's economic study, Mr. Casper said, the Covington Business Council also supports relocation of the jail “and under no circumstances” would support expansion of the jail near Covington's riverfront.

        The study found that if the jail were converted to condominiums, it could result in Kenton County property taxes of $524,000 over 20 years. During that same period, converting the building to office use was projected to generate $2.4 million.

        Three years ago, Kenton County officials began looking in earnest for a solution to the crowded, inefficient jail.

        Last week, Southbank Partners, an economic development group trying to help the county and the city agree on a site, evaluated the pros and cons of expanding the jail versus building a jail and government center east of Interstate 75 in Covington's Peaselburg neighborhood, but offered no recommendation.

        At a Covington City Commission meeting being held at the same time as the Fiscal Court meeting, the commission passed a measure to ask the fiscal court to reconsider a previously rejected site.

        In response to critics who have criticized the Fiscal Court for failing to act on the jail issue, Kenton Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd noted the issue had been discussed by various county administrations for a decade.

        “We understand the responsibility is ours,” he said. “We are not taking that lightly, no matter what some may think. ... It is a multimillion-dollar decision that will impact this county for 20 years.”

        In a separate move that Erlanger Mayor Marc Otto termed “a major victory” in opponents' fight against Cinergy's proposed peaking station, the fiscal court voted to ask Cinergy to submit a land use plan to the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission to see whether its proposed use of the site is compatible with existing development. Area planners would then hold a public hearing to discuss the plan's details.

        Cinergy Capital and Trading, an affiliate of Cinergy Corp., wants to build a gas-fired peaking station on the Erlanger-Crestview Hills border. It would be used during periods of peak electrical usage between May 1 and Oct. 1.

        Eight Kenton County cities, citing concerns about pollution, oppose the Kentucky Division of Air Quality's recent issuance of an air quality permit for the plant. That decision is being appealed in Frankfort, and a pre-hearing conference has been set for July 17.

        Victor A. “Van” Needham III, manager of regional government affairs for Cinergy Corp., said Tuesday night that he was not in a position to say what his company's response would be to the county's request.

        “We are aware there is some local opposition to what's proposed,” Mr. Needham said. He added that, contrary to claims made by opponents of the peaking station, the utility “does not consider it's broken faith with any pledge it's made.”

        Mr. Murgatroyd used the occasion to rebut recent claims by a Democratic activist that he had failed to oppose the peaking station because of campaign contributions he had accepted from a Cinergy political action committee.

        He added he has discussed the proposed peaking station with various state officials and, before taking a stand on the proposed plant, is awaiting an analysis of the Cinergy permit by the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.

        Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black recused herself from Tuesday's discussion because her husband, Keith, is general manager of state government affairs for Cinergy Corp.


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