Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Grayson County schools

Chefs are working with schools in eight Kentucky counties to increase the use of fresh food from local farmers. The goal is to create healthier and more appealing meals for students. 

The project is called the Chefs in Schools Collaborative.

Grayson County’s six schools have a chef working with food service staff during the month of March.

School district food service director Kristy Hodges says chef Chris Byrd has helped create lower sodium and less processed food with more natural seasonings.  

“In the past we had used a prepackaged mix for our taco seasoning and he’s helped some of the ladies in the schools come up with their own seasoning recipes,” says Hodges. “He’s doing the same thing with the chili recipe. We used to order spaghetti sauce.”

The students are confirming that the healthier recipes are proving the value of the visiting chef.

Cave Country Trails Inc.

Advocates for outdoor recreation in four counties around Mammoth Cave National Park are stepping up efforts to make the region a destination for ecotourism. Cave Country Trails has hired Helen Siewers as project director to guide the planning to link trails in Barren, Edmonson, Hart and Warren counties.

Siewers says there’s already a good foundation for the expanded trail network.  

"Starting with the existing 85 miles of trails that are within Mammoth Cave National Park, the goal is to develop a network of trails that connect to the park,” says Siewers. “Some are already in place, for example, at Nolin River State Park, Barren River Lake State Park, Munfordville, for example, Park City.”

Siewers says Kentucky has a lot going for it as far as ecotourism, starting with good climate much of the year for outdoor activities and all the traffic passing through on Interstate 65.

“A lot of those vehicles are carrying… there might mountain bikes, road bikes, kayaks, canoes," says Siewers. "And we have all the facilities right in this area to draw people to come and explore.”

Rhonda Miller, WKU Public Radio

Donald Trump is adding Kentucky to the list of states in his win column during the 2016 primary season.

Trump won Saturday's presidential caucus in the Bluegrass State with 35.9 percent of vote.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz placed second with 31.6 percent. Trump collected almost 10,000 more votes in Kentucky than Cruz.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio was a distant third, with 16.4 percent, and Ohio Governor John Kasich was fourth, with 14.4 percent.

Both Warren and Daviess counties went for Cruz. He took 34 percent in Warren County, a seven point win over Trump. Cruz took Daviess County by 12 points over Trump. Hardin County Republicans narrowly went for Trump by one percent over Cruz.

Trump won Pulaski County by ten percent.

Long lines formed at caucus sites throughout the state Saturday, as Republicans gathered to choose their presidential pick. An official with the Warren County Republican Party estimated GOP turnout in that county at around 17.5 percent. By comparison, 16.2 percent of Kentucky Republicans participated in the 2012 presidential primary.

Owensboro Community and Technical College

A Daviess County college is trying to address the shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing in Kentucky.  Owensboro Community and Technical College breaks ground on its new $12 million  Industry Innovation Center on March 4. 

The new building will allow welding, electrical, and heating and air conditioning programs to move into state-of-the-art facilities.

College president Scott Williams says those programs will have some unique training that’s in demand for advanced manufacturing.   

“Robotic welding, robotics, we’ve never been able have those programs, because we’ve not had the room to do robotics,” says Williams.

“We now will have in this building a robotics lab. So students will learn how to use the robots for welding, as well as the maintenance of the robots,” he says.

The programs in the skilled trades programs will complement robotics and other training needed for business and industry.

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Kentucky had a slight increase in exports to countries around the world in 2015, compared to the previous year. The Bluegrass State stands out nationally because even though exports increased by less than one percent, most states decreased their exports last year. That’s according to WISERTrade.org, a Massachusetts company that collects international trade data. 

Aerospace products are Kentucky’s number one export, by dollar value.

Jack Mazurak is a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. He says $8.7 billion in aerospace products and parts were exported from a wide range of Kentucky companies.

“Small businesses that are engaged in extruding a plastic part that may be used on one particular plane, all the way up to multinational names, GE Aviation, GE Aircraft Engine Division. Boneal is another big name. Lockheed Martin has a facility here,” says Mazurak.

Motor vehicles were the state’s second most exported product, followed by pharmaceuticals. Exports from Kentucky last year totaled $27.6 billion dollars.

Canada held its place as Kentucky’s main destination for exports last year. America’s northern neighbor bought $7.2 billion in products and services from the Bluegrass State. Rounding out the top five destinations for Kentucky products are the United Kingdom, Mexico, China and France.

Radcliff Veterans Center

The new Radcliff Veterans Center that’s promising to be a national showplace for skilled nursing care is staffing up for its July opening.

Six members of the executive team are already working and the next phase of hiring was launched Feb. 22.

Administrator Israel Ray says five new leadership positions are posted.

“The director of nursing, which is called the nurse executive. And staff development, which will be listed as a registered nurse. The director of dining services. Our activities director and our housekeeping supervisor,” says Ray.

The veterans center is also looking for a medical director.

Construction is progressing at the new center, which is located on 192 park-like acres donated by Fort Knox.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Alon

In response to a national rise in suicide among middle-aged men, the Owensboro Regional Suicide  Prevention Coalition is launching an initiative to get businesses involved in training programs.

“We’ve developed a PowerPoint and a presentation and in the next month or so we’re going to present those to a couple of local business groups,” said Mike Flaherty, president of the coalition.

That presentation is a first step toward encouraging local businesses to develop suicide prevention programs. 

As the field of presidential contenders narrows, the Kentucky Republican Party is gearing up to make sure voters understand how to choose their candidate at next month’s caucus.  

The March 5 event is the first caucus held in the Bluegrass State in more than three decades.

The first requirement is that residents had to be registered to vote as a Republican by Dec. 31, 2015 in order to participate in the caucus.

Executive director of the Republican Party of Kentucky Mike Biagi says then it’s just a matter of finding the county caucus site.

National Corvette Museum

The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is marking the second anniversary of a sinkhole collapse with a new multimedia exhibit. 

 The “Corvette Cave-In” installation opens Feb. 12, two years to the day that a sinkhole opened up beneath the museum and swallowed eight classic cars.

National Corvette Museum Education Coordinator Kellie Steen says one part of the exhibit gives visitors  a chance to experience the region’s karst geography, where limestone creates underground streams, caverns and sinkholes.

The Nature Conservancy

A Spanish energy company is considering a site in Kentucky for a hydroelectric power project. Energy Resources USA has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study a site in Warren County as a possible location for a hydropower plant. 

The location of the project would be at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Green River Lock and Dam No. 5. The application is for a preliminary permit.

“The sole purpose of a preliminary permit, if it’s issued, is to grant the holder of the permit priority over the site that they’re studying,” said Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It does not authorize any type of construction or operation of a project. It solely gives them priority over the site so they can do feasibility studies to determine if they want to develop a project.”

Kentucky is one of several locations being considered by Energy Resources USA. The company has already been issued two preliminary permits for sites on the Mississippi River. One is in Wisconsin and one is in Missouri. Energy Resources USA also has eight additional pending applications in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio. 

Flickr/Creative Commons/ U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Thousands of Kentucky residents have two months to look for work or job training to keep their food stamp benefits.  Anya Weber of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services says food stamp recipients have until April 1 to comply with the new requirements.  

"Able-bodied adults without dependents will need to meet a 20-hour work or training requirement," says Weber. "This is going to affect approximately 17,500 able-bodied adults in eight counties."

Those counties are Bullitt, Daviess, Fayette, Hardin, Henderson, Jefferson, McCracken and Warren.

New federal rules impacting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, went into effect Jan. 1.  Recipients affected by the changes were given a three-month grace period to find work or job training.

Weber said the changes will affect nearly 900 people in Warren County, more than 700 people in Hardin County and more than 600 people in Daviess County.

Owensboro Public Schools

Students in two Owensboro elementary schools now have new ways to cut down on fidgeting and concentrate on their work. That's thanks to new desks. 

Estes Elementary got 10 pedal desks for kindergarten classes. The desks look a little like a tricycle with a desk on top. They allow students to get a little exercise while learning.

Sutton Elementary got 39 standing desks that give students the choice of standing up or sitting on a stool. The desks are similar to what you might see in an art or design studio.

Fourth grade teacher Gina Davis has most of the standing desks in her classroom. 

"The students are definitely more focused and they love using them," says Davis. "Many students choose to stand the whole time. I've never said they have to stand or they have to sit, but they're choosing to do a lot of standing."

She’s been teaching for 20 years and says she’s already seen a difference since the new desks came in a few weeks ago.    

Rhonda J. Miller

The owner of the new Dueling Grounds Distillery in Franklin says he isn’t aiming to be one of the big guys on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.   

Marc Dottore will make smaller batches of bourbon in the craft distillery set to open in April.

"This kind of happened out of doing some Bourbon Trail tours and seeing how it was made at a large scale, and then finding out there was this whole world of smaller people in the 200 to 300 gallon capacity making really good, hand-crafted quality spirits," says Dottore. "I thought that’s something I could aspire to. I like that.”

Dottore says his distillery near I-65 is well-positioned to be part of the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Trail. That route currently includes Corsair Artisan Distillery in Bowling Green, MB Roland Distillery in Christian County, and Wilderness Trail Distillery in Boyle County.

Flickr/Creative Commons/M. Eaves

Thieves are taking advantage of the market demand for rustic and weathered wood that’s popular for furniture and flooring. Barn wood is being  stolen from farms in south central Kentucky.  

Warren County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Stephen Harmon says some of the wood has been stolen from barns in the Hadley and Richardsville areas of the county.

“We’ve had three calls in the last 60 days from farmers who noticed barn wood that’s been stolen from their barns in rural parts of the county. The barn wood is very expensive and that’s what’s drawing them. A lot of home décor items are made from this wood.”

Harmon says so far no arrests have been made.

So what we’re wanting farmers to do, especially if their barn is not on the property on which they live, is to kind of survey their barns, make sure that wood is not stolen. That way we can get a report from anyone that has barn wood that’s stolen, so we can hopefully follow up on leads and make some arrests in relation to these thefts.” 

Harmon says he has heard from other sheriff’s departments that barn wood is also being stolen in nearby counties.

Flickr/creative commons/Jayme Frye

Kentucky poultry farmers are on high alert and taking increased precautions to avoid a strain of bird flu that’s hit poultry in Dubois County, Indiana. The H7N8 strain of bird flu has caused 400,000 turkeys and chickens to be euthanized in the southwestern part of the state.  

Kentucky Poultry Federation Executive Director Jamie Guffey says no cases of this strain of bird flu have been found in commercial operations in Kentucky. 

But Guffey says Kentucky poultry farmers have been told to take steps aimed at avoiding bird flu infections.

“We’ve put all the poultry operations in Kentucky on the highest alert, as far as biosecurity goes. We have basically locked down the farms so that only emergency personnel are allowed, in hopes that we will contain the disease and not allow it to spread.”

Guffey says poultry farmers in Kentucky are following increased biosecurity guidelines.    

“We are using footbaths, changing footwear when we go to a poultry farm, changing clothes. We’re not sharing equipment between poultry farms. We’re basically doing everything we can to prevent the spread of the disease.” 

Guffey says this strain of bird flu was found in a duck harvested by a hunter in Lyon County, Kentucky in the past month. He says that’s why it’s critical for Kentucky poultry farms to take every precaution to prevent the spread of the disease.

Poultry is a $1.2 billion industry in Kentucky.

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