By Jonathan Pleasant
Discussion of the ongoing Goose Creek Trail Project in Mountain City once again topped the list at the monthly City Council meeting last Tuesday. Having held a workshop in January to discuss the towns options and next steps, Ken Rea with the First Tennessee Development District made a presentation to the board identifying three possible courses of action.
Having received the grant money several years ago, the town has already invested substantial funds in engineering fees and preliminary work to identify the trails route and specifications and is now seeking easements to access the corridor and begin construction. Contact was made with all of landowners involved along the route, which runs from Ralph Stout Park and follows alongside Goose Creek all the way to the Johnson County/Mountain City Welcome Center. Interest in the trail, especially by several commercial businesses along the way, has been limited, leading the city to look at all possibilities.
According to Rea, within the time limits set by TDOT, who facilitated the grant, the city can choose one of three solutions. First and foremost the city can try once again to proceed with acquiring easements from the property owners and keep the original scope of the project. If that fails, the trail could be completed up to approximately the half way mark and there end in a smaller parking area. Finally the trail could move from that point into the TDOT right of way alongside Highway 421, which would necessitate the construction of a pedestrian bridge near the Welcome Center. Consequently, the trail along the highway would be reduced to 6 feet wide.
Acknowledging that the trail would be far more scenic and user friendly along the creek, city officials still came very close to moving forward with the third option. Alderman Bob Morrison in particular pointed out that the Goose Creek Trail will serve as a main connector between other ongoing projects in the county, including a potential connection with the Laurel Creek Trail, and by consequence the Virginia Creeper, at Ralph Stout Park as well as Doe Mountain at the Welcome Center. Further there are other plans in the future to see an extension out to Red Tail Mountain Golf Course.
Added to the fact that these connections could see a huge growth of economic activity due to increased tourism is the money that the city has already put into the project and the potential impact that failing to use the grant money could have on future grant applications. As a result the board generally sees the trail as a necessity, but there were also concerns about problems that could arise from using TDOTs right of way.
Vice Mayor Bud Crosswhite pointed out that businesses like Elizabethton Federal, Farm Bureau, and Norms TV already have limited parking and although the extra six for the trail would be solely on state right of way, asked the board to consider talking with property owners one more time to try and get the trail back on its original course. Mayor Lawrence Keeble agreed that it would good idea to speak with the owners about the upcoming decision, especially since the land adjoining the creek is behind the businesses proper and cannot be used for development anyway because of flood regulations.
With a tight deadline on beginning the project, Keeble went on to say that he would try to have a reply by the next meeting so that the board can make their decision. Having supposed to have been completed back in 2012, the board has already received one extension from TDOT and must begin work by next year or risk losing the money altogether.
The council also spent considerable time and some disagreement discussing the renaming of the short street in front of the Johnson County Election Office. Dubbed Election Avenue back in 2005, the office has been using this address on all of their correspondence and official documents. 911 Director Jerry Jordan discovered several months ago that the building is actually listed as being on Joe Barlow Way, despite the fact that it does not front this street. Consequently Elections Administrator Mike Long came before the board to try and have the Election Avenue address officially recognized, but the issue was sent on to the City Planning Commission.
It was revealed at this months meeting that the commission, under the recommendation of City Planner Ronda Sawyer, denied the request based on the fact that the street would not be brought up to city standards. As a result there was some division on the City Council between those who supported helping out the Election Commission and those who sided with the Planning Commission. Alderman Bob Morrison made the suggestion to simply take no official action at all, and allow the 911 to recognize the address although the city does not. Meeting the concerns of both sides, it was conceded that this would take care of the whole issue and therefore did not come to a vote.
Other major concerns looked at included a policy change concerning hiring practices for the city police force. Citing the costs of training new employees, Chief Denver Church addressed the board with a request to re-adopt an older policy requiring new employees sign a two-year contract, with the consequences that they pay for the training received if they leave before that period. Acknowledging that this was once the general practice of the city, the council didnt seem to have any major problems with the change and unanimously passed a motion made by Alderman Jerry Jordan.
Church also sought the approval of Thomas Brown as the citys newest patrolman as well as authority to re-advertise for a second patrolman position. Both of these requests were approved without issue. Concerning law enforcement and fire protection, Alderman Jordan also pointed out an ongoing issue with city streets that dead end within the county. Indicating that there are approximately 20 such sites, Jordan discussed what, if anything, the city fire department or police force can do in these areas considering they are isolated but outside of the city limits. Explaining that often city emergency services can reach these areas before the county, both Jordan and Mayor Keeble seemed interested in the possibility of trying to develop an inter local agreement to help provide the essential services in the event of an emergency. With the rest of the council in agreement, Keeble went on to indicate that he would look into the issue farther and report back with his findings.
Other updates included an announcement by Flo Bellamy with the Johnson County/Mountain City Community Center that an additional $10,000 had been awarded from the states LEAPS grant and would likely go to improving technology at the center. The Fire Departments Chris Piece provided new information about an ongoing radio communications project for the city police, stating that repeater equipment had been returned to the city and installation at the new location would begin as soon as weather permits.
Other action included the approval of several smaller budget amendments and information from City Recorder Sheila Shaw that the police department had secured their annual Governors Safety Grant, although the process was somewhat late this year. Having tackled all the items on the agenda and with nothing further from the audience, Alderman Morrison made the motion to adjourn.
By Jonathan Pleasant