An agreement between Johnson City and Boone Watershed Partnership to pursue the first phase of the Sinking Creek Wetlands Project received a thumbs-up Thursday from commissioners after a safety report on the 28-acre environmental education park off King Springs Road revealed no need for heightened concern or expenditures.
Police Chief Mark Sirois told commissioners that Maj. Garry Younger headed the study, which included not only the proposed project area, but also similar parks in three Tennessee cities.
“Based on the proposed layout an officer would be needed to patrol the boardwalk, and we would still need to look into what the hours would be, and lighting,” Sirois said. “We talked with police chiefs and crime analysts in three other cities and found there were only minor issues and minimal cause for police presence. One wetlands in Murfreesboro is tied into a greenway, and we learned that crime there is virtually non-existent.”
After hearing the report, commissioners agreed to move forward on remediation, or cleanup, of the wetlands and to review plans in the near future regarding the construction of a boardwalk, parking area and other items at the park.
“I’m comfortable with the chief’s report and the fact this isn’t coming out of the city’s coffers,” Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin said.
On April 4, commissioners gave Boone Watershed Partnership the go-ahead to prepare the wetlands but asked Sirois to evaluate safety risks at the site.
The commission’s approval set in motion a $103,805 grant from the Department of Agriculture for the first phase — minus the frills, for now. This means the city will be spending about half the $41,500 of in-kind expenses required by the grant. It also means engineers will have more time to acquire permits from the Tennessee Department of Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA is in the picture because the land is in a flood plain.
One stickler was that the TDA requires the Partnership to complete the first phase by Sept. 23, and there were doubts whether everything could come together by that time. Sirois’ report helped.
The estimated cost to complete the entire project is about $381,000.
Bill Francisco has been waiting to see this project come to fruition for years. Jacob Francisco, one of Bill’s two sons, was 6 years old when he was contaminated with an E. coli bacteria from an unknown source. His condition worsened, and he eventually died on June 29, 2004.
It is possible that E. coli from the creek was responsible for Jacob’s death. In an effort to do something in memory of his son, he connected with Gary Tysinger, of Johnson City’s Tysinger Hampton & Partners, who created the proposed design for the park at the Sinking Creek wetlands, which, in turn, will act in tandem as an expansion of the Sinking Creek Restoration Project.
In 2008, TDA awarded Boone Watershed Partnership a $300,000 grant, of which the city matched 40 percent, to address pollution in the creek. The $103,805 is what remains from that grant, and Gary Barrigar, Boone Watershed Partnership president, said money from this amount will be used to come up with the design for the rest of the park.
Barrigar said the group has about $10,000 in hand to put toward this first phase. He also wrote a second grant in the amount of $225,000 that has been submitted to the state for money that will be used to extend the boardwalk and bolster the educational elements.
Meanwhile, commissioners unanimously agreed to adopt a set of bylaws for the fledgling rails-to-trails task force that will guide a five- to 15-member task force in its quest to fund and construct what is commonly known as the “Tweetsie Trail.”
Last month, eight members were approved, and more are expected to join on, including Elizabethton representatives. The estimated cost for the entire 10-mile trail is $5.2 million.
“It’s broad enough to allow the task force to operate,” Mayor Jeff Banyas said. “They are basically guidelines, and they can be amended. I would think initially we will have to have quite a few meetings. Of course once the trail is under way, we could meet quarterly.”
Members will receive no compensation. Johnson City’s mayor, vice mayor and city manager will serve terms concurrent with their offices. All others will serve 3-year terms. The task force’s basic priority is to solicit and identify public and private funding opportunities.
Commissioners also unanimously approved on first reading an ordinance to rezone about 2.5 acres at 2412 Knob Creek Road from MS-1 (medical services) to R-4 (medium density residential). The petitioner is Mitch Cox and Dominion Development Group. Cox wants to build a 40,000-square foot, 60-unit assisted living facility on the site, which adjoins the Towne Acres neighborhood.