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Unicoi County Commission stops short on bike way grant

Sue Guinn Legg • Oct 22, 2018 at 10:23 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission on Monday backpedaled on a commitment to pursue a state transportation planning grant that would be awarded jointly to the county and the towns of Erwin and Unicoi for a less-than-1-mile bike trail between the two towns.

Presented with resolution to accept an $89,000 transportation planning grant for a safety study for the proposed bikeway along Zane Whitson Drive to Exit 34, several commissioners balked at the $2,999 required of the three governments.

Commissioner Glenn White made an initial motion to accept the grant but later amended the motion based on concerns expressed by Commission Chairman Loren Thomas and Commissioners Todd Wilcox and Jamie Harris.

Wilcox said he was not opposed to the trail, but was not willing to commit the matching dollars for the study and for subsequent steps of the project until infrastructure problems led by the need for a more dependable ambulance service are resolved.

Harris agreed, and Thomas said “$89,000 is a lot of a money for a study,” and even though it is grant funded, “it is still taxpayer money.”

Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said the county had already expressed interest in investing in the trail or the grant would not have been awarded.

He said the town of Erwin has already approved a similar resolution and asked the commission for time to ask if the towns would be willing to fund the entire safety study grant match.

Evely also noted the bike trail is separate from a proposed walking trail to connect Erwin’s Linear Trail to the Pinnacle Trail in Unicoi, for which grant funding has been awarded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

He said the bike trail route is already used by a number of riders in that area and is “not very safe.” County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes said the right away along the route was 75 feet.

White amended his motion to allow time for Evely to negotiate with the towns and Commissioner John Mosley seconded the motion. The motion was approved by a vote of six to two with Wilcox and Thomas opposed and Commissioner Matt Rice absent.

Harris said if the bike trail comes back before the commission, the county may be in better shape to provide matching funds for future steps of the project.

In other business, the commission unanimously approved a $51,200 allocation for the purchase of two new Ford Explorers for the Sheriff’s Department, contingent on the anticipated awarded of $25,000 in FDA Rural Development grant funding for the vehicles.

Eveley told the commission the purchase will bring the number of new vehicles purchased for the sheriff’s department in the past 18 months years to six.

Commissioner Marie Rice said the sheriff should provide the commission with a list of all of the department’s patrol vehicles and the officers they are assigned to. Commissioner Jason Harris said he would like to have a list of all sheriff’s department vehicles, including those used by corrections officers. Thomas said Wilcox will be meeting with the sheriff on those issues.

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