Unicoi board opposes Johnson City plan for wetlands mitigation at Buffalo Valley

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Nov 19, 2018 at 9:38 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday narrowly passed a resolution opposing the city of Johnson City’s proposal to restore about 25 linear acres of natural wetlands on the former Buffalo Valley Golf course property.

Passage of the resolution on a 3-to-2-vote followed Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson’s explanation to the board that the proposed stream mitigation is intended to recoup the city’s initial $3 million investment in the 127-acre golf course by trading creating a bank of wetland credits that can be sold to developers of other wetland areas for between $2 million and $4 million.

Beyond the wetlands restoration, Peterson said the city has no plans for the remaining 100 acres of the property and would be open to negotiating uses including an athletic complex, subdivided real estate sales for home construction and other uses in keeping with the regional economic development focus on tourism.

Peterson told the board he recently met with the Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Eveley and Tyler Engle, executive director of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, to discuss their shared desire for the city to use the remaining property for what is best for the region.

Alderwoman Kathy Bullen made the motion oppose the proposal, saying it would diminish the property values of Buffalo Valley homeowners as well as county property tax revenues.

Alderman Jeff Linville, who seconded the motion, said everything he had heard about the proposal was negative and asked Peterson for assurances of the city’s intent. Linville also asked Peterson if the city had considered donating one of three structures on the property for use as a Unicoi Fire Department substation. Peterson said the city would be willing to discuss the donation.

The resolution of opposition to the wetlands was approved with Bullen and Aldermen Doug Hopson and Wanda Radford voting in favor and Linville and Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch opposed.

The Unicoi County Commission is scheduled to consider a similar resolution in opposition to Johnson City’s plan on Monday.

Peterson said a public comment period on the proposal will remain open through the end of the November, after which the Army Corps of Engineers may take another 30 to 60 days to approve or deny the proposal.

In other business on Monday, the board voted to enter a new part-time employment agreement that will allow Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis to take part in the town’s state retirement plan.

The agreement will be retroactive to the Jan. 1, 2018, and will cost the town approximately $7,300 in federal payroll deductions for the current income tax year.

The agreement was approved by a vote of 4 to 1 with Bullen opposed.

Hopson said the agreement will put an end to months of debate over something the town thought it had taken care of four years ago.

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