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Unicoi board moves forward on food growing initiatives, flood mitigation study

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Apr 16, 2019 at 10:04 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday committed two tracts of property near the town’s Tourist Information & Visitors Center to a state food growing initiative designed to improve local access and consumption of healthy foods.

By unanimous vote, the board approved the designation of sloping land east of the visitors center to a “food forest” project funded and coordinated by the state in partnership with the University of Tennessee Municipal Technical Assistance Service. A second tract of land near the nearby Mountain Harvest Kitchen was designated for six raised garden beds to be cultivated in partnership with community organizations.

The projects will be funded by the state without any financial investment from the town. The town committed the land for up to 10 years with the stipulation the agreement will be nullified if the project partners fail to take proper care of the property.

Mountain Harvest Kitchen Executive Director Lee Chase will serve as the town’s representative on a governing board that will oversee the project. Chase said possible community partners may include a local Girl Scout troop and the Agriculture Department at Unicoi County High School.

The board also voted Monday to move forward with an exploration of flood mitigation options for low lying areas in several areas of the town.

After a lengthy discussion of several areas of town prone to flooding during heavy rain and various forms of assistance available, the board voted unanimously to follow through on a Tennessee Department of Transportation survey of the town’s primary flooding issues and on a recent FEMA assessment that may qualify the town for financial assistance.

Areas tagged for evaluation include Howard Gouge Road at Whistle Stop Deli, Massachusetts Avenue, Spring Valley and others.

Also at Monday’s meeting, former alderman Roger Cooper resigned and Alderman Kathy Bullen was appointed to fill his spot as the town’s representative on the Unicoi County Animal Control Board.

Mayor Johnny Lynch and Alderman Jeff Linville requested the switch to provide the town with greater insight into the board’s work and stewardship of approximately $43,000 in Unicoi funds allocated for the operation county animal shelter and animal control staff.

Alderman Doug Hopson countered he had seen no problems at the shelter and felt the control board was doing a good job.

Lynch argued the control board’s “numbers are out of line,” with an average of more than $600 being spent on every animal sheltered in Unicoi County compared to the less than $300 in the next highest Tennessee County.

The board approved Bullen’s appointment by a 4-0 vote, with Hopson abstaining and several of the board members thanking Cooper for his service.

The board also conducted a public hearing on a resolution to remove the mandatory 300-foot site distance between schools and churches and establishments selling beer for off-premises consumption in lieu of licenses issued by the board on a case-to-case basis.

In February, the board approved the resolution on first reading by a vote of 3-2, with aldermen Wanda Radford and Linville opposed. In March, the board tabled a second reading vote in lieu of a public hearing after Radford and Linville said several town residents had thanked them for their no votes.

Each of the four citizens who spoke at Monday’s public hearing were opposed to the measure, citing the need to keep alcohol sales at a distance from children. The board did not vote on the issue on Monday.

Finally, Director of Schools John English presented the board with a request for the town to commit its current $175,000 annual debt service payment on the county high school to capital improvements when the high school debt is paid off in 2021.

English said the school system has already committed its current $330,000 debt service on the high school to between $7 and $8.5 million in improvements, including the renovation of Gentry Stadium and construction of a new gym at Unicoi Elementary School.

English said the school system’s commitment will cover about $5 million of expense over the term a new capital outlay note and the system is beginning conversations now to fund the remaining cost.

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