Covered Bridge Festival another casualty of COVID-19

John Thompson • Updated Apr 9, 2020 at 9:46 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be felt by the city government of Elizabethton, as another remote electronic meeting of the City Council was held Thursday and it appears that the annual Covered Bridge Celebration will not be held, at least in its usual format.

All council members were present for the meeting, although most were participating by computer from home rather than physically present at City Hall. It was the same for the city’s department heads.

Although it was not an agenda item, the council asked Mike Mains, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, about the plans for the Covered Bridge Celebration. Mains answered that his staff was working hard to bring an outstanding event to the city. He said there is concern over how the virus might still be impacting gatherings at the time the event is scheduled in early June. Mains said there is “great concern.”

Mayor Curt Alexander said the first problem the staff faced was how late it had to start on organizing the event. This is the first year the Parks and Recreation Department has been in charge of the event. For more than 50 years, it has been organized and led by the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber announced it would be discontinuing its leadership of the festival and a couple of other community events in order to provide more focus on its membership of the chamber and its needs.

The Parks and Recreation Department picked up the leadership position only a few months before the event was scheduled to take place.

“The Parks and Recreation Department has done an outstanding job of putting everything together,” Alexander said, but the pandemic has made the task even more difficult for a group on its first run at leading the biggest annual festival in the city.

“We have been handed something that is totally out of our control,” Councilman Richard Barker said.

Councilman Jeff Treadway said the pandemic caused problems in other areas of organizing the event as well, such as getting vendors to commit to coming. He said there is still uncertainty.

Although the council did not take any action, it appeared to have a consensus that the festival should not be held as scheduled this year. Treadway said the weekly Covered Bridge concerts are still taking place and perhaps one of those events might take on some Covered Bridge Festival themes.

Another unusual impact that COVID-19 could have on the city is to make possible the delivery of beer to residences. The measure is to help restaurants and beer stores suffering from the decline in business as a result of the pandemic. The measure would allow businesses that already have a beer license from the city to deliver sealed containers of the product to customers inside the city. The special allowance for delivering beer to customers would be for only 30 days, but could be extended to a sunset deadline of June 30. The measure passed on first reading on Thursday, but will require a second reading before it becomes a temporary ordinance.

The council approved an agreement between the city and Whaley Construction to build a replacement bridge on Southside Road near the intersection with Gap Creek Road. The bid price was $432,842.35. The funds are provided by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The bridge it is replacing was closed by TDOT because of deterioration and corrosion. The construction company will have 120 days to complete the project once final signatures at TDOT are affixed to the contract.

The council denied a request by the Elizabethton Church of Christ for the Elizabethton Police Department to provide an off-duty officer to provide security during Sunday morning and Wednesday evening meetings under the special duty police services. In a narrow 4-3 vote council members argued that the police department did not have enough off-duty officers to meet demand from other churches if it was granted to one church.

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