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State lawmaker pushing drug recovery and vocational programs

This summer finds one local lawmaker working on initiatives to expand Tennessee’s alternatives to prison incarceration, as well as programs to expand vocational education opportunities in the state.

State Rep. Tim Hicks, R-Gray, said he is working with local judges to transform the Northeast Correctional Complex Annex at Roan Mountain into a substance abuse rehabilitation center. Hicks said the prison work annex is set to close, and judges in the area hope the facility can be used for a 60-day drug and alcohol recovery program that could serve as an alternative to jail time.

“The program could be tied to existing recovery courts,” Hicks said last week.

The idea is part of an effort by judges to offer more recovery alternatives to incarceration and provide defendants with more “sober living” facilities, Hicks said.

Seeking More Alternatives

The lawmaker said such options are key to criminal justice reforms that he and other members of the state General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee are championing.

“We need to do more to help people struggling with substance abuse in Northeast Tennessee,” Hicks said.

He said more programs are needed like the Day Reporting Center in Johnson City to help Tennesseans address recovery issues. He said 50 people are now involved in the 18-month recovery program that is one of the first of its kind in Tennessee.

The freshman legislator said state residents will likely be “hearing more about this successful program” in the future.

Expanding Vocational Education

Hicks is also spending his summer working with state and local leaders to transform the old Boones Creek Elementary School into a satellite campus for the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Elizabethton.

Officials have been working to make the TCAT-Boones Creek campus a regional dual enrollment center where area high school students would have access to a variety of new vocational education programs. The campus would also allow the state to expand the TCAT curriculum already offered in Elizabethton.

Local officials hope the new Boones Creek campus and a similar program in Kingsport will address a critical backlog in instructional programs for welding, heavy equipment operation and diesel repair.

A Middle College Plan

The Boones Creek TCAT campus would operate on the technical middle college concept, which would allow students to earn their required high school credits during their freshman and sophomore years.

Next, they would attend the technical middle college program in their junior and senior years to obtain a trade certification.

“We’ll need to pass some legislation to make this work, but this is going to be big for our area,” Hicks said.

More Scholarship Options

The state lawmaker said waivers will have to be approved to amend existing high school credits required for graduation. Hicks said there will also be need of legislation to allow high school students to qualify for state funds under the Hope and Promise scholarship programs to take additional TCAT classes in their junior and senior years.

Currently, such state scholarship money is only available to students who have graduated high school.

“Only 27% of students are graduating from a community college in Tennessee,” Hicks said. “Meanwhile, 86% are graduating from a TCAT program. It’s easy to see where we should be concentrating our efforts.”

WATCH: Cicada leave trail of dead branches behind

If the 2021 Brood X cicada birthing passed and you missed seeing any of the 17-year sleepers, it’s not hard to pinpoint where they have been.

Just because the cicadas aren’t visible — or audible — any longer, doesn’t mean their potential tens of thousands of eggs aren’t still here. Just look at trees throughout the region and there’s a tell-tale sign — dead leaves on the end of tree branches, according to Dr. Thomas Jones, a biological sciences professor at East Tennessee State University.

It’s called flagging. Female cicadas make tiny slits in the ends of tree branches, deposit their rice-shaped eggs there and then die.

The eggs begin to feed on the tree branch tip, which in turn dies and drops like a flag. Eventually, the newly hatched eggs drop to the ground if the branch tip falls.

The tiny cicadas burrow into the ground and feed on shallow roots of things like grass, and as they grow they dig deeper into the ground where they remain for 17 years until the next hatching season.

But if you thought your trees were dying, rest easy because it’s a temporary thing until cicada eggs make their way into the ground.

“That particular branch tip will die … they’re taking the energy away from the leaves and it does end up killing the branch tips,” Jones said.

He said damage to trees is minimal, especially since trees are subjected to all types of harsh weather.

“The tree is not dying. It’s just those brown tips. It’s not affecting the tree with any diseases. They have been living with cicadas for millions of years, so they can cope with it.”

Jones — probably like most biologists — gets a bit of excitement in his voice as he talks about the process. He said the cicada life cycle is an amazing part of nature.

“The fact that they remain underground in their juvenile stage for 17 years and then emerge en masse as adults is an amazing strategy and it seems to have evolved multiple times.”

The event is also a “bonanza” for all types of wildlife, as they will get their fill of cicadas.

“It’s a great year for wildlife, which in terms of their populations, having that pulse of energy is really good.

“We can be very confident that if I take really good care of myself and I’m still here in 2038 — and I’m looking forward to it — they will be back.”

Body of Thomas Hastings found by Carter County Rescue Squad

ROAN MOUNTAIN — The body of a 65-year-old man missing since July 1 was found and recovered from Roan Mountain on Saturday morning.

Members of the Carter County Rescue Squad found Thomas Hastings’ body at around 9:45 a.m., according to the Carter County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators from the sheriff’s department were notified and took over the scene of the death.

The sheriff’s department said it was notified of Hastings’ disappearance on the evening of July 3, and that the search for him began that night.

Hastings’ family organized two of its own searches, on Tuesday and Saturday. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a Silver Alert about Hastings on Thursday

The body was sent to the Quillen College of Medicine’s Forensic Center. At this point investigators believe the death was accidental, but will await official autopsy results.