County Commission OKs interlocal agreement for ambulance service

Unicoi County commissioners, pictured from left, Marie Rice, Glenn White and John Mosley review the interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS for ambulance service in the county during the June 14 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A new ambulance service provider will begin serving Unicoi County on July 1.

On Friday, June 14, the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the full Unicoi County Commission to enter into an interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

During the committee meeting, Commissioner Glenn White made a motion to accept the interlocal agreement and to present the agreement to the full county commission. Commissioner John Mosley, who chairs the committee, seconded the motion and the committee voted unanimously to send the interlocal agreement to the full commission.

Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely provided everyone in attendance with a copy of both the working interlocal agreement and the final interlocal agreement to review prior to the final vote later in the evening.

The Unicoi County Commission made it official and agreed to sign an interlocal agreement that would allow Washington County/Johnson City EMS the opportunity to serve as the ambulance provider for Unicoi County. The motion to approve the offer from Washington County/Johnson City EMS was made by Mosley and seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner Stephen Hendrix. The commission voted 9-0 to approve the interlocal agreement.

Evely said Washington County/Johnson City EMS is scheduled to take over the ambulance service beginning July 1.

According to the interlocal agreement, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide and maintain adequate and sufficiently trained staff that possess all required licenses and certifications. Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide two advanced life-support paramedic ambulance units 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In addition, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will provide one staffed basic life support ambulance for 10 hours a day, five days a week. This basic life support ambulance will run Monday through Friday.

Unicoi County will pay a subsidy of $218,677, of which $100,000 would need to be paid upfront to get services started on time.

The subsidy of $218,677 is the cost that Washington County/Johnson City EMS Executive Director Dan Wheeley has projected the county would spend annually if Unicoi County were to start its own service following the expiration of the interlocal agreement. During the May 13, Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting, Wheeley acknowledged that once the county starts the service up, if they decide to, the county could run the service annually to the cost of roughly $218,000.

According to Evely, the subsidy does not include a monthly payment of $1,500 for the lease of three Washington County ambulances and equipment associated with the vehicles.

“We are still exploring the possibility of purchasing the needed ambulances using grant funds,” Evely said.

It was reported during the April 9 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting that there could be funding to purchase the necessary vehicles. During that meeting, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley addressed the committee to discuss the Town of Erwin purchasing ambulances with $500,000 state grant funds.

“The grant could purchase two new ambulances and a possible third ambulance for transport,” Hensley said during the April 9 meeting.

Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice, at the April 9 meeting, acknowledged that Unicoi County still has $440,000 left over from the payment that Unicoi County received when Unicoi County Hospital was sold to Mountain States Health Alliance, which is now Ballad Health.

According to Hensley during the April 9 meeting, there could also be up to $150,000 that can be used from the Hospital Foundation Funds to start an ambulance service. According to Evely, the county is currently looking over all options.

There were a few items that were changed from the working interlocal agreement to the final signed copy. One request Unicoi County had that was removed by Washington County/Johnson City EMS was for Washington County/Johnson City EMS to provide the staff with HazMat Awareness.

Another item that was removed from the marked-up agreement was the request by Unicoi County for the ambulance service to provide ambulance transport service from Unicoi County jail inmates without charge or to charge the inmates personal health care provider. The removed request also called for Unicoi County Coroner transports to occur without billing Unicoi County. According to Evely, Washington County/Johnson City EMS removed the items because they would have been a cost to Washington County and a benefit to Unicoi County. Evely acknowledged that the removal of the requested items was fair.

“It’s would be a wash,” Evely said.

Following the meeting, Mosley expressed excitement about the agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

“I’m just happy that we have a little stability with Washington County,” Mosley said. “They are going to be a great partner and hopefully this will lead us one step closer to being able to start our own service.”

Before the commission adjourned on Friday, Unicoi County Commission Vice Chair Jamie Harris acknowledged that he would like to see a meeting take place between the staff of MedicOne, the county’s previous service provider, and Wheeley.

“These employees need to know what their future is going to look like,” Jamie Harris said.

According to Mosley, there is a closed meeting that will take place Friday, June 21, between Medic One employees and Washington County/Johnson City EMS. It had been previously discussed that Washington County/Johnson City EMS would be interested in discussing open positions with the current MedicOne employees.

“I would like to have a meeting with the MedicOne employees, if you decide to go this route,” Wheeley said during a May 13 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting. “Having a meeting with the staff (MedicOne) is very important.”

While Washington County/Johnson City EMS works on staffing, the Unicoi County Commission will continue to work on a more permanent home for the ambulance service.

“Right now we are staying where we are at on a month-to-month basis, but eventually we hope to work something out to utilize the property on the back side of the old Unicoi County Memorial Hospital,” Mosley said.

Starting July 1, Washington County/Johnson City EMS will be temporarily housed at the old MedicOne location at the corner of Harris Hollow Road and North Main Avenue.

The contract will run from July 1, 2019, until July 1, 2020. According to the document, either party could terminate the contract with a 60-day written notice with or without cause.

Town of Unicoi’s farmers market, yard sale begin

Johnson City residents Glen Moore and Theresa Leonard, right, shop for bargains at the Town of Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale officially kicked off the 2019 season on May 28. The weekly event, which runs every Tuesday from 8 a.m until 1 p.m., is located at the Town of Unicoi Visitor’s Center, 106 Unicoi Village Place.

The Erwin Record visited the Town of Unicoi Farmers Market and Community Yard Sale on June 4 and found several options for one-of-a-kind handmade gifts. Pat Lynch had a table set up with numerous homemade bread loaves, granola bars, and several dessert options. Theresa Leonard was on hand selling custom made knitted bags that could be used in several different ways.

“I’m going to be out here every Tuesday,” Leonard said.

Some of Leonard’s handmade knitted designs include wallets, purses, grocery bags, beach bags, laundry bags and nursing bags among other bags.

Robin Lynch was on hand giving blacksmithing demonstrations. Some of Lynch’s offerings include one-of-a-kind iron hooks that can be used to hang plants, birdhouses and more. Lynch also makes handmade fire pit pokers and curtain rods.

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and Vice Mayor Doug Hopson were on hand during Tuesday’s event.

“This is only the second week,” Hopson said. “The crowds will continue to grow as crops come in.”

Lynch agreed.

“It will pick up as the gardens come in,” Lynch said. “We should have some lettuce up here soon.”

The yard sale and farmers market will continue each Tuesday until October.

“We want to provide people a place to shop, eat and gather on a weekly basis,” said Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton. “By combining the two events we’re hoping to broaden the audience and offer both vendors and visitors a more diverse experience.”

The market will include fresh fruits, vegetables, and baked goods, as well as local craft vendors, trade-craft demonstrators and yard sale bargains. The Tanasi Art Gallery, located inside the Tourist Information Center, will also be open each week and offers a great escape from the heat.

Picnic tables will be set up so visitors can browse the booths, grab some fresh food then sit back to enjoy the summer weather while eating lunch on the hill.

“I can’t wait to grab some fresh veggies and have lunch with my buddies while enjoying the beautiful views from the Visitors’ Center,” said Lynch. “I think this will really help bring the community together and provide both local growers and residents with a solid outlet for their products.”

Vendor pricing is based on category with farm products, prepared food and handmade crafts requiring a $5 annual market fee. Yard sale booths and demonstration spaces are free, but an application must still be submitted.

For more information or to become a vendor, please email ​recreationaide@unicoitn.net​ or contact Patricia Bennett at 735-0517.

Vendor applications are available online at ​unicoitn.net​ under the event tab. For updates, please follow the Town of Unicoi on Facebook.

Unicoi County Budget Committee addresses needs, next fiscal year budget

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, right, listens as Tom Seeley requests that funding for Children’s Advocacy be restored to the 2019-20 fiscal year budget. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Budget Committee continued budget talks for the 2019-20 fiscal year during a meeting held on Tuesday, May 28, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

The committee was met with an emergency budget amendment at the start of budget talks because the Unicoi County Jail Annex is in need of a new heating and air unit.

“We had a jail inspection recently and we have 60 days to get in compliance, and the heat and air are out,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said.

According to Hensley, the rough estimate to replace the heating and air unit is $8,000. The committee decided that Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely would move $10,000 out of the general fund over to the Sheriff’s budget to fix the heating and air issue.

“Go ahead and get me the final figures and we will get that unit replaced,” Evely said

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department was also hit with $64,790.22 in medical costs recently. “We thought the bills were coming in all along,” Unicoi County Budget Committee Chairwoman and Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice said.

The surprise medical costs came from drug-related problems and prior health conditions of the inmates.

“It’s very, very expensive,” Hensley said. “The only thing saving us is we go to urgent care as much as we can to save on charges.”

It was discussed at the March 8 Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee Meeting that a significant medical cost for the county is from inmates who are addicted to drugs. Hensley explained that roughly 95 percent of his inmates are being held on drug charges and experience medical issues that arrive from drug withdrawl.

Judge Stacy Street suggested at the March 8 meeting that the counties of Northeast Tennessee get together and push for a regional intensive drug rehab facility.

“Judge (Lisa) Rice and myself have pushed Congressman Phil Roe and Senator Lamar Alexander to commit to opening a regional facility,” Street said during the March 8 meeting. “It’s time they put their money where their mouth is on this issue.”

At the time of the March 8 meeting Street suggested that area county commissions push the state to find funding for a regional intensive inpatient rehab facility. Street backed up his comments by stating that he would send drug addicts to the rehab.

“I would love nothing more than for everyone that has a drug problem to sentence them to a drug rehab,” Street said at the March 8 meeting.

During last week’s meeting Commissioner Marie Rice acknowledged that medical bills will need to be addressed at the next county commission meeting.

“The bills (medical) will have to be paid, but that will have to be something to present at the commissioners meeting,” Rice said.

• • •

Also last week, Unicoi County Road Superintendent Terry Haynes was on hand to request funding to replace equipment that is more than 14 years old. The equipment in question is four bush hogs. According to Haynes he needs two short arm bush hogs that cost roughly $99,568 a piece, and two long arm bush hogs that cost roughly $119,569.

“If I can have help with two bush hogs, I can buy two,” Haynes said. “I know it’s trying times; I’m a little better off then most offices, but we need these bush hogs.”

According to Haynes, the new equipment should last 14 years.

During the May 28 meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley inquired about the amount of money that the Town of Unicoi contributes to the highway department.

“They are charged by the hour on machine and man time,” Haynes said.

According to Mosley, the Town of Unicoi should be contributing what the county and the Town of Erwin contribute.

“It’s like with the animal shelter’s budget, they (the Town of Unicoi) are paying $3,500 less,” Mosley said. “I’d like to see them pay the same as us.”

Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris agreed with Mosley.

“I’d like to see (the Town of) Unicoi step it up,” Harris said.

• • •

Also last week, the budget committee looked to save money by cutting expenditures to Unicoi County Assessor of Property Teresa Kinsler’s budget.

“If we cut a $1,000 that will still leave $2,000 total,” Rice said.

The proposed $1,000 cut will come out of the travel budget of Kinsler’s office.

“Just remember that does contain the training that is required for my staff,” Kinsler said.

Unicoi County Trustee Paul Berry presented the committee with his proposed budget for the upcoming budget year and, according to Berry, it closely mirrors last year’s budget of $192,352.

• • •

In a final order of business last week, the committee heard from the Children’s Advocacy’s representatives Linda Bailey and Tom Seeley. Bailey and Seeley were addressing the proposed cut to the agency’s upcoming budget.

During the April 23 Unicoi County Budget Committee meeting, the committee voted unanimously to move $1,000 from Children’s Advocacy to give to the Door of Hope and to approve the same numbers as last year in regards to contributions to nonprofits.

Bailey explained the importance of funding to the agency and what the agency does.

“We saw nearly 700 students at our center, and 69 of them were from Unicoi County, that have been physically or sexually abused,” Bailey said. “Statistics show one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old.”

Seeley explained that finding funding from outside services is very difficult.

“This money we receive, every little bit is critical in helping provide services,” Seeley said. “Fundraising is a hard job for us because no one wants to talk about sexual abuse.”

The committee agreed to take these concerns into budget talks.

According to Rice, the 2019-20 budget is going to be a struggle.

“Revenues are down and expenses are up,” Rice said. “We are going to have to make cuts or raise property taxes.”

The committee agreed to take Haynes’, Berry’s and Kinsler’s budget request to the commission as the county budget begins to take shape.

Rice scheduled the next Unicoi County Budget Committee meeting for Tuesday, June 18.

First Friday to showcase downtown Erwin, businesses

By Richard Rourk

June 7 will be a busy evening in downtown Erwin as another First Friday celebration will be in full swing from 5-9 p.m. According to Sharee Perciful, owner of What’s the Scoop, the event was created to enhance the downtown Erwin experience.

“I want to acknowledge that while going through the Co-Starters class with Jan Bowden (co-owner of Union Street Gallery, LLC) we both were slightly concerned about the lack of foot traffic that appeared to be in downtown Erwin,” Perciful said. “However, I knew that it was a community that supported small businesses and we could envision the growth. I recall having a conversation with Jan about the importance of cohesion amongst small businesses and as we were opening businesses near the same time, we needed to figure out something fun to do in the downtown area to bring people to our doorsteps.”

Perciful said it was Bowden who created First Friday.

“Jan, with her infinite creativity, suggested First Friday and she pioneered First Friday on her own in the fall of 2018,” Perciful said. “As we opened back up in the spring of 2019 we asked Jan if we could join in on her First Friday and make it a movement with downtown merchants and she was in full support.”

According to Bowden, the decision to start First Friday was an easy one to make.

“The main goal for me is getting locals to shop downtown,” Bowden said. “At First Friday I offer free libations to get customers in the door, but in the end you want them to shop.”

According to Perciful, businesses have joined together to help the monthly event to continue to evolve.

“Each downtown business has been supportive, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout,” Perciful said.

Other local business owners see the benefits for First Friday.

“We love how our community comes together to make Erwin an especially fun place to be on First Fridays,” Whisk Bakery co-owner Ali Wainwright said. “When the community comes together, we all benefit.”

Union Street Tap Room co-owner Tara Baker agrees.

“First Friday to us is an evening where we can meet new customers that may have not come to the tap room otherwise,” Baker said. “It is also an opportunity for us to be part of a group that is trying to move downtown Erwin forward.”

Perciful told The Erwin Record what First Friday means for What’s The Scoop.

“For us, First Friday is invaluable in creating a cohesive community and a desirable place to live,” Perciful said. “Our business motto has always been to create a place for people to gather. As our window says we’re a ‘Community HUB – Unplug – Fellowship – Recharge’ and we want people to feel that in each event we are participating in as a community. We see First Friday as a time for families, singles, couples and anybody in between to come downtown to hang out, shop, eat and enjoy valuable time together without the worry of travel.”

For Carmen Rosa, co-owner of A Crystal Generation, First Friday is a cohesive movement by the community and local merchants.

“We at A Crystal Generation love our First Friday events because it brings our community together and gives the merchants the opportunity to get to know our neighbors and build a bigger better Erwin,” Rosa said. “We at A Crystal Generation offer several crafting classes and different events to continue to get to know and build relationships with those in our community, and the community can look for us and events on our Facebook page.”

Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Brandy Bevins agrees with Rosa.

“For Erwin Outdoor Supply, First Friday is about creating a cohesive community and a downtown that allows locals to enjoy where they live,” Bevins said. “It’s also giving our customers the ability to have a place to get all their outdoor needs met while hiking the Appalachian Trail or rafting the Nolichucky.”

Bevins stressed the value of staying open later on First Friday.

“Having the ability to stay open late alongside other downtown merchants and create a welcoming environment for tourists and natives is a great thing,” Bevins said.

So far First Friday events have had several milestones and highlights.

“The highlight for First Friday is the ability to have entertainment at our own downtown community,” Perciful said. “Each First Friday merchants downtown will have extended hours, promotions and some will have additional entertainment.” 

Perciful explained that The Gathering Place will have events lined up to include live music, yoga, chair massages and much more. There will also be food trucks.

Perciful also said there are businesses outside of the downtown district that are participating in First Fridays and the downtown merchants look forward to their support and the services they have to offer to our community on these special nights. 

Local businesses want to stress that First Friday is family-friendly and the community can find something for everyone.

“​There are things for all ages, and we’re excited to see what is happening in downtown and love to see the support of the community throughout the transition,” Perciful said. “Our shop offers the ability to have parties and off-site catered events, and we also have over 200 board games for customers to play with the purchase of a daily board game pass.”

Baker agreed with Perciful.

“We would love for everyone to know that we are a family-friendly establishment and we (Union Street Taproom) welcome every member of our community to come visit with us,” Baker said. “We offer a wide variety of snacks and soft drinks.”

Wainwright is appreciative of the support from the community.

“We (Whisk Bakery) appreciate every single purchase that is made on First Friday,” Wainwright said. “Every purchase you make at a small business goes to support a local family, and that is so meaningful.”

According to Wainwright, Whisk is looking forward to serving Erwin.

“We’re very grateful to be included in such a wonderful group of downtown business merchants,” Wainwright said. “(Whisk co-owner Heather Higgins) and I have felt welcome since the day we announced we would be opening our bakery.”

The Erwin Cruise-In returns to Main Avenue on Friday, June 7, and the community is encouraged to come out and see some of the best vehicles from the past and present.

Also on Friday, several local businesses will offer the community great deals. CHIPS Thrift Store will be offering a 20 percent discount and A Crystal Generation will be open late and Beauty by MC will have half-off offers for a later date. Erwin Outdoor Supply will have a book signing from acclaimed author Bev Clay Freeman. Russell Cellular Verizon Wireless will have a special fundraiser that will benefit Unicoi County High School. Steel Rails Coffee House will be open late and will host Whisk Bakery. The Bramble will be hosting a send-off for Miss Unicoi County Kourtney Bailey and Miss Unicoi Sarah Grace Larkey as they head off to represent Unicoi County in the upcoming Miss Tennessee Pageant. The Gathering Place will have chair massages by Southern Touch Massage and yoga by Here & Now Motherhood. First Friday pioneers Union Street Gallery, LLC will be hosting local jeweler Heather Conn, What’s The Scoop will be hosting Creative Canvas, along with face painting, and Union Street Tap Room will have a food truck on site and your favorite tap.

First Friday merchants are extremely thankful for all the support they get from the community. “We would like to thank the Town of Erwin and all of our guests,” Baker said. “The overwhelming support for Union Street Tap Room locally and regionally has really made us feel like we are part of the positive moment happening in our region.”

Perciful agreed with Baker.

“First Friday would be impossible without the support of the Town of Erwin, RISE and the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce,” Perciful said. “Each organization has offered suggestions and talents that have assisted in organizing the events, and we appreciate other business owners throughout Unicoi County who have reached out to get involved.”

According to Perciful, the community is encouraged to come out and enjoy family-friendly fun. Perciful explained that First Friday continues to grow.

“Russell Cellular/Verizon Wireless location in Unicoi will be hosting movie nights on First Fridays in the months of July, August and September,” Perciful said. 

For more information or to keep up with updates for future First Fridays, please follow ThisisErwin on Facebook.

“If you’re a business owner, artist or creative and want to be involved please reach out to us on social media on the ThisisErwin Facebook page and get involved,” Perciful said.

You can also follow most businesses in downtown Erwin on Facebook to keep up to date with their promotions.

Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy celebrates 45th anniversary

The 45th Anniversary Celebration for the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy was held at USA Raft in Unicoi County. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) held its 45th Anniversary Celebration at USA Raft on May 16.

“This is the first year that the celebration has been held in Erwin,” USA Raft Owner and SAHC member Matt Moses told The Erwin Record.

According to SAHC Donor Relations Manager Pauline Heyne, SAHC protects the area’s natural land.

“We are a non-profit land trust,” Heyne said. “What we do is permanently protect our natural and beautiful and natural areas. Places that have clean water, high elevation habitats, and scenic views will be protected forever.”

Heyne explained that SAHC was born in the 1950s when the Appalachian Trail was rerouted. “We realized we could do better, and the SAHC was formed to protect the natural beauty of the area,” Heyne added.

According to Heyne, awareness is the strongest need for the conservation group.

“Knowing what conservation can do for us, our community, and future generations is level number one,” Heyne said.

The May 16 event, which featured the annual Stanley A. Murray Award for Volunteer Service, kicked off at 5 p.m. According to the SAHC, in 1989 the Stanley A. Murray Award for Volunteer Service was created to honor persons who have made outstanding volunteer contributions to the work of SAHC emulating the lifelong dedication of our founder, Stanley A. Murray. This year the SAHC honored the Tennessee Eastman Hiking and Canoeing Club for its extraordinary volunteer help over the years, particularly in 2018 managing Golden-winged Warbler habitat around our Grassy Ridge “Birdhouse” property.

The event was catered by Southern Craft Barbecue out of Johnson City.  ETSU Old-Time Ramblers performed on the main stage. There were numerous vendors and recreation training sites set up for the event. Standup paddleboarding and One Wheel lessons were available for those who attended. There were self-guided hiking tours and fly fishing demos available for those that attended.

Michelle Bouton of HERBalachia, took a group of more than 10 on a plant walk to discover and discuss plant species and their benefits to nature and to humans.

Scott Fisher from Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI) was on hand to explain the numerous ways that the public could enjoy the outdoors and the outdoor recreation that Unicoi County contains.

Moses said he was proud to host the event and hopes to again in the future.

“It’s great for this group to be outside and to be able to see what good they are doing,” Moses said. “We are excited to host it.”

For more information or to donate to SACH, please visit appalachian.org. For more information of upcoming events or to book a cabin or rafting trip, please follow USA Raft’s Facebook page.

Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board seals time capsule for 25 years

Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board member Norah Ray places a softball in the time capsule to signify her love of softball. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

A year-long project will be on display at Unicoi County Hospital for the next 25 years. Unicoi County Hospital’s inaugural Junior Board officially sealed items for their time capsule on Thursday, May 16.

Ballad Health, in conjunction with The National Storytelling Center, worked with Unicoi County Middle School to establish their First Annual Junior Board. The inaugural Unicoi County Hospital Junior Board was made up of students Audie Brown, Seth Hopson, Makena Riebe, Faith Bennett, Norah Ray and Brian Hughes.

The inaugural junior board chose to do a time capsule focusing on donated stories from the community which center around Unicoi County and the history of Unicoi County Hospital. The board had drop boxes for stories located at The Computer Guy, Jones Hardware, Reba’s Hair shop, Unicoi County Middle School, Calvary Baptist Church, Evergreen Freewill Baptist Church, Unicoi County Family YMCA and at the Unicoi County Hospital for the past month so the public could drop off any stories or artifacts that tell the story of Unicoi County.

“I am so excited about this project, and I know the kids are too,” said Eric Carroll, administrator of Unicoi County Hospital. “The hospital’s junior board has worked extremely hard on this, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. Their contribution will live on in our community for decades.”

A large wooden box, handmade by the father of junior board member Audie Brown, serves as the time capsule and will contain a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, photographs, artifacts from the old hospital and – most importantly – stories. The time capsule will be sealed inside a display case in the lobby of the Unicoi County Hospital for 25 years.

Norah Ray, a sixth-grader at the middle school, said the Junior Board wants this project “to allow future generations to look into the past and make connections to things in their life.”

Seventh-grader Brian Hughes agreed.

“Storytelling can help the hospital learn more about the community,” Hughes said. “Storytelling can help people heal.”

The junior board is part of Unicoi County Hospital’s partnership with the International Storytelling Center. The collaboration is a first-of-its-kind between an arts organization and a health system working together to find new ways to serve patients and promote healthy habits across communities.

“We have had a relationship with the hospital for a long time and this project has been part of a larger program to designate Unicoi County Hospital as a Storytelling Seal of Excellence,” International Storytelling Center Kiran Singh Sirah said. “The Junior Board was a way to have younger members of the community get involved in telling the story of the area, it has been a way to have the community use storytelling in a way to unite the area.”

According to Sirah, storytelling plays a crucial part in healing.

“In many cultures around the world, storytelling provides healing,” Sirah said. “In fact in many traditional cultures, the word for medicine is story. Stories are something that provide public health for the community.”

The partnership involves multiple projects, including the establishment of a junior board to encourage input from local youth. Each year, the junior board will complete a project to benefit both the hospital and the community, and it will be challenged to listen to the needs of the community and consider creative ways to address them.

Their monthly meeting agenda involves discussing community engagement, time management and project development. They have also practiced interviewing skills in order to collect narratives from Unicoi County residents. Brown said that he has learned how to approach people and listen to their stories. While this has pushed him out of his comfort zone, he said it’s “allowed for interactions with people that were truly life-changing.”

As classes graduate and new members join, interested students will follow an application and interview process conducted by the school, Unicoi County Hospital, Ballad Health and current junior board members.

Unicoi County Hospital is also working toward an International Storytelling Center Site of Excellence designation, an honor earned by organizations that incorporate storytelling into their core missions, planning, training programs, programming and community outreach. The designation also certifies that Unicoi County Hospital has created a sustainable storytelling culture, one that can be perpetuated through multiple generations.

According to Carroll, the time capsule will be on display at Unicoi County Hospital and will not be opened again until 2044. Carroll was impressed with the first junior board.

“I didn’t know what to expect going in, but it has really shown me what these young men and women could do,” Carroll said. “I have learned as much from them as they have learned from this project.”

You can follow the junior board’s activity on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at #UnicoiJrBoard.

Berry good time: Strawberry Festival draws thousands to Unicoi

Strawberries were the main attraction, however, the 17th Annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival offered much more, including music, foods, crafts and fun. (Erwin Record Staff Photo

By Richard Rourk

The smell of a successful festival was in the air on Saturday, May 18, as the Town of Unicoi hosted the 17th Annual Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival. The weather was a bright, warm 80 degrees as festival goers came for music, games, shopping and, most importantly, strawberries.

The music lineup featured the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, My New Favorites, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, Adam Larkey Band and Cross Road.

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Ashley Shelton, it was important for town officials to recognize Armed Forces Day during the festival.

“Since it was Armed Forces Day, we had a recognition ceremony for all local veterans of the armed forces, and the Unicoi County Air Force Jr. ROTC presented the colors while the Armed Forces Melody played and veterans stepped forward to salute during their branch’s theme,” Shelton said. “Three World War II veterans were recognized: Mr. Lee Campbell of Unicoi who served in the Navy, Mr. Charles Lynch of Unicoi who served in the Navy during WWII and Air Force during Korea, and Mrs. Hazel Berry, a Unicoi resident who served in the Navy and still volunteers with disabled veterans.”

There were numerous food vendors that served hamburgers, hotdogs, fried potatoes, tacos, tamales, kettle corn, strawberry funnel cakes, homemade ice cream and many other menu items available at the festival.

There was also a strawberry recipe contest that was hosted by Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

“I would love to thank the contestants and judges for all the hard work,” Mountain Harvest Kitchen Director Lee Manning said.

The winners and winning recipes for this year’s strawberry recipe contest were: Elizabeth Casey, who won first place for her strawberry cheese bread; Nicholas Patterson, who won second place for his strawberry cheesecake dessert; and Melodie Smith in third place for her strawberry cream cheese cobbler.

For children, the festival offered pony rides and a miniature train ride as well as inflatables.

There were more than a hundred vendors that lined up and down the field at Unicoi Elementary School. The vendors’ products ranged from handcrafted home items, to clothing, to handmade jewelry and art pieces.

The festival brought traffic in from all over the region and beyond. James and Diana Pressley of Johnson City, told The Erwin Record that they have been making the trip to Unicoi for several years to enjoy the festival. The Pressleys were just a few of the thousands that braved the warm temperatures to enjoy the event.

“It seems like every year it gets hotter, or we are getting older one,” James Pressley said.

The festivalgoers weren’t the only ones that enjoyed the festival. Vendors had a great day on Saturday as well.

“We’ve done really well and it is still early,” Robin Shelton of Ron Shelton’s No Bull Woodcrafts said.

According to Shelton, the festival expands every year.

“It’s bigger this year, it seems,” Robin Shelton said.

Parents and children were enjoying a break from the shopping and eating to take in a pony ride at the Pony Ride Express. Brother and sister, Reid and Elliott Harris, were enjoying the breeze of the pony ride.

According to Ashley Shelton, thousands attended the festival.

“We can only estimate thousands since we have no way of counting cars at this festival like we did at the last one,” Shelton said. “Food vendors reported that sales were up and craft vendors commented on the larger crowds than usual.”

According to Shelton, Scott’s was sold out of strawberries by 2 p.m.

Shelton was very thankful to be a part of the festival.

“We would like to thank the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and all the firefighters who volunteered their time to keep things safe,” Shelton said. “We also have to thank all of our volunteers and sponsors, we couldn’t do it without them.”

Official recommends county begins own ambulance service

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County moved closer to making a decision about the future of its ambulance service with a meeting of the Unicoi County Ambulance Committee on Monday, May 13, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. On hand to offer guidance to the officials was Washington County/Johnson City EMS Director Dan Wheely.

During the May 1 Unicoi County Ambulance Committee meeting it was discussed that Washington County/Johnson City EMS would be an option to provide ambulance service to the county for one year for a subsidy of $218,677.

“They can supply us 24 hours a day for seven days a week with two ALS (Advanced Life Support) ambulances, and one BLS (Basic Life Support) ambulance for five days a week, 10 hours a day, for the $218,677,” Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley, who serves as the committee chairman, said on May 1.

According to Wheely, Washington County/Johnson City EMS would need roughly $100,000 of the $218,677 upfront to get started working in Unicoi County.

“We have to make sure that we are making payroll and not taking away from Washington County,” Wheely said.

Wheely expressed the need to appoint someone as director to oversee the services in Unicoi County. When asked by Mosley if that director would be someone from MedicOne, the ambulance service provider that recently pulled out of a contract with Unicoi County, Wheely would not say for sure. He did acknowledge he would like to see someone from MedicOne step into that role.

“I would like to have a meeting with the MedicOne employees, if you decide to go this route,” Wheely said. “Having a meeting with the staff (MedicOne) is very important.”

According to Mosley, July may be the time to decide either way if Washington County/Johnson City EMS will sign a one year interlocal agreement with Unicoi County.

“In a perfect world, I’d like to see this transition take place in July, when we have our budget set,” Mosley said.

Unicoi County Ambulance Committee member and Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice agreed.

“That would give (Wheely) time, and us time to prepare,” Rice said. “The more time the better.” Wheely said he was eyeing a July start date as well.

“Our budget runs the same time frame, so July would make it a clean time to start,” Wheely said.

According to Mosley, at this time no decisions have been made in regards to a time frame to make a decision on an interlocal agreement with Washington County/Johnson City EMS.

• • •

As for the years ahead, Unicoi County officials have considered beginning a county run service as well as offering a contract to another company that would provide the service.

During an April Ambulance Committee Meeting, Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White acknowledged that starting an ambulance service could be a viable solution.

“It looks like we would need to get three ambulances and hire the staff,” White said during the April 9 meeting.

Also during that meeting, Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley addressed the committee to discuss the Town of Erwin purchasing ambulances with $500,000 state grant funds.

“The grant could purchase two new ambulances and a possible third ambulance for transport,” Hensley said during the April 9 meeting.

Rice, at the April 9 meeting, acknowledged that Unicoi County still has $440,000 left over from the payment that Unicoi County received when Unicoi County Hospital was sold to Mountain State Health Alliance, which is now Ballad Health.

According to Hensley during the April 9 meeting, there could also be up to $150,000 that can be used from the Hospital Foundation Funds to start an ambulance service.

On Monday, Wheely said that by signing a one-year interlocal agreement, Unicoi County could decide if they would like to start a county run service and to purchase new vehicles or lease to purchase vehicles from Washington County/Johnson City EMS. Wheely acknowledged that once the county starts the service up, if they decide to, the county could run the service annually to the cost of roughly $218,000.

“That is not that expensive,” White said. “That may be the route we need to take. Since I’ve been on the commission, it’s been a nightmare, since we began sending ambulance services out to bidders.”

Wheely said he would like to see Unicoi County start its own service.

“I’d like to see you start your own service, not just act as a stop gap so you can bid the services back out,” Wheely said.

If Unicoi County decides to start its own service, Wheely sees a transition that could take only a few months.

“I would say it would take up to six months to switch over, if you decided to start your own services,” Wheely said.

Wheely left the committee with some other items to think about.

“One of the biggest things to be thinking about is how you want to structure a county run ambulance service,” Wheely said. “You have to think about employee benefits, structure and oversight, whether you want this committee to make decisions or do you want to establish a board of directors.”

Unicoi County representatives said they are thankful for the guidance that Wheely has provided the county.

“Dan (Wheely) and his staff have been very professional and we appreciate that,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said.

Rice agreed.

“We certaninly appreciate your time and effort,” she said.

According to Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whatever ambulance service the county has going forward it will have a new home.

“The $218,000 subsidy doesn’t cover housing, so we can move them into the old hospital without any cost except utilities,” Thomas said. “Christian Care Center (of Unicoi County) doesn’t occupy the back of the building, they are just using the front of the building.”

Currently, the county is still weighing all options for ambulance service and MedicOne is still serving Unicoi County. According to Mosley, there is currently no date set for the next Ambulance Committee Meeting.

“The full commission will not hear Washington County/Johnson City EMS proposal at the May 20 meeting,” Mosley said. “It will probably be heard by a special called meeting; it will not happen next Monday.”

Great Outdoors: Annual festival another success, despite rain

Union Street was alive on May 3 as First Friday events kicked off the 4th Annual Great Outdoors Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival kicked off on Friday, May 3, with the First Friday events downtown. The First Friday events included the First Annual Union Street Chili Cook-Off, sponsored by Erwin Outdoor Supply, a beer tent was set up by Union Street Taproom, Union Street Gallery LLC was open for business, and Movie Night with Bite Food Truck. What’s the Scoop hosted a Creative Canvas party and featured free toppings. A Crystal Generation gave away a free small Rose Quartz with every purchase. There were specials from Beauty by MC and CHIPS offered a free bracelet with purchase. There was also live music downtown and the popular Erwin Cruise-In was set up at the Unicoi County Courthouse parking lot.

Vendors lined the streets on Saturday, May 4, and welcomed the community to the annual event. There was a Children’s Obstacle Course that was sponsored by Unicoi County YMCA that ran from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. At the Unicoi County Courthouse Plaza, there was Free Fishing for Kids sponsored by Cabela’s. There was a huge pool set up and with Stand up Paddle Board lessons provided by USA Raft, Jackson Kayak, and Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute (NOLI.) Numerous food trucks invaded downtown for the festival. There was a petting zoo set up for children to pet exotic animals.

Joining the Great Outdoors Festival this year was the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce’s Triple Threat Competition, which pushed competitors to raft down the Nolichucky River, compete on an 18-obstacle, obstacle course, run a 5K race and cross the finish line downtown. Completing the Triple Threat in just under 33 minutes was Wesley Taylor. Taylor was followed by Mark Grenti, who finished with a time of 36:22. Sarah Bailey finished with a time of 37:45. For more results and for more information about the Triple Threat Competition, please follow Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce and the Triple Threat Facebook pages.

There was live music at the Union Street Stage throughout the day on Saturday and the UCHS Bluegrass band was picking on the corner of Union Street and Main Avenue.

The weather cooperated for most of the day, but a sudden storm hit and hit quickly. Tents were uprooted and the community came together.

“I want to give a shout out to the community as a whole,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Tyler Bevins said. “They have been nothing but good to us, but when this storm hit the bystanders and ones enjoying the festival, jumped in and grabbed tents, and they helped vendors pack up in the rain. Everybody was just helping everybody; it was awesome to see community support.”

Oreon Millard and Jen Heglar of Owlery of Oreon took cover and rode the storm out. Despite the storm, Millard and Heglar enjoyed their first Great Outdoors Festival as vendors.

“We have been through worse,” Heglar said.

Millard would love to come back to Unicoi County for any upcoming festivals.

“We would love to pick up more events here, that would be awesome,” Millard said.

The festivalgoers that rode the storm out sought shelter in numerous downtown stores. Union Street Taproom was packed, but according to owner Michael Baker, the storm had nothing to do with that.

“We have been this busy all day,” Baker said.

Next door, Erwin Outdoor Supply had similar results.

“It’s been busy, busy; it’s hard to say how many people that have come through,” Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever said.

Erwin Outdoor Supply teamed up with Unicoi Medical Associates to provide hot foot soaks and medical attention for the hikers from the Appalachian Trail who came to the festival. There were five hikers from Florida up to Pennsylvania receiving care when The Erwin Record visited.

“Dr. Jason (Colinger) started seeing hikers, like an urgent care for hikers and it has just evolved,” Sarah Miller, M.A. said. “I love this and this festival is getting larger every year.”

A Crystal Generation was one of the businesses that remained open for those who braved the storm.

“We have had several hundred visitors over the weekend; we did very well,” A Crystal Generation co-owner Carmen Rosa said. “They loved the gem mining.”

A Crystal Generation had a gym mining station set up outside of their business located at 206 S. Main Ave. in Downtown Erwin.

According to Town of Erwin Communications Specialist Jamie Rice, the 4th Annual Erwin Great Outdoors Festival, sponsored by RISE Erwin and the Town of Erwin, was a tremendous success.

“I would estimate we saw around 10,000-12,000 people throughout the day,”  Rice said. “We are very pleased.”

Fiddlin’ around: Unicoi, Flag Pond host annual festivals

The Spivey Mountain Boys perform at the annual Fiddlers’ & Fiddleheads Festival. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

The rain cleared out on Friday, April 26, just in time for Unicoi County to experience a weekend of community, food, and of course, traditional bluegrass music.

The Third Annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention kicked off Friday at the old Flag Pond Elementary School.

According to the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention website, the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings – those such as J.D. Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others – but also those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.

Friday night kicked off with a square dance that featured Rodney Clay Sutton calling and The Corklickers providing the music. There was also a special performance by Green Grass Cloggers.

On Saturday, April 27, the main competitions began. Winners of the Traditional Song competition were Ryan Nickerson, Andy Duckworth and Mark Kilanski. Winners in the Stringband competition were the New Macedon Rangers, The Fabulous Low Tags, and the Millenial Falconers. The winners of the Banjo competition were Rob Fong, Jake Owen, and Clark Williams. Amy Alvey, Maddy Mulaney, and Rob Fong were winners in the Fiddle competition.

The festival, which centers around the competition, also featured vendors, camping, and plenty of food, courtesy of the Friends of Rocky Fork State Park.

According to Rocky Fork State Park Ranger and picker Tim Pharis, the event was a success. “We are still counting the numbers up, but my guess is around 500 people came out, and we had around 175 performers,” Pharis said. 

The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

• • •

On the north end of the county, another festival took place over the weekend. The 24th Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was held at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens in Unicoi.

The festival featured performances by 14 bands on three stages. Jam sessions took place all over the festival grounds. Attendees enjoyed bluegrass, country and gospel music with performances by local talent, including the Spivey Mountain Boys, the Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, and many more.

There was also a “Hammer-In” for local blacksmiths to gather in the barn to show off their unique talents and creations.

In addition to the music and blacksmithing, there was a vintage car show held on the grounds. There were also numerous vendors and plenty of food options. The Unicoi County Ruritan Club was manning the grill all day, and there were plenty of fresh baked goods to eat.

According to Town of Unicoi Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton, the 2019 Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival was a huge success.

“Fiddle Fest had an estimated crowd of almost 3,000, and we had 14 bands on three stages,” Shelton said. “Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires drew a huge audience, as well as the Spivey Mountain Boys and the ETSU Bluegrass Gospel Band.”

Unicoi, Flag Pond hosting festivals this weekend

By Richard Rourk

Two popular festivals are returning to Unicoi County this weekend.

Starting Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m., the Third Annual Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention will take place at Flag Pond Elementary School, 917 Old Asheville Highway, Flag Pond.

“This year will be our first youth contest on Friday night and we will have a musical performance by the Corklickers for our square dance,” Rocky Fork State Park Ranger and picker Tim Pharis told The Erwin Record.

According to the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention website, the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention celebrates not only the early influential musicians who made recordings – those such as JD Harris, Osey Helton, John Dykes, George and Lloyd Payne, Dud Vance, GB Grayson, Charlie Bowman, and many others – but also those who played informally, for the love of music and fellowship with one another.

The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention is a collaboration between Rocky Fork State Park and ETSU’s Department of Appalachian Studies, with support from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

According to Pharis, the festivities will carry over through Saturday, April 27. In addition to music, there will be camping, food, presentations, and contests. For more information please visit otfiddlersconvention.com or follow The Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention’s Facebook page.

• • •

Starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 27, the 24th Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival is being held at Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens, 121 Covered Bridge Lane, Unicoi. There are more than 20 performers lined up for the day-long festival that has seen crowds as large as 3,000 visitors in the past.

The free, all-day event runs from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will include performances by 15 bands on three stages. Jam sessions will also take place on the festival grounds. Attendees can enjoy bluegrass, country and gospel music with performances by local talent including the  Spivey Mountain Boys, Unicoi County High School Bluegrass Band, Zach McNabb and the Tennessee Esquires, and many more.

“The performers will be related to the bluegrass genre,” Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, who owns Farmhouse Gallery & Gardens said. “The whole thing is built around bluegrass music. All these local kids get their start out there. These kids cut their teeth at these local jam sessions with these experienced musicians.”

In addition to the music, this year the Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival will feature an event for area blacksmiths.

“This year we’ve added the hammer in; this gives several blacksmiths the opportunity to demonstrate their skill,” Lynch said.

There will also be vintage cars, arts and crafts, antiques, and food featured at the festival. According to Lynch, the festival is geared towards the arts that are based in Unicoi County. “That’s the reason we do this – to showcase the amazing talent that we have in this area,” Lynch said. “It’s not just music, it’s all the arts.”

For more information, follow the Town of Unicoi and Fiddlers and Fiddleheads Festival on Facebook.

Food City CEO expects store to open in July

In an interview with The Erwin Record, Food City CEO Steven Smith said the company expects its new Erwin store will be open by the end of July. “We are pretty excited about all the amenities that we will have,” Smith said. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Spring has sprung and with the mild weather, construction has really progressed on the future Food City store. Last December, Food City President and CEO Steven Smith met with representatives from the Town of Erwin for the groundbreaking of the roughly 44,000 square foot supermarket.

Smith recently spoke with The Erwin Record about the progress being made at the future home of the supermarket on Second Street in Erwin.

“We’ve got all the steel up, we’ve poured half the floor, and from what I hear we will have the store closed up next week,” Smith said. “Closing the store up means you’ve got the floor poured and the steel up and at that time it doesn’t matter if it rains much since the building is secured.”

Smith acknowledged that Food City is still slated to open in Erwin this summer.

“We are excited,” Smith said. “Our plan is still to have the store open by the end of July; we feel that is realistic. It could be a little quicker than that, it could be a little longer than that. We are aiming to be up and running within three months.”

The new Food City will have spaces available for other businesses.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t had any signed leases at this point, but it is fair to say we are speaking to some prospects,” Smith said. “We generally get interests from restaurants, nail salons and a variety of other businesses.”

According to Smith, the 5,000-6,000 square foot spaces could be used for up to roughly three to five shops.

The construction on the Food City gas station is coming along on pace with the storefront.

“I think the gas station will open when the store does,” Smith said. “I know we have the tanks in the ground, and we have had success getting our other gas stations together in a matter of three months.”

According to Smith, the gas station will also have several items for purchase.

“We will have odds and ends for sale at the gas station,” Smith said. “We will also have cases of water and firewood at the gas station.”

According to Smith, the firewood could be a year around seller for the supermarket.

“Believe it or not, we sell a lot of firewood during the spring and summer months with all the lakes and all of the camping in the area,” Smith said.

Smith is already looking forward to interviewing potential employees.

“It won’t be long before we interview people,” Smith said. “Generally we hire about 60 days out. We can train people at our Johnson City and our Jonesborough stores where we have the departments for them and they can get the expertise that they need.”

Smith hopes to hire roughly 100 people for the Erwin store.

“We will need roughly  120-130 people and I’m sure we will have some of our seasoned employees to transfer in; so I would say that we are looking to hire roughly 100 people,” Smith said.

The Erwin Food City will have several of the same features as the other regional Food City stores.

“We will have the curbside pickup Go Cart services,” Smith said. “We will also have our full-service pharmacy. We will have our full-service seafood and meat departments there, and we will have a sit-down cafe there as well. We are pretty excited about all the amenities that we will have.”

Smith acknowledged that Erwin and Unicoi County have been receptive to the supermarket coming to town.

“I don’t know of another town that we have opened up a supermarket in that we have been more warmly received then we have in Erwin and Unicoi County,” Smith said. “The city leaders, and the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board have been so welcoming.”

Smith said he recently ran into Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board President Lee Brown at an event in Kingsport.

“Lee Brown came over and spoke to me and welcomed me,” Smith said. “It really makes you feel welcome when you go into a community like Erwin and the people are excited about the job possibilities, the selection, and the prices, we look forward to it being a really successful store.”

Police force remains on Town of Unicoi’s wish list

Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch recently shared information about the town’s annual retreat in Townsend, Tennessee.
(Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The governing body of the Town of Unicoi recently traveled to Townsend, Tennessee, for its annual retreat and, according to one official, returned with a renewed list of goals for the town. Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and outgoing Town of Unicoi City Recorder Michael Borders sat down to speak with The Erwin Record following the March 21-24 Strategic Planning Retreat.

According to Mayor Lynch, town plans have shifted to more short term goals.

“In the past, we focused on five- and ten-year plans,” Lynch said. “This year we focused on three-year plans.”

The three-year goals center around upgrading the downtown area, finding assistance for resident growth, recruiting businesses to the town and finding ways to improve code enforcement, according to the officials.

One goal that the town officials are looking to accomplish is to establish a police department and to enforce codes.

“We had Rex Barton, the police management consultant for MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service), come speak to us and to inform us what we would need to start a police force,” Lynch said.

Improvements to the town’s main thoroughfare is another priority.

“We are looking at grants to develop Unicoi Drive,” Borders said. “We are looking for more residential development, as well.”

Lynch stressed the importance of making Unicoi Drive a top priority.

“This year we focused on cleaning up the appearance of Unicoi Drive, which applies to everything from littering to building codes,” Mayor Lynch said.

Borders also mentioned that the town is actively recruiting for a travel center to come to Exit 32. “The town is in the process of recruiting a travel center to come here that will include a gas station and a nice convenience store,” Borders said, “and exit 32 is a prime location for that.”

One goal on the town’s list was a familiar one.

“We have placed completing the amphitheater and farmer’s market pavilion as one of our top priorities,” Borders said.

While on the retreat, several officials toured the amphitheaters around Townsend for inspiration.

“I wanted the new people to see and to get an idea of what our amphitheater could be,” Lynch said.

In September 2018, the Town of Unicoi received a $248,000 grant from Tennessee’s Local Parks and Recreation Fund to construct an amphitheater. The amphitheater will be built in the space between the Town of Unicoi Tourist Information Center and the Mountain Harvest Kitchen. As of now, there is no time frame on either project, but Borders acknowledged that these projects will be moving along soon.

Lynch said he felt that the retreat was a success.

“It was a good retreat,” Lynch said. “We went in each day and stayed all day to get our goals together and to prioritize them as a group. To me doing this annual retreat is the smartest thing we ever did – the proof is there.”

School system requests $8.1 million for facility upgrades

Unicoi County Director of Schools John English, right, gives a presentation to the Unicoi County Commission regarding facility upgrades throughout the school system. The estimated cost of the improvements is $8.1 million. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Board of Education joined Unicoi County Director of Schools John English and Johnson City architect Tony Street in addressing the Unicoi County Commission on Monday, March 25.

At the meeting, English requested roughly $8.1 million in the form of a capital outlay note through the county for the upgrades. According to English, Unicoi County Schools would pay the outlay note back, but the commission must approve and make the request first.

English worked with Street, who recently completed the construction of the new Boones Creek School, to calculate the estimates for the proposed upgrades to Unicoi County school properties.

Unicoi County Schools are currently paying $330,000 a year on the original capital outlay note that was used for the construction of Unicoi County High School. According to English, that capital outlay note will be completely paid off by June of 2021.

“Our plan is to ask the (Unicoi County) commission to approve and consider a new capital note when the 2021 high school capital note has matured,” English said Monday.

English acknowledged that Unicoi County Schools would be able to pay $330,000 annually on the new proposed outlay note.

The estimated $8.1 million would be used for several projects. English stated that upgrades to  Gentry Stadium, where the UCHS football team plays, would be the top priority. According to English’s presentation, Gentry Stadium needs to have the current press box and seating demolished and rebuilt. The new stadium seating would include steps, handrails, and would be handicap accessible. Gentry Stadium would also need paving and LED lighting. The proposed cost for the renovations at Gentry Stadium would be $2.4 million.

The next upgrade would be for renovations at the UCHS track.

“Our track team hasn’t held a home track meet in a number of years, and our track team deserves a track to call home,” English said. “We also feel like a new track brings in revenue for the county. Track meets bring in a lot of people that are going to stop and eat, they are going to stop for gas and stop to pick up a sports drink.”

The estimated costs at the track would be $1.2 million and would call for the track to be fitted to regulation size. The track would also be resurfaced with a rubberized top that meets the regulations for TSSAA. The proposal also calls for bleachers, a field house, restrooms, and LED lighting.

“The track would be available for citizens to walk on as well,” Unicoi County Commissioner Glenn White, who is also a teacher at UCHS, said.

The third wave of upgrades would be for new tennis courts to be built on campus at UCHS. The costs associated with the construction of tennis courts at UCHS would be an estimated $750,000. The plan calls for six tennis courts, fencing, LED lighting and bleachers.

English then pointed to upgrades that were needed to the UCHS auditorium. According to English, an estimated $300,000 would fund upgrading the outdated stage lighting and the sound system.

“The auditorium is another tool in bringing potential revenue into the county,” English said. “We would be able to have more concerts and theater productions that will bring in more people.”

English also explained that Unicoi Elementary was in need of a new gym. The new gym would cost an estimated $2.5 million, and would include restrooms, locker rooms, bleachers and a new equipment storage room inside.

The final phase of projects would be centered around upgrades to Rock Creek Elementary. English said that Rock Creek Elementary was in need of electrical upgrades, a new HVAC and plumbing upgrades. The estimate for the Rock Creek Elementary upgrades is $980,000.

Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife, Cathy Thomas serves on the Board of Education, advised English that the request would have to go through a few committees before returning to the commission to vote on.

“This will have to go before the Buildings and Grounds committee and the budget committee before it comes back before the commission,” Thomas said.

Thomas recommended that the request be added to the agenda for both the Building and Grounds Committee and the Budget Committee meetings next month.

***

In other business, the commission voted unanimously to approve and accept the interlocal agreements with both the Town of Unicoi and the Town of Erwin for ambulance services.

The commission also voted unanimously to send out a request for proposal for fencing upgrades at the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department female annex. The annex was in the news recently when on March 14 an inmate was able to escape by scaling the fence.

“She scaled the old fence like a squirrel and was gone,” Sheriff Mike Hensley previously told The Erwin Record.

The commission concluded business by voting to accept the current Unicoi County Commission Facebook page as its official Facebook page. The commission also voted unanimously to start broadcasting the county commission meetings through Facebook Live starting next month.

Thomas makes case fro MedicOne to Erwin BMA

Loren Thomas, chairman of the Unicoi County Commission, addressed the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Alderman on Monday, March 11. Town officials are reportedly considering not entering into an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County to use MedicOne as the ambulance service provider for the town. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

In a brief meeting of the Town of Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday, March 11, the town officials heard from Unicoi County Commission Chair Loren Thomas and Unicoi County Commission Vice Chair Jamie Harris in regards to the county ambulance service.

Thomas asked if the interlocal agreement, which is a collaborative contract between public bodies aiming to provide more efficient, less costly public services, was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. In response, Mayor Doris Hensley stated it was not.

“We were waiting for a joint meeting to discuss the matter,” Hensley added.

“I’m not here to give opinions or to negotiate the interlocal agreement, I just wanted to give you some facts,” Thomas said.

Thomas, whose wife Cathy is employed by MedicOne, addressed the board to dispel rumors about MedicOne’s response times and the potential use of Washington County EMS in Unicoi County.

“There has been a lot of negative media and articles in regards to response times,” Thomas said.

According to the stats provided by Thomas, the national average for EMS to respond to a fatal car crash is 15 minutes and 19 seconds. MedicOne’s 2018 average response time was 13 minutes and 44 seconds for all calls, that includes emergency and non-emergency calls. Thomas also reported that for the last 180 days, MedicOne’s average response time was down to 11 minutes and 44 seconds. Medic -One’s 2018 average response time for emergency calls only was listed on MedicOne’s tracking software at 11 minutes and 53 seconds. The average emergency call response time for MedicOne for the last 180 days is down to 11 minutes and 19 seconds, according to MedicOne’s analytic tracking software, called EOS.

Thomas stated that the third MedicOne ambulance that has been running 12 hours a day has contributed to better response times. MedicOne has been running a third part-time ambulance in preparation for the new contract

The contract Unicoi County entered into with MedicOne, which is slated to begin April 1, calls for three ambulances instead of two, which is what the previous contract called for. The ambulances will all be Type 1 ambulances which allow for enough room for up to two people. Two of the ambulances will be staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The third ambulance will run on a 12-hour shift for 7 days a week.

The new contract also includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000. The contract runs from April 2019 until April 2023.

“We have a stronger contract in place now,” Thomas said.

The interlocal agreement between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin would need to be signed by the Town of Erwin to share in the services of the counties ambulance service carrier. During the Feb. 27 Erwin BMA meeting and work session, Hensley was hesitant to sign another interlocal agreement.

“If we choose not to sign this interlocal agreement we have options,” Hensley previously said.

According to Hensley during the Feb. 27 meeting, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy had offered to allow Washington County Emergency Medical Services to serve the Town of Erwin. According to Hensley, Grandy is in talks with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable to create a regional ambulance service that would be available to serve Erwin.

Also on Feb. 27, Erwin Vice Mayor Mark Lafever suggested tabling the BMA’s decision on the interlocal agreement to buy the town more time to get more information in writing from Washington County. The board voted unanimously to table the vote on an interlocal agreement with Unicoi County for ambulance service within Erwin corporate limits.

On Monday, Thomas also addressed a potential agreement between the Town of Erwin and Washington County EMS.

“I received an email on Friday, March 8, from (Washington County-Johnson City EMS Chief Executive Director) Dan Wheeley that stated that we have never been contacted about providing services for the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County,” Thomas said.

According to the email sent out to the Board of Directors for Washington County EMS from Wheeley, there have been no talks between Washington County EMS and the Town of Erwin or Unicoi County. In the email, all requests for interviews were being directed to Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy.

As of The Erwin Record’s deadline, no meeting was scheduled between Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin to discuss the interlocal agreement.

According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, he has reached out to Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff to set up a meeting for the two municipalities to discuss the interlocal agreement.

“We were contacted and I should know more soon about an agreeable date and time,” Rosenoff said.

• • •

In other business, the board voted unanimously to close Union Street from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 30 to celebrate the ribbon cutting of Erwin Outdoor Supply.

Erwin Vice Mayor and Erwin Outdoor Supply co-owner Mark Lafever recused himself from voting. According to Erwin Outdoor Supply’s press release, Survivor contestant Gavin Whitson will appear, brand representatives will be on hand, food trucks will be onsite, giveaway and more will take place at that time.

“We will have vendors and food trucks throughout the street,” Lafever said. “We made sure that the neighbors and Erwin Police Chief Regan Tilson were OK with this.”

In the last order of business, the BMA unanimously approved an ordinance to rezone property located at 434 Union St. from R-1 (Low Density) residential district to R-1A (Single Family) residential district within the corporate limits of Erwin, on first reading.

The original request for this rezoning was made during the Erwin Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 27. Property owner Joseph “Scott” Metcalf asked the commission for a residential zoning change at 434 Union St. The motion to approve was made by Alderman Gary Chandler and was seconded by Alderman Michael Baker.

Metcalf was requesting to break up the property into separate lots. The land in question is commonly known in Erwin as the “garden lot.” In the past, Chandler and former alderman Virgil Moore tended a community garden at the site. Hensley made the motion and Griffith seconded the motion to rezone the lot during the Feb. 27 meeting. The Erwin Planning Commission approved the request unanimously.

For the request to be finalized, it must receive a second reading as well as a public hearing.

“The public hearing will be Monday, April 8, followed by the second reading,” Rosenoff said.

County government responds to ambulance lawsuit

By Richard Rourk

In the latest battle over the ambulance service in the county, Unicoi County Attorney Doug Shults filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit recently filed by John Day against Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely and the Unicoi County Commission on grounds that Day lacks standing to sue.

According to Shults’ motion, which was filed on Feb. 21, the lawsuit should be dismissed due to failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Shults cites that the plaintiff is seeking declaratory relief instead of a writ of certiorari. Declaratory relief is a judgment of the court which determines the rights of parties without ordering anything be done or awarding damages.

The Erwin Record previously reported that Day is not seeking any damages from the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit is not punitive toward the mayor and commissioners or seeks any damages from them,” Day previously said. “It simply is a mechanism that will allow the commissioners to rebid the ambulance service contract in a manner that meets state law and without fear of a lawsuit by MedicOne.”

Shults’ motion to dismiss also states that Day’s lawsuit fails to include a dispensable party. Shults proposes that if the court goes forward with the lawsuit that Day would have to join MedicOne as a dispensable party. Currently, Day’s lawsuit aims to retract a possible contract between Unicoi County and MedicOne. Shults is claiming that a scenario may arise where Unicoi County could be bound by contract to MedicOne yet could also face being required to seek ambulance services from a provider other than MedicOne. According to Shults’ motion for dismissal, the lawsuit exposes the county to the possibility of being contractually tied to more than one ambulance service.

Day, a former Unicoi County mayoral candidate and leader of a group of citizens who have expressed concerns over the process that led to MedicOne receiving the contract to provide ambulance services to the county from April 2019-2023, is representing himself in the suit. He filed an amended complaint with the Chancery Court for State of Tennessee First Judicial District, Unicoi County on Feb. 4.

The new contract with Medic -One includes a $225,000 annual subsidy to be paid by the county to the company, which has provided ambulance services in Unicoi County for the past eight years. The county’s previous contract with MedicOne, which is set to expire when the new one begins, included an annual subsidy of $132,000.

The Unicoi County Commission voted to approve the bid and contract during its Dec. 17, 2018, meeting on a 6-2 vote. County Commissioner and Ambulance Committee Chairman John Mosley made the motion to approve the contract with MedicOne and Commissioner Jamie Harris seconded the motion. Joining commissioners Jamie Harris and Mosley in voting to approve a new contract with MedicOne were commissioners Glenn White, Todd Wilcox, Stephen Hendrix and Matthew Rice. Commissioner Marie Rice and Commissioner Jason Harris voted no on the contract. Commission Chairman Loren Thomas, whose wife Cathy Thomas is an employee of MedicOne, abstained from voting.

In the weeks that followed the December approval of the contract, Day encouraged the Unicoi County Commission to reconsider the decision, citing issues with the bidding process and contract status.

The MedicOne contract came before the commission again on Jan. 28. During that meeting, Wilcox made a motion for the panel to reconsider awarding the contract to MedicOne and put the contract out for bid again. That motion, however, failed on a 5-3 vote as only Wilcox, Jason Harris and Marie Rice voted in favor. White, Matthew Rice, Mosley, Jamie Harris and Stephen Hendrix voted against Wilcox’s motion. Thomas again abstained.

Also during that meeting, White expressed concern over a possible lawsuit MedicOne could file against the county for breach of contract that could cost $900,000.

The case will be heard in Unicoi County Chancery Court on Friday, March 15, at 9 a.m. Hearing the case will be the Honorable Judge John C. Rambo.

Unicoi County Commission OKs $200K note for sheriff’s department

The Unicoi County Commission met on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

Areas of concern with the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department were the focus of the Unicoi County Commission during a meeting on Monday, Feb. 25, at the Unicoi County Courthouse.

On the list of concerns were upgrades reportedly needed at the jail annex facility at 1570 Jackson Love Highway and the jail located adjacent to the courthouse.

On Jan. 23, the Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee voted to recommend to the full commission that the roof at the jail annex facility be repaired using money from the county’s general fund. However, on Monday no commissioner made a motion to make the repairs and the issue died on the floor. The motion would have been for the county to pay the $5,700 out of the county’s general fund.

The roof in question had been leaking, but has been patched. Sheriff Mike Hensley reported during the Jan. 23 Building and Grounds Committee meeting that the jail annex roof is in need of replacement.

“It hasn’t been replaced since we moved in over eight years ago,” Hensley previously said.

Commissioner Jason Harris disagreed with the assessment.

“If the roof ain’t leaking now, I don’t understand why we are discussing putting $5,700 into the roof,” Harris said.

Because the commission did not give the approval to pay for the roof repair out of the general fund , the $5,700 roof repair will be coming out of the UCSD maintenance funds.

• • •

During the most recent Unicoi County Public Safety Committee, the committee decided to approve the purchase of four new vehicles for the UCSD. The vehicles were estimated to be less than $150,000.

During the same meeting on Feb. 20, the committee also approved funding for fencing upgrades and for new equipment for the UCSD. The estimated fencing costs are around $25,000. The new equipment for the UCSD would be new vests that are estimated to cost $20,000 and new security equipment that is estimated to cost $5,000.

On Monday, the commission approved a capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 which, according to Chairman Loren Thomas, will be used for those projects for the UCSD.

The motion to approve the capital outlay note was made by Vice Chair Jamie Harris and was seconded by Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley. The request for the capital outlay note in the amount of $200,000 was approved by a 6-2 vote.

Thomas, Harris, and commissioners Stephen Hendrix, Glenn White, John Mosley and Matthew Rice voted to approve, while commissioners Marie Rice and Jason Harris opposed. Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent from the meeting.

Marie Rice objected to the short notice of the request during Monday’s meeting.

“I just found out about this Friday night,” she said. “I felt we didn’t give adequate notice to the taxpayers.”

• • •

Also on Monday, the commission voted unanimously to prepare a request for proposal (RFP) for services to secure bids to acquire a new radio frequency along with the equipment needed. The RFP will include installation and implementation cost.

During the Feb. 8 Unicoi County Public Safety Committee meeting, it was decided that whichever ambulance service takes over in April will be required to seek a new frequency for communication. Currently, MedicOne shares the line that the local Firefighters Association owns. Firefighter Association President Robert Adams had previously stated that the Firefighters Association would no longer share the frequency with the incoming ambulance service. Adams also said that the ambulance service would have 90 days after the April 1, 2019, start date to find a new frequency.

• • •

The commission also voted unanimously to approve an RFP be sent out for bid for fencing and fence repair at the facility at Jackson Love Highway. The Unicoi County Building and Grounds Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 19, to discuss upgrades to fencing and it was decided that the proposal would go before the county commissioners.

In other business, the board joined the Unicoi County School Board in opposing proposed state law SB0019/H80301. The Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 would make the position of director of schools an electable position. The director of schools is currently appointed by the school board, which is elected.

The motion to oppose the Tennessee General Assembly code SB0019/HB0301 was made by Matthew Rice and seconded by Mosley. The motion carried with a 7-1 vote, with Marie Rice the only one opposed. Thomas, Jamie Harris, Matthew Rice, Jason Harris, White, Hendrix and Mosley approved.

In closing, the board discussed inmate revenue. White said he wants to find more data regarding if the state inmates are making or losing money for the county and use that information to decide future plans.

“Let’s nail it down,” Commissioner White said.

Commissioner Marie Rice agreed.

“We need long-range planning,” she said.

Thomas reinforced the significance of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee.

“The Inmate Revenue Committee is new and we are looking through at least five years of data to gauge where we are,” he said.

Unicoi County officials debate future of jail facilities

The members of the Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee listen to suggestions from TCI Facilities Specialist Bob Bass. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The Unicoi County Inmate Revenue Committee met on Tuesday, Feb. 12, to discuss the future of the county jails.

Currently, Unicoi County has two facilities – one housing male inmates and one housing female inmates. The two facilities house both local inmates and state inmates. According to Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely, state inmates bring in $39 daily per inmate; however, the costs for inmates vary due to medical needs, as well as other housing needs. Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) pays Unicoi County $39 daily per state inmate that the county houses.

Last year the county spent roughly $256,000 dollars on medical and prescription costs for the inmates, according to Unicoi County Commissioner Marie Rice. This year the budget for inmate medical costs is $129,000. So far, the county is on track with the projected budget.

Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Detention Facilities Specialist Bob Bass and County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) Jail Management Consultant Jim Hart were on hand to hear the concerns of the committee last week. The county commission concerns are centered on cutting costs in regards to inmate revenue.

The first plan discussed was to expand the facility located next to the Unicoi County Courthouse at 102 N. Main Ave, Erwin, and move all inmates to the location. This plan would allow the county to close down the property at 1570 Jackson Love Highway, Erwin, which currently houses the female inmates.

“We are looking at trying to house one jail, under one roof,” Sheriff Mike Hensley said.

The county is looking to do the most cost-effective maneuver in regards to the jail.

“The overhead of two facilities is killing us,” Unicoi County Commission Vice Chairman Jamie Harris said. “It would be better if we had one cost.”

A move to one facility would not be an easy move to make, according to Bass.

“Moving to one facility you will be taking on really big challenges,” Bass said. “You would need to make a host of changes to accommodate that.”

The facility located adjacent to the courthouse in downtown Erwin would need to be expanded to house all the inmates.

“Not only are you looking at adding a separate wing for the female inmates, you are looking at enlarging the kitchen, food and food storage, laundry and the booking areas,” Bass said.

According to Hart, the first step to combining the jails to one location would be to get engineers to approve the expansion at the building at 102 N. Main Ave, Erwin.

“I would look at my options, get costs, and go from there,” Hart said.

Another plan that was explored by the committee was to build a new facility at a new location.

“There is going to come a day we will need to build a brand new facility, and we need to be prepared,” Harris said.

It will take numerous years to build a new facility, according to Hart.

“You are looking at 3 to 5 years to build a new building,” Hart said.

The time frame for a new facility would be longer than that to complete, according to Unicoi County Commissioner John Mosley.

“It would be a minimum 5 years, at least,” Mosley said.

To build a new facility, the county would have to send the state inmates out to other facilities and move all county inmates to one facility while the new building is erected. The move would be needed to cut the costs of facilitating two separate buildings.

According to Hart, since there will be no expansion to the building adjacent to the courthouse, this move would put the county at risk of overpopulation. Evely cautioned the move.

“Before we send inmates back we want to be sure we view all of the variables first,” Evely said. 

One of the biggest strains on the current two jail system is non-sentenced inmates, according to Sheriff Mike Hensley. A non-sentenced inmate, is an inmate that may have been on and broke probation and is jailed until they can go back before the court.

Bass and Hart joined the commissioners on a tour of the facility adjacent to the courthouse following the meeting on Feb. 12. Bass offered to work in the future with the county through the County Corrections Partnership Initiative if the county approved. The County Corrections Partnership (CCP) is an initiative developed by TCI to assist in measures to address jail issues and reform. The commission agreed to accept his help going forward.

“The more information we can have the better we are,” Harris said. No future meeting with CCP has been set yet.

Since the county is looking at keeping both facilities up and running, some repairs will be needed to keep both jails up to code. The committee decided during the Feb. 12 meeting to put any moves on hold until more information could be gathered in regards to combining the facilities or looking for land to build a new jail.

“We know we need to make improvements,” Commissioner Matthew Rice said. “We just did not want to make them until we were sure about what we were going to do. We have to be sure we are spending money in the right places.”   

One improvement that the committee is looking at is updating the fencing at the facilities. The committee will meet again next month to discuss improvements to the facilities, including the need for a new fence.

UCHS ROTC students raise funds for hurricane victims

The Unicoi County High School Air Force JROTC, including cadets Lacey Ashley, Sebastian Bakken, Dylan Delph, Keilani King, Travis Lewis, Brianna Monroe, Alaina Satterly, Derek Tapp, Luz Terrazas and Josue Terrazas-Lascano, join Dr. Chris Bogart, principal, and Unicoi County Director of Schools John English in a check presentation for Team Rubicon. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Richard Rourk)

By Richard Rourk

The cadets of the Unicoi County High School Air Force Junior ROTC recently collected funds to donate to Team Rubicon. The cadets sent the money to Team Rubicon on Monday, Feb. 11. Team Rubicon is made up of a network of veterans who utilize their skills and talents to help during natural disasters.

“Team Rubicon is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that utilizes the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams,” UCHS AFJROTC instructor Colonel Louis Kaelin told The Erwin Record. “Team Rubicon was founded in 2010, and has deployed across the United States and around the world to provide immediate relief to those impacted by disasters and humanitarian crises.”

The funds raised for Team Rubicon are going to aid in hurricane relief. According to Team Rubicon’s website, the organization has the opportunity to extend its capabilities and services into long-term recovery (LTR) for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Over a 24-month timeline, Team Rubicon will run a new long-term recovery program to rebuild 100 homes affected by Harvey in Houston, 30 homes affected by Irma in Florida and a roof building program in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

The more than 40 cadets at UCHS collected money at Blue Devil home football games.

“The kids went and passed the hat around at a couple of home games and raised more than $300 for hurricane relief,” Kaelin said

If you are interested in donating or volunteering for Team Rubicon, please visit teamrubiconusa.org.

Town of Erwin plans to install traffic light on Second Street

By Richard Rourk

As part of the preparations for welcoming a new Food City store to Erwin, town officials are preparing to construct a new traffic light.

The Town of Erwin has agreed to have a traffic signal located on the intersection of Second Street and the entrance to the new Food City, which is slated to be open during the summer. The light will be constructed at the intersection of Second Street, the entrance to Food City and where the railroad overpass meets Second Street.

“The traffic light project went out to bid on Wednesday, Feb. 6,” Town of Erwin City Recorder Glenn Rosenoff told The Erwin Record.

Rosenoff reported that constructing a mast arm signal could cost roughly $200,000. Rosenoff recently asked the Unicoi County Joint Economic Development Board (JEDB) to partner with the town on the project and the JEDB agreed to contribute $20,800 towards the cost of erecting the traffic signal.

The remaining amount will be paid for by the recent bond the Town of Erwin received from the City of Clarksville. The loan that was made not to exceed $1 million, was approved during a September meeting of the Town Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The funds were allocated for this project, as well as other public works projects.

“The projected revenue from the Food City site should help offset the cost of the repayment of the bond,” Rosenoff had previously said.

The traffic light project is a collaboration of the Town of Erwin, JEDB and Erwin Utilities and is expected to be completed by June.

“Our desired time frame for completion was four months from going to bid on Feb. 6,” Rosenoff said.

The traffic signal will help the congested area on Second Street, according to Rosenoff.

“It is intended to provide a safer means of vehicle flow and coordination, as well as to provide a safer driving experience through a higher traffic area,” Rosenoff said.

Construction on the traffic signal is expected to start in the coming months and an update to the citizens will be provided as to what to expect at the intersection.

The town will have a pre-construction meeting with the bid winner to address any safety concerns or detours.

“Any delays or safety precautions will be discussed with the contractor and announced to the public through various communication strategies,” Rosenoff said.