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BMA presents 'Neighbor' awards; discusses road closure

Two citizens and two organizations were recognized as “good neighbors” by the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen during a meeting on Monday, July 20.
Mayor Johnny Lynch presented the Samuel Leedy Good Neighbor Award for both 2014 and 2015.
“Sammy Leedy was a citizen many of you knew,” Lynch said prior to presenting the awards. “He was probably one of the best citizens of the community I have ever seen. He was always going and helping folks in the neighborhood. … He was one of these guys who you called and he would come running.
“We thought so much of him that we established the Sammy Leedy Good Neighbor Award.”
Brunhilde Tober-Meyer, a town volunteer who has spent countless hours working on developing the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, received the individual award for 2014.
The Unicoi Ruritan Club received the organization award.
Susan Harkins, a town volunteer, received the 2015 individual award.
Appalachian Feral Cat Allies received the organization award. Judy King, its founder, said during the meeting that since its inception the organization has caught, neutered or spayed and released approximately 2,500 cats, including 1,000 from Unicoi County.
“This reduces the number of unowned, unadoptable cats,” King said. “It’s a win-win for the whole community and the animals in the community.”
The Samuel Leedy Good Neighbor Award was first presented to an individual in 2008 when it was given to the man for whom it is named.
Other recipients were: Jerry Ramsey in 2009; Don Wilson in 2010; Mike Davis in 2011; Lesia Willis in 2012; and Gary Ogden in 2013.
The award was first presented to an organization in 2013. Receiving the award that year was the Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department.
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Prior to the awards presentations, the BMA discussed possibly closing a section of Washington Street, which runs behind Unicoi Town Hall and connects Highway 107 and Unicoi Drive. Located on the road are back entrances to town hall and to Dr. Cynthia Reece’s Mountain Medicine Family Practice. The Unicoi County Gas Utility District and CenturyLink also have property along the road.
Considering closing the street came about due to safety concerns caused by speeding vehicles using the road to bypass the intersection of Highway 107 and Unicoi Drive in front of town hall, Lynch said.
City Recorder Larry Rea said the board would not be voting on the issue at the meeting, only discussing whether or not to move forward. He said closing the road would require the passing of an ordinance, which will require two readings.
Alderwoman Kathy Bullen expressed concerns that closing Washington Street would further congest the already congested intersection of Highway 107 and Unicoi Drive.
“Is there anything that can be done (at the intersection) to help improve the flow of cars?” Bullen asked.
“What I would recommend doing is to request that the (Tennessee Department of Transportation) put a turn lane,” Lynch responded. “They have done some surveys there already. It’s on their list as one of the most dangerous intersections in this area.”
Rea said installing gates on the road would be used to prevent traffic from using Washington Street, should the town decide to close the road. The locations of the gates have not been determined.
Dr. Reece urged the board to keep the road open because her patients use it in order to access a side door to her office.
“If you notice the front of my building, I have numerous stairs,” Reece said. “If I have a little, old lady who is 95-years-old, somebody who has a knee condition, somebody who has a heart condition – I have handicapped access to the side of my building. That is where my patients come in. How are those patients going to access that? How is this going to impact my practice? How is this going to impact their healthcare? Am I going to be responsible for adding a new handicap access ramp because this road that has been open for how long is going to be shut down.”
Reece said she understands that speeding on the road is a concern.
“I do worry about that,” she added.
Reece suggested installing traffic control devices, such as speed bumps, on Washington Street.
Rea said the town has installed speed bumps on other roads in town, which were not popular with citizens.
“We put speed bumps at (Unicoi Elementary School) to slow people down going by the school,” Rea said. “We got such an outrage we had to take them out. Speed bumps are not a good subject in our town.”
The installation of a red light at the Unicoi Drive and Highway 107 was also discussed. Lynch said because both of the roads are state roads, TDOT would have to install the red light.
“They said ‘no’ to a red light a few years ago,” Lynch said.
He said the town is considering doing something about Washington Street because the town can control that.
“It’s a problem,” Lynch said of the situation. “We don’t mean to offend anyone with this. When a situation comes up like this, we have to try to look into it and take whatever action is necessary.
“I’ve used that road, too. If we decided to leave it open, as far as I’m concerned, that’s fine; if we decide to close it, that’s fine, too,” Lynch continued. “What I want to do is make sure this board addresses this issue, discusses it and gets input on it. … We will be discussing this more in the future.”
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In other business, the BMA:
• Approved a proclamation in honor of Judge Tom Seeley who retired last month;
• Passed a resolution to amend the 2015-2016 budget to reserve Mountain Harvest Kitchen donation funds;
• Passed a resolution to amend the 2015-2016 budget to reserve History Committee funds;
• Passed the first reading of an ordinance to adopt a Unicoi Zoning Map.