By Richard Rourk
U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn paid Unicoi County an early morning visit on Friday, Oct. 22, to discuss a number of issues the county is facing.
Blackburn met with representatives from all three municipalities in Unicoi County at Jones and Church Farms in Unicoi with a focus on technology.
“Access to high-speed internet is vital to a community,” Blackburn said. “High-speed internet is vital for everything from educational tools to tele-health.”
Blackburn explained that she hopes to pass a bill allowing hospitals to be reimbursed for tele-health visits prior to the pandemic.
“It’s hard for people in rural areas to take a day off of work and go to the hospital or urgent care,” Blackburn said.
During the roundtable visit, Blackburn praised local leaders and the work of Erwin Utilities and French Broad Electric Company in supplying high-speed broadband internet throughout Unicoi County.
“So when current projects are complete, Unicoi County will have 95 percent broadband coverage,” Blackburn said.
Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely explained that current laws prohibit Erwin Utilities and the county from servicing the other 5 percent because they fall under different providers. Evely explained that Erwin Utilities and the mayor’s office are still working on bringing broadband to those residents.
Blackburn praised the local leaders on how they have handled federal relief funds during the pandemic.
“You have done an amazing job in filling needs with the funding you have received,” Blackburn said. “There are a lot of grants out there, as well, so be sure to utilize all resources, but you guys are doing great with grants.”
One grant that the county has secured is a $50,000 federal grant to upgrade solid waste equipment.
“We received a grant to replace equipment at two of our convenience sites,” Evely said. “This upgrade will put us into the 21st century with our convenience sites.”
Blackburn also told guests that she intends to oppose the proposed spending bill of the Biden Administration.
“We have to stop this increase of government spending and increase in taxes,” Blackburn said. “These are policies that cause people to get fired from their job; then you’re going to see inflation rise higher.”