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Town of Unicoi officials: Travel center planned for Exit 32

Town of Unicoi officials gathered on Monday, Oct. 19, to celebrate the opening of the Doug Hopson Pavilion. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Doug Hopson)

By Richard Rourk

During a meeting of the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen held on Monday, Oct. 19, officials reported that a new business venture will soon call Unicoi home.

“We are proud to announce a brand new travel center that will be built on Exit 32,” Mayor Johnny Lynch said. “This will be an all-purpose facility that will be 24 hours, seven days a week. This facility will feature gas, food, soft drinks, beer and other amenities.”

According to Lynch, construction on the travel center is set to begin in the spring of 2021 and is scheduled to take roughly five months to complete.

The travel center will be part of the Riggs Oil Company family that features Black Diamond Convenience stores. 

• • •

During the comments from the public section of Monday’s virtual BMA meeting, Unicoi County Director of Schools John English sent an email inquiring about the town’s commitment to Unicoi County Schools.

“I was at the candidate forum last week and asked a question about each candidate’s commitment to Unicoi County Schools and the bond to upgrade facilities that are used by our students and our community,” English said in the email. “Back in April, I had received positive feedback from (alderwoman and mayoral candidate) Mrs. (Kathy) Bullen and (vice mayor Doug) Hopson. Alderwoman Wanda Radford was newly elected and stated she ‘needed time to evaluate the budget, which is understandable. Mr. (Mayor Johnny) Lynch and Mr. (Alderman Jeff) Linville both said ‘they couldn’t see it and wouldn’t commit.’ At last week’s forum, Mayor Lynch said he didn’t have any information about the request. I did not understand when he said that. That was simply not true. Mayor Lynch, I ask that you commit that the request made in April be made to help with the bond for renovations to area schools.”

According to Lynch, a “clear plan” was never presented to the BMA.

“We never got a clear plan on this,” Lynch said. “That is double taxation by the way. We want to see a plan where Erwin contributes, Unicoi and the county contributes is the plan I am looking for. The statement that it wasn’t true that I didn’t get the information from English, is that I got the same information that everyone up here got. It was something about two years ago and Unicoi Elementary was at the bottom of that list if you will remember. We need to take care of our community and I don’t mind contributing to the school system as long as it is equally shared. We gave $3 million to that school system and Erwin gave nothing, let’s remind everyone of that. I don’t have a problem with helping with Unicoi Elementary but it needs to be structured better before we turn over $175,000 a year. I don’t know if this is politically motivated or what is going on here.”

As previously reported by The Erwin Record, during the April 15 BMA meeting English requested the Town of Unicoi continue providing a portion of sales tax to fund upgrades to Unicoi County School.

The Town of Unicoi has been paying $175,000 from sales tax to pay off a capital outlay note that was used to build the current Unicoi County High School. The Town of Unicoi will complete the original payments following 2020.

“I think we should schedule a meeting with English to settle any confusion,” Bullen said.

Unicoi County Schools could have received roughly $2.5 million to assist in upgrades if the Town of Unicoi had agreed to extend a payment of $175,000, which the town receives annually from sales tax, until 2039. The town did not commit to extending the payment during the April meeting.

No meeting between the BMA and school officials was made by The Erwin Record’s deadline.

• • •

Also, BMA voted unanimously to approve a grant for the Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

“This is for the approval of a State of Tennessee Coronavirus Agriculture grant for the Mountain Harvest Kitchen for $95,000 that is 100 percent non-matching,” Lynch said.

According to Mountain Harvest Kitchen Executive Director Lee Manning, this grant was “a competitive process.”

• • •

The BMA also announced a mayoral proclamation in honor of Hopson who is not seeking re-election.

“We held a special opening for the newly named Doug Hopson Pavilion with a great crowd early today,” Lynch said. “I also want to give this proclamation to honor Hopson for his more than 16 years service to the Town of Unicoi.”

Earlier in the day, the town officially introduced the public to the newly named Doug Hopson Pavilion located next to the Unicoi Visitor’s Center.

“I am so thankful for everyone that made this possible,” Hopson said.