By Richard Rourk
Unicoi’s main thoroughfare will soon be getting a makeover thanks to a project of the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
A meeting of the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Alderman on Thursday, Jan. 20, included discussion of TDOT plans to install a turn lane on Unicoi Drive.
“We all knew this was coming,” said Unicoi Vice Mayor Roger Cooper. “This would allow us to put a rear entrance to Town Hall and will also help assist in access to our police department.”
The BMA voted unanimously to create a new entrance at the rear of Town Hall. Unicoi Mayor Kathy Bullen was absent from the meeting due to a family illness.
The proposed TDOT turn lane is set to be created at the turn onto Highway 107 and is a part of TDOT’s Indian Creek Replacement Project.
Jones Hardware, a Unicoi landmark since 1959, recently announced its closure due to the proposed project.
Jones Hardware Owner Kirk Spradley explained that the proposed TDOT project left him no choice but to close his business.
“TDOT has been planning to replace that bridge on Unicoi Drive coming into town and they also have a plan for the intersection of 107 and Unicoi Drive,” Spradley told The Erwin Record earlier this month. “They have a 50-foot right of way on their construction plan and when they take that 50 feet I will no longer have a parking lot. I can’t park and can’t get deliveries. I had to make a business decision.”
The BMA also heard from Judges Jim Goodwin, Lisa Rice and Stacy Street about a proposed regional drug rehabilitation program.
The judges said that they have addressed several counties and cities already and we are here now,”
“We have heard back from Sullivan County, Carter County, Hamblen County and the Town of Erwin,” Rice said noting they are on board to hold onto funds until the judges can come back and make a formal proposal.
“That’s what we are asking here,” Rice said.
The committee of judges is asking the municipalities to use a settlement gained in the Baby Doe case to fund a proposed inpatient treatment facility.
“This wasn’t free money,” Street explained.
“There was a baby that was born addicted to opioids,” Street said. “That young child spent its first breaths addicted to opioids. Those funds were earned by that lawsuit. Roughly 85% of the charges we saw last year were related to drug use. What we have been doing isn’t working. We are looking at a facility that the region could use as an inpatient treatment facility located in Roan Mountain.”
The Baby Doe lawsuit was filed in June 2017 on behalf of Baby Doe, a child born addicted to opioids, and a group of local governments in Northeast Tennessee. The group wanted to prove that Endo, the drugmakers Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt, and several opioid distributors knew they were fueling Northeast Tennessee’s drug addiction epidemic by pumping vast quantities of opioids into the region. The local government plaintiffs in the case alone had sought $2.4 billion in damages through the case to fund recovery programs for the Northeast Tennesseans who have suffered most from the opioid crisis.
No vote of support for the proposed treatment facility was made during the Jan. 20 meeting.
The BMA also heard from citizens concerned about a fire that has been burning for 40 days on property located along Unicoi Drive.
“Some of my neighbors would say, ‘I’m so tired of my eyes and nose burning,” Sandy Gouge told the BMA. “They would say, ‘My nose has been bleeding. Just got back from the doctor’s visit, got another sinus infection.’”
The BMA voted unanimously to send a letter to the property owner requesting that they stop the burning. It was suggested that the BMA meet again to discuss creating an ordinance to regulate burning. “It is time to do something beyond a letter,” said BMA member Debbie Bennett. “We need an ordinance.”
The Town of Unicoi does not currently have any ordinances on the books that would prevent the open burning of wood and vegetation waste that is produced or grown on the same property where it’s burned.
The Town of Unicoi BMA is scheduled to meet again at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 24.