By Richard Rourk
For the second time in as many months, the scheduled start time for the Unicoi County Commission meetings has changed.
The commission originally voted 7-1, with Unicoi County Commissioner Jason Harris as the only opposition, to move the start time from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. during its Oct. 28 meeting. The 5 p.m. start time took effect starting during the January meeting.
During a meeting on Monday, Feb. 24, the commission voted 7-1 to move the start time for commission meetings back to 6 p.m. going forward following a motion made by Commissioner Stephen Hendrix and a second by Vice Chairman Jamie Harris. Commissioner Marie Rice was the only opposition to moving the time back and Commissioner Todd Wilcox was absent from the meeting.
“I suggest those who wish to move the time back pay the fees for the announcements in the paper,” Rice said. “This is only the second meeting we’ve had at 5 p.m.”
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Moving on, the commission heard from Unicoi County Search and Rescue which is the former Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue.
“Unaka Mountain Search and Rescue is no longer in existence. We are now Unicoi County Search and Rescue,” Unicoi County Search and Rescue representative Mike Adams said. “The name change is beneficial to us. We are not just responsible for Unaka Mountain, we are responsible for all of Unicoi County.”
Adams made a formal request for additional funding for the upcoming county budget to purchase gear.
“I am respectfully asking this commission for an additional $10,918 for proper gear,” Adams said.
According to Commissioner John Mosley, the individuals who serve with the organization currently used their own personal gear to make rescues.
“I understand that members have had to use their own supplies,” Mosley said.
Adams confirmed that his crew has had to use very valuable equipment during past rescues. “Our members can spend up to a thousand dollars per search, out of pocket,” Adams said.
According to Commissioner Matthew Rice, the commission will discuss Unicoi County Search and Rescue’s fund request when the county reviews their budget later in the year.
Unicoi County Commission Chairman Loren Thomas thanked the Unicoi County Search and Rescue for all they do.
“We appreciate you all very much,” Thomas said.
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Next up, the commission heard from Nolichucky Gorge Campground owner Rick Murray and USA Raft owner Matt Moses.
“I came to say thank you for the job the county has done for Jones Branch Road,” Murray said. “I want to give thanks to (Unicoi County Highway Department Superintendent Terry Haynes) for the job he did. We have withstood our first flood without issue.”
Moses was also thankful for the work the county has done on Jones Branch Road.
“I want to say thank you for making the access in and out for all of our residents, both permanent and temporary, better,” Moses said. “We employ over 83 people at peak season and they appreciate the work you guys have done. Terry did a great job. I was impressed with the job you guys did. Thank you to you and your crew.”
Back in July, the commission voted to allow Haynes to proceed in raising a stretch of road on Jones Branch Road up to 48 inches.
However, Murray did express a concern about the project.
“I’m concerned the loose gravel could wash out,” Murray said.
Haynes gave an update on the project at Jones Branch Road.
“We are looking at another estimated $25,000 for concrete to complete the project,” Haynes said.
Haynes went on to say that the price of supplies is expected to increase after March, which could raise the cost.
“… either way, the project has got to be finished,” he said.
Haynes also gave an update on flooding in Unicoi County.
“We are setting a meeting with other parties to see what can be done with flooding in the area,” Haynes said. “We want to go see what needs to be done and then set up a public meeting with those that have been impacted by the floods. It’s an issue that’s not going to heal itself.”
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In other news, Kenneth Kisiel was elected as water commissioner to serve a four-year term ending in 2024. The county commission voted unanimously to approve Kisiel following a motion made by Mosley and seconded by Marie Rice.
In a final order of business, George Hall was named to serve as veteran’s service officer for Unicoi County following a 7-1 vote, with Mosley opposing the move.
“The only reason I oppose this move is out of respect for Bill Hensley,” Mosley said.
Hensley had previously served as Unicoi County’s veteran’s service officer.