County-wide zoning, city fireworks are explosive local issues in 2003

New developments will boost 2004 economy

By Rozella Hardin

   The year 2003 saw some new issues ignite in Carter County and Elizabethton, resulting in confrontation as well as a resolve to overcome.
   Among the most explosive issues was countywide zoning, which has left a number of citizens mainly in Roan Mountain and Stoney Creek stewing. The zoning issue was ignited in May when Stoney Creek Service Station owner Freeman Taylor caused an uproar with the location of a new business on Highway 91. The business raised questions about the definition of "service station" in zoning ordinances.
   By July, Stoney Creek residents were signing petitions -- pro and con -- on zoning, which were presented to the Carter County Commission.
   In 1999 when county leaders decided to zone the county, many commissioners voted not to include their district. As a result, districts 1, 3, and 5 became the only districts without zoning. Thus, the question to zone or not to zone these districts became a heated issue not only with the County Commission but with several people living in those districts, who voiced their opposition to zoning.
   In an abrupt action in October, the Commission approved county-wide zoning, causing County Mayor Dale Fair to declare: "I think county-wide zoning is a beginning, and not an end. I believe it can be a positive thing for the future."
   However, some residents have refused to accept the decision by the Commission and are still up in arms over the issue, threating court action and whatever it takes to reverse the vote.
   In the city, the hot issue was fireworks, and a debate was sparked when the City Council voted to approve the sale of fireworks during the July the Fourth, Christmas, and New Year's holidays. The issue is still causing some in Elizabethton to fume.
   That wasn't the only heated issue in the City this year, as former Elizabethton City Schools Director Judy Blevins became the center of a controversy when she suspended Elizabethton High School Principal Ed Alexander after charges of harrassment were filed against him by a city teacher. As a result, EHS students staged a walk-out and refused to go to class for three days. Blevins and Alexander were able to find an amicable solution to the matter, and a truce was called. Alexander was reinstated as principal, and in June, Blevins submitted her resignation after accepting the school director's job in Campbell County.
   The School Board stayed in the news with the hiring this month of David Roper for the school director's job at what many considered an outrageous salary -- around $108,000 when benefits and perks are figured in. Alexander again became a thorn in the board's side, when he questioned the high salary after teachers were only given a 1.3 percent increase in salary this fiscal year.
   Abortion protestors also made their voices heard this year with protests outside a local physican's office on Hudson Drive.
   On the positive side, the county took steps this year to clean up its landscape with a litter law. The County Commission in April approved a litter law which applies to property within 50 feet of a county highway. However, the law does not take into account junk or rubbish that often finds its way into drains or rivers. This was seen when the Doe and Watauga rivers flooded in early December. A lot of debris washed down the rivers.
   The County Commission was also brought face to face with overcrowding at the County Jail, which has resulted in two lawsuits against the county.
   The very first week in January, 2003, the jail recorded its highest occupancy, housing over 220 inmates, when it is only certified by the state to hold a maximum of 91 inmates. A Jail Task Force was created at that time to deal with the issue, and in July a needs-assessment study was given the go ahead by the Commission.
   However, in spite of its overcrowding problem, the jail was re-certified in September by the state. Two lawsuits followed, and the County Commission in 2004 will be facted with the task of finding a solution to the problem.
   Another positive for the county and city this year was steps taken by the Watauga River Water Authority to receive financial backing for a regional water source. A 50-cent surcharge per connection was approved, which will result in annual income of approximately $144,000 -- enough to hire a director. In June, the Authority hired Charles Michael Hughes as director. A couple of grants have been received to aid in the planning and development of a new regional water source.
   The War on Terrorism came home to Carter Countians, when in January, the 776th Maintenance Division of the Tennessee National Guard, based in Elizabethton was mobilized and deployed to Fort Campbell for active duty. The guardsmen left Elizabethton on January 30. The first of the 776th soldiers returned home in September, and another group returned last week. Approximately 30 soldiers remain at Fort Campbell, and could be there for another year said their Commander Larry Northcutt.
   Duct tape and plastic sheeting became number one sale items as the Department of Homeland Security recommended every home have a supply on hand in case of biological, chemical or radiological attacks by terrorists.
   The war showed its face in other ways as smallpox vaccinations were given to healthcare workers, and volunteers were trained for clinics in case the virus became a weapon of terrorists.
   However, it was not smallpox which became a threat to the public, but it was another very common virus that invaded the community late this fall -- the flu. Although, flu vaccinations were given in doctors' offices and at the health department, the flu raged in the local schools, threatening closure before the holiday vacation begin. Also, local emergency rooms have been filled with flu patients. A shortage of vaccine may result an epidemic of higher proportions this winter, officials from the Center of Disease Control say.
   While Inland Container closed its facility in May and Moody Aviation announced plans to begin phasing out its operation in Elizabethton this year, there was good economic development news in the business sector. Wal-Mart announced it will build a supercenter on the NAR property as did Lowe's Home Improvement Center. In October, the 250-foot NAR smokestack was brought tumbling down to mark the beginning of the development of the property. The smokestack was a visible reminder of Elizabethton's industrial past, and had towered over West Elk Avenue for 75 years.
   2003 also marked the end of the rail era in Elizabethton, when the East Tennessee Railway called it quits as the last of its major suppliers -- Inland Container -- closed. Rail service to Elizabethton dates back to the mid-1800s.
   Other newsmakers this year included plans to provide a water supply to the Little Milligan and Fish Springs communities with the Carderview Utility in Butler piping water to the communities. Financial help would come from federal grants and loans.
   * Caroline Hurt was named director of the Carter County Health Department replacing Dwayne Austin, who retired. Gerald Holly was named interim assessor of properties upon the resignation of John Holtsclaw. Two other new officeholders were named - David Bachelder, director of veterans affairs, and Ernest Jackson, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency.
   * Refurbishment began on the Elk Avenue Bridge in June. The project, expected to be completed in Spring 2004, is funded by a federal grant with a 10 percent match in local funds of $200,000 from the city.
   * Construction began this year on the Roan Mountain Community Park. The park will be built on 15 acres located behind the U.S. Post Office off Carter Street in Roan Mountain and extending across U.S. Highway 143. The properties were part of a buyout of flooded lands in 1998.
   * The War Memorial Veterans Park in downtown Elizabethton was completed this year, culminating with the lighting of an eternal flame on Memorial Day. Also, plans were announced for the Veterans Walk of Honor, on which work will begin in Spring 2004.
   * St. John Mill celebrates 225th anniversary.
   * Wataugans celebrate 25th anniversary with Silver Jubilee performances.