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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for December 21, 2023

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.

We start with local news…

CA Football Standout Killed in Accident (MSM)

Tre Davidson, a 2019 Columbia Academy graduate who completed his football career at the school as the program’s single-season and all-time rushing yardage leader, was killed in a motorcycle accident Friday.

He was 22 years old, one day shy of his 23rd birthday.

Davidson was traveling north on Mooresville Pike when he was unable to negotiate a curve on his Kawasaki ZX1. The motorcycle crossed the center line, left the road, struck a ditch and struck a culvert before coming to a stop.

“It was sad news to hear,” former Columbia Academy teammate Harrison Warren said. “Tre was a great dude and a phenomenal athlete, probably the most gifted person I played with in high school. It’s really sad that he’s gone too soon. The good Lord has other plans.”

From 2015-18, Davidson rushed for 4,208 yards and 39 touchdowns, including a junior season in which he posted 1,812 yards and 18 TDs – all school records at the time. The Bulldogs were 44-8 over that span with a pair of state semifinal appearances.

He later signed with Lindsey Wilson College, an NAIA program in Columbia, Ky., where he spent one season.

Shop With A Cop (WKOM Radio 3:07)

Yesterday the annual Shop With A Cop program was held, which is one of the public outreach efforts of the Columbia Police Department. Front Porch Radio’s Delk Kennedy stopped by the station and spoke to Lt. Jeff Duncan and lucky student Jessica Worley…

Bear Creek Pike Not on TDOT List (CDH)

The project to widen Bear Creek Pike will be put on hold for the time being following the Tennessee Department of Transportation's recent announcement regarding its 10-year plan for roadways.

The announcement was made Monday morning as Columbia and Maury County leaders anxiously awaited confirmation for final funding of the project, which at this point dates back more than a decade.

The city's vision is to take approximately 7.2 miles of road to widen into four lanes, as well as various landscaping upgrades to the Bear Creek/Highway 31 intersection, all in conjunction with the ongoing $29 million upgrades at the Bear Creek I-65 interchange.

The city initially submitted its application in August, highlighting that the city had committed $4.5 million to the project, requesting TDOT commit to approximately $10 million over the next 10 years.

City Manager Tony Massey said, while this isn't great news to hear, the city isn't giving up just yet.

"We did not get good news ... and we were very disappointed to see that the city of Columbia and Bear Creek Pike was not included in the list," Massey said. "We had high hopes, and felt like since we've made such a financial commitment to this, that we'd probably get preferential treatment."

Massey added that, according to the list of projects which were approved, there is an indicator that TDOT has its sights mainly set on metro areas and interstate highways. There are also plans to install something similar to toll lanes, or "choice lanes" where drivers would pay a small fee.

"If you want to pay a fee, you can take the express lane and miss some of the traffic going to Nashville every day," Massey said. "That's the concept behind it."

As for now, Massey said the city is "going back to the drawing board" to explore other options. Though this announcement presents something of a setback, it absolutely does not mean the project is dead in the water.

"Just because we didn't get it doesn't mean we are going to quit. We are never going to quit," Massey said.

"We'll just come back with a new strategy, because it's just too important to the community. It's been a priority for our city government for over 10 years and will remain a priority until we can get it. It's a setback, but it's not an end to all things, and so we'll keep an eye on it."

Fire Station 1 Upgrades (MSM)

Columbia Fire and Rescue’s Station No. 1 is set to undergo $4,882,000 in renovations following a unanimous vote of approval from the Columbia City Council last Thursday, Dec. 14.

Plans to renovate Station No. 1, which is the central station for the city, were brought up last July. The renovations will consist of a complete remodel, including a new roof, insulated attics, LED lighting, and a 35-person training facility. In addition, the station’s main public entrance will be moved to the rear of the building and a new parking lot will be paved.

The station will also include a “baby drop-off box,” which allows mothers of newborns to surrender unharmed babies to designated facilities, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

The facility at South Garden Street, which was built in 1977, has had very few upgrades other than painting and floor replacements since its original construction.

“This has been a long time coming,” Fire Chief Ty Cobb said. “We have been working on this for a while and are excited to finally see the project get going. The station is in the busiest area and houses administration along with fire crews,” he said, adding that the expansion will also consist of an EOC (Emergency Operation Center) and tornado-proof shelter. “If there is severe weather damage or tornadoes, this will be an area where firefighters can be protected.”

While undergoing renovations, several offices will be relocated to stations two and three.

The project received five bids, with Pulaski-based general contractor Brindley Construction LLC ultimately taking on the task. George Nuber, the architect of the project, said the new station will also allow for segregation between males and females.

“We’re excited to adapt this building which will allow for that to happen,” Nuber said of the improvements, which will increase the total footprint to 17,330 square feet.

“The building was very inefficient in its installation. We were able to greatly improve upon the envelope installation factor for the facility, which will help its life cycle costing for energy use,” he added.

Renovations are expected to begin in January, with the project estimated to be completed in 12 months.

The council also approved dedicating the championship field at the Ridley Sports Complex in honor of former Columbia mayor Dean Dickey, and accepted the donation of a freestanding clock from the Columbia Breakfast Rotary Club in honor of the group’s 100th anniversary. The clock will be installed at the Riverwalk Park Farmer’s Market Pavilion.

A change order of $225,493.76 to the South Garden Streetscape project was approved, with the increase required because of added construction costs.

A rezoning of 4.28 acres off Morningside Lane was sent back to the Planning Commission after council members noted upcoming changes to the city’s Connect Columbia plan in the coming year.

The property owners had originally requested a change from CD-3L (Neighborhood Large-Lot Character District) to CD-4 (General Urban Character District).

Gerald Vick, an engineer representing the owners, asked for a deferral, noting that the city was looking at redefining the zoning requirements in the coming months.

“In light of the information we received about the project that the Development Services staff is bringing through, in order to allow a development to be zoned similar… in the same subdivision, we would like to ask that the council defer it until that change comes through,” Vick said. “At that point, would you consider approving it as a CD-3.”

The Planning Commission had recommended approval of the CD-4 request by a 4-3 vote at its November meeting.

Spring Hill Commerce Center Gets Big Monetary Boost (MSM)

Project Suitcase – the highly confidential project being discussed for nearly two years – has now surfaced as a 950-acre mixed-use development in Spring Hill.

GV Spring Hill, LLC, intends to develop the land as a mixed-use development known as Spring Hill Commerce Center, which could include office buildings, industrial buildings, warehouses, commercial retail facilities and/or hotels, according to the city’s Industrial Development Board’s economic impact plan submitted to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday.

A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan in the amount of $29.5 million was approved by both governmental bodies in the last week, which promises to be a catalyst for economic growth in an otherwise untapped area for commerce.

Road improvements will be made to Jim Warren Road, including rebuilding the road over the interstate, as well as a new bridge over Rutherford Creek and some water and sewer improvements.

While a TIF may appear as if a government entity is giving away money it would otherwise collect, Betsy Knotts, counsel at Bass, Berry & Sims, reminded the Spring Hill Industrial Development Board in a meeting about the USTA development at The Crossings, that none of the tax revenues that will be realized are currently being collected.

“The goal of tax incremental financing is to bring a government entity in partnership with a private entity to create a self-supporting project and create a new stream of ad valorem tax revenue. Revenues that wouldn’t be there had you not brought these two entities together,” she said.

This agreement will still require the developer to secure the loans or bonds and pay all of the taxes it owes to the local governments. The portion for debt service in both the city and county is removed, along with 40 percent for public schools, but the remainder flows through the IDB to pay for the loans or bonds.

“If the increment never materializes, the loans and bonds are the responsibility of the developer,” Alderman Matt Fitterer said. “The entire risk is on the developer.”

The project will be located in the area generally southeast of Saturn Parkway, north of Joe Peay Road and generally between Port Royal Road and Lewisburg Pike, according to the documents.

Though located on land in both Maury and Williamson counties, only that portion of the public infrastructure in Maury County and within the city (as the same may be annexed), will be subject to and paid for or financed through or under this plan.

The IDB voted 8-1 in favor of the proposal, with only Clint McCain dissenting. McCain said his concerns were mainly concerning the public benefit – or lack thereof – from this part of the plan.

“I wanted more information,” he said. “I would like to have seen the two parties come to a more resolute agreement on what happens if certain parts of their plan do not happen.”

The part of the plan McCain would most like to have more information on is an airport facility that is anticipated to eventually be developed in the same general location. The airport, which could be a highly lucrative benefit for the city, county and Spring Hill citizens, was not included in this TIF plan.

“All the rumors you may have heard about Amazon coming and building an airport are half true,” Alderman Matt Fitterer said. “It is this developer’s desire to be in this area.”

The intent would be to build a 6,000-square foot runway for private aircraft up to 20-person jets with a possible 75-hanger facility. According to data registered with the state, there are more private aircraft registered in Williamson County than in Davidson County, which would likely make an easier trip than to John C. Tune Airport, which currently houses most of the private aircraft in Middle Tennessee.

The airport would not serve commercial flights or cargo flights – only private – but was not a part of the plan submitted to the IDB or BOMA in December.

“Projections on the airport are more difficult, and the developer didn’t want to muddy the waters of the issue,” Fitterer said. “Anything generated by the airport is going to be added to the economic impact as it is.”

TDEC Give Millions For Water Projects (MSM)

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced last week 49 grants, totaling $191.2 million, from the state’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) fund, part of which TDEC is administering through competitive grants for regionalization, water reuse, resource protection and a state strategic project. 

Of the 49 grants announced, 14 are for regionalization, eight for water reuse, and 27 for resource protection. The city of Spring Hill and Maury County Board of Public Utilities were each awarded grants for local projects.

TDEC awarded $7,760,000 of the money to the Maury County Board of Public Utilities, in partnership with Hillsboro, Burwood, and Thompson’s Station Utility District (HB&TS), for a project that will address regional drinking water needs. The grant money will fund the construction of a single transmission line that will improve Maury County’s water availability and water source capacity while serving the needs of both water utilities.

“This significant grant is great news for our community,” Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, said. “The Maury County Board of Public Utilities provides essential services, and I congratulate them on receiving this grant. Quality water infrastructure is essential to all Tennesseans, and these funds will go toward meeting the water needs of this county.”

The project, which will help address the needs of both water utility companies, is expected to improve Maury County’s water source capacity and water availability, Cepicky’s statement reads. 

“These water infrastructure grants provide assistance to communities across the state, and accelerate progress in rural Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Lee said. “I commend the communities that have participated in the application process and look forward to the results of these investments.”

The City of Spring Hill will use ARP funds to address two issues. 

One issue is potable water reuse needs. Spring Hill plans to utilize a $2,398,760 grant to construct an advanced purification pilot project and will use these funds for the design of the pilot, operation assistance, lab testing and sampling, and procurement of the individual treatment train units.

Spring Hill Mayor Jim Hagaman said the money will be used in a plan to build a water reservoir tank that will allow stormwater to be mixed with Duck River water, as well as effluent from the wastewater plant to be processed and sent back to the water treatment facility. 

“We are the only city in the state doing this. It has been tested and done in other states, so it’s proven technology – it just hasn’t been done in Tennessee,” he said. 

Another grant for $800,000 will go toward the investigation and plans for a water supply reservoir on vacant land. The reservoir will allow Spring Hill to provide strategic local drought management and promote resiliency and planning for extreme weather events.

The reason for this need is that the Duck River is becoming overwhelmed with the amount of water being drawn from it. 

“As most everybody from around here knos, we draw our water from the Duck River, but Middle Tennessee is growing exponentially, and water is something we have to have,” Hagaman said. “The Duck River Authority has told municipalities around us that we can’t draw more water out than we have already forecasted.

Freshwater mussels call the Duck River home, and it is one of the few places in the world where they can be found. 

“We don’t want to disturb their natural habitat, so we looked at – for lack of a better phrase – putting a straw in the river farther downstream,” Hagaman said. “It was so far downstream that it would have required an interlocal agreement for infrastructure to pump that water back to us that costs millions of dollars. Nobody has that kind of money.”

Regionalization projects will provide cooperative support across water and wastewater systems to improve the sustainability, affordability, and/or reliability of systems. Water reuse projects will reclaim water from a variety of sources then treat and reuse it for beneficial purposes. 

Resource protection projects will either improve water infrastructure resilience to extreme weather events, improve the management of stormwater to improve water quality, and/or restore natural landscape features such as streams or wetlands. The additional strategic project will address regional wastewater needs.

“This process demonstrates the importance of quality water infrastructure throughout the state, and we are glad we can help make the best investments possible from these funds,” said TDEC Commissioner David Salyers. “This is a significant step in providing the water service communities deserve.”

…And now, news from around the state…

NTSB Releases Report on Plane Crash in Giles (KnoxvilleNewsSentinel)

The National Transportation Safety Board has not found any obvious cause for the deadly plane crash in Giles County that killed two Knoxville residents, but will continue to examine the wreckage, a preliminary report released Dec. 20 stated.

Jenny Blalock, 45, whose TNFlygirl account on YouTube has 15.7K followers and 139 videos, died in the Dec. 7 crash. Her father, James Blalock Jr., 78, who was the passenger in the plane, also died.

Jenny Blalock's single-engine 1965 Beechcraft Bonanza was en route from Knoxville's Downtown Island Airport to Benton, Ark., when it crashed at 11:03 a.m. CST near Pulaski, the aviation investigation preliminary report said.

Jenny Blalock had requested flight following services, which help pilots with their situational awareness when they are not familiar with the airspace. When the flight was about 140 nautical miles into the trip, the controller advised her that she was left of course, the report said, adding that she acknowledged and responded that she was correcting.

Around 10:19 a.m., the Beechcraft began a series of climbs and descents with corresponding fluctuations in speed before ultimately crashing, the report said. During that time, Jenny Blalock did not acknowledge two attempts by the controller to contact her, the report said.

During the final moments of the flight, a faint communication from Jenny Blalock was heard, followed by a faint and largely unintelligible transmission from her father.

The airplane impacted hilly, wooded terrain and the wreckage was highly fragmented, the report said; the fuel tanks were breached and a post-impact fire spread to the surrounding trees and undergrowth. A witness in the vicinity of the accident stated that the airplane flew overhead at high speed and the engine was running when the plane hit the ground.

All major components of the airplane were located at the accident site, including the engine, which was severely damaged by the impact, the report said.

No crankshaft or cylinder compression issues could be determined and the spark plugs showed minimal wear. There was no evidence of an inflight fire, although the cockpit was destroyed by impact forces and the ensuing fire. No flight instrumentation or gauges could be identified or recovered, the report stated.

The wreckage, including two intact digital video recording devices, was retained for further examination, the report concluded.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Grinder’s Switch Winery hosts trivia every third Thursday of the month and it’s a great way to spend a cold, wintery night.

Event seating starts at 6pm and the game starts at 7pm.

For teams of 2-4, admission is $10 per person and includes a mulled wine, wine slushy or glass of wine (you must be 21+). 1st and 2nd place prizes will be given and a special prize will be awarded for the best costume for the month’s theme!

If you’d like to eat dinner while you’re there, you can preorder your meal once you select tickets or order when you come in.

Check out the Grinder’s Switch’s Facebook Page for ticket information.

Upcoming themes:

December 21 – Elf the Movie

January 18 – NFL Trivia

February 15 – Rom-Com Trivia

March 21 – STAR WARS Trivia

Grinder’s Switch is located at 510 N Garden St, Columbia.


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