Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for March 24, 2023
All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.
We start with local news…
Duck River Win (CDH)
Cheers erupted in the chambers of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday when the committee voted 11-6 in favor of expanding Class II Pastoral protections for the Duck River following weeks-long rigorous debate.
Packing the committee chamber in the Nashville Cordell Hull building, dozens of Maury County citizens, advocates, business professionals and elected leaders showed up in droves — wearing green buttons and special T-shirts — to support the bill.
Maury County attendees threw their hands in the air, cheering and applauding as the final vote was finally announced.
Maury County citizenry wrote over 1,000 letters to legislators in support of the bill.
House Bill 0447 will designate the Duck River a scenic and agriculture area extending from Industrial Park Road in Maury County to the Hickman County line.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R- Culleoka, sponsor of the bill, and river advocates have been fighting for the legislation since last fall when developer Trinity Business Group filed a permit application with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to reestablish a solid waste landfill near the river at the former Monsanto Company chemical plant site last summer.
The former Monsanto property is now a Superfund site overseen by the federal government and state through a mandatory decades-long cleanup protocol to guard against hazardous runoff or leachate.
TBG, a Baton Rouge Louisiana company founded by Sid Brian, has owned 1,330 acres of property on the Monsanto plant since 1986. Brian's attorney Tom White of Tune, Entrekin & White, P.C., staunchly argued Wednesday that Brian holds property rights to establish a landfill at the site, which was previously grandfathered.
Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, along with a few other dissenting committee members expressed concern about trying to settle a "property rights issue" at the state level.
“For me, this is more of a property rights issue and a battle locally than [here],” Richey said during discussion.
However, a majority of the committee members sided with the citizens of Maury County and Cepicky in their efforts to protect the waterway from future pollution, landfills and other unwanted development.
Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said he would support the bill even though questions linger about local establishment of the landfills and ordinances surrounding it.
"There are lots of questions, but if I have to ere, I am going to ere on the side of the people," Hardaway said.
Maury County constituent Dan McEwen, local real estate broker, maintained that the fight is not just about thwarting a landfill but about the long-term ecological health of the river — one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world.
"We have been working to make the Duck River a scenic river on this side of town," McEwen said. "We are thinking about two to three generations down the road. We have wanted this to happen for a long time. It’s not about just one issue."
Although questions remain about whether the bill’s passage will ultimately stop the landfill proposal from being approved at the plat in question, Maury County leaders are hopeful.
A portion of the acreage owned by Brian has supported a long-dormant landfill at the ex-Monsanto site.
Other regulations are also at play such as the existing state statute commonly referred to as the "Jackson Law," adopted by the city and county, which requires an applicant to seek city and county approval before a landfill can be built. TDEC representatives also confirmed that even though TBG filed permits with the state, the state's approval or disapproval cannot supersede city and county land use regulations and restrictions.
Meanwhile, Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt led the establishment of the Maury-Marshall County Solid Waste Board, which will meet about issues related to the establishment of landfills and the handling of waste in Maury County and beyond.
Three permits submitted by TBG to build an “eco” park with solid waste processing, including a tire shredder and construction waste shredder are pending under the purview of TDEC.
The bill will next be heard by the House Government Operations Committee.
Mike Wolfe, Grand Marshal (MainStreetMaury)
The Maury County Bridle and Saddle Club announced earlier this month that TV personality and local restoration expert Mike Wolfe will be the grand marshal of the Mule Day parade.
Wolfe, best known for his role on the History Channel television show American Pickers, first came to Columbia six years ago after falling in love with the history, architecture and – at the time – sleepiness.
“I liked the sleepiness of it at that time, and I still feel like we’re light years behind a lot of the area in Middle Tennessee,” he said. “There aren’t many places within an hour in any direction of Nashville that have what Columbia has to offer in terms of lifestyle and the beauty.”
Being named the grand marshal of the city’s biggest annual event after being involved in the city for a short period of time just shows the immediate impact he’s had on the town he now calls home.
“This place reminds me of the small town I’m from. I was so involved there on the tourism board, in the fire department, on city council – I was involved and this place is somewhere you want to make a difference in,” he said.
As he’s learned the history of Mule Day and the significant role the livestock played in making Columbia a destination, Wolfe said he is honored to be in the role and is excited to share it with his daughter.
“When you think about the industry and livestock, how spread out and well-known Columbia is for that. I always say Columbia was the Detroit of mules.If you wanted a mule, you wanted to get one from Columbia,” he said. “I love that it’s unique to this town. I am just a very small piece to a puzzle that I’m so proud to be a part of. It’s very small-town, it’s very Americana.”
When Wolfe first began buying property in the city, it was obvious there was a sort-of changing of the guard, he recalled. Families were selling property or building owners were open to someone else ushering in a new era in the city.
“There are so many towns across the country that are fighting to tell their story and move ahead with heritage tourism,” he said. “Columbia has a leg up, but it’s because they were very intentional in how they laid out the city. They had a plan, and they were very forward-thinking and they’ve been laying the groundwork for a very long time. Now, this is our time to steward the ship.”
Wolfe mentioned the late A.C. Howell, who sold Wolfe the bicycle shop building on the square, and how he – along with many others – made sure Columbia’s rich history would survive.
“They are sitting back and watching what we’re doing, but we’re all standing on their shoulders. Everything that’s happening in Columbia now didn’t happen overnight. This is the effort of a generation,” he said.
Several downtown buildings are seeing a revitalization, including Columbia Motor Alley, where Wolfe has been spending much of his time recently.
“Columbia is the county seat, so there is a lot of transportation-related buildings,” he said. “Around town, the work West 7th Co. has done, you can see where a lot of these buildings were service stations, body shops, car dealerships – the great thing about buildings like that is the architecture.
“The architecture here is beautiful; obviously, there is a lot of history.”
Wolfe said Columbia holds a high value for people who are seeking unique finds and a place that’s still growing and in the middle of revival.
“Downtown Franklin doesn’t have anything like this. Yes, they have a beautiful Main Street, but when you get out of that it’s mostly residential. When you get off the square here you can find a lot of older neighborhoods with commercial buildings in them,” he said. “They are doing some beautiful work in the Arts District with some unique and interesting buildings.”
Overall, however, the architecture, the history, the mules – none of that matters more than the people who live in Columbia. They are the reason, Wolfe says, that he wants to be here more and more.
“I fell in love with Columbia six years ago. I love the diversity here,” he said. “Overall, though, it’s the people. They’re why I’m raising my daughter here in Tennessee instead of up north.
“You can have all the amenities you want, but the people are what make a town. They’ve welcomed me and made me feel at home.”
Spring Hill Publix and Development (MainStreetMaury)
Spring Hill leaders approved a plan for a new Publix grocery store and additional 9,000 square feet of retail space at its most recent planning commission meeting.
Planners were primarily concerned during a work session about the building materials for Publix as well as visibility from roadways of mechanical equipment, among other issues. Following a submittal from the developers rectifying those concerns, the board passed the measure unanimously.
The project, located on Jim Warren Road on the southeast corner of Saturn Parkway and Port Royal Road, also includes multifamily housing units, as well as four additional standalone commercial buildings once fully completed.
Josh Rowland of Kimley-Horn said the Publix and one additional retail building will be completed prior to the completion of any residential complex, per the request of the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“The intent to both complete the infrastructure and to make sure you got your two big ticket commercial items ahead of the multifamily (units) are still in keeping with the original intent,” he said.
Early phasing of the project included infrastructure improvements, including roadway up to the bridge on Port Royal Road and intersection improvements to include a traffic signal. Those projects are underway, Rowland said.
He expects completion of those and the driveway no later than the end of March 2024.
Alderman Matt Fitterer asked when the expected completion date may be for the standalone commercial buildings, and Rowland said it would likely be after the multifamily units were completed.
“Those are toward the back end of the project. What needs to happen in order to get the interest that they need and to be successful is that Publix needs to be completed, all the driveway and infrastructure needs to be in place both for that and the multifamily units,” he said. “Then you’re going to see some of that interest when you have some of that commercial traffic and rooftop traffic, that’s when those things will naturally start to become priorities for the master developer.”
In other business, the commission heard from Greg Gamble of Gamble Design on a 22-acre planned development off Buckner Lane that could include as many as 161 homes, with both single family and townhouse units.
The density of the project has created concern among the commission both times it has responded to a proposal. Alderman Trent Linville noted the density surrounding the area would be nearly half of what is being proposed.
“This is a big challenge to essentially putting a project with twice as much density as anything around it in that area. I think it could present some challenges down the road,” he said.
Commission chair Liz Droke said she would prefer the density be more in line with the surrounding area as well, as traffic concerns are still among the top priority for local residents.
“I know there is no appetite in Spring Hill – especially in that area – for more townhomes. I understand what you’re saying, as a resident it doesn’t fit,” she said. “If I were you, I’d be trying for it because there is a market for it, but we have to listen to the current residents who are here now and their desire for the relief in traffic.”
Gamble said his company believes there isn’t a better location choice for such a project in the city, despite other developments taking place.
“There are very limited opportunities in Spring Hill where road improvements are coming like Buckner. Where you have such close proximity to an interchange,” he said. “The density that we’re proposing, it is our opinion, is being proposed in the right place. Where infrastructure is being improved.”
The project includes a mixture of both single family dwellings and townhomes, and Gamble noted the waitlist for townhomes in Spring Hill is growing. The intentional design, however, to include the single family homes was a way to serve as a transition aesthetically from surrounding developments.
“We’re talking about an intentional mixture of single family and townhomes – maybe the number of townhomes is too many – but we’re very interested in attempting to satisfy that waitlist that residents in Spring Hill are asking for,” he said.
The proposed development is currently in Williamson County and would require annexation before approval as well. No vote was taken on the item.
MRMC Named Best Place for Working Parents (Press Release)
Maury Regional Health (MRH) has been named a 2023 Best Place for Working Parents by Best Place for Working Parents for the health system’s efforts to provide progressive benefits packages for the organization’s more than 3,000 employees across southern Middle Tennessee.
Organizations included on the yearly Best Place for Working Parents list are assessed on family friendly policies, including company-paid health care coverage, paid time off, parental leave, nursing benefits, “Best Place” designation, onsite child care, child care assistance, backup child care, flexible hours and remote work.
“At Maury Regional Health, we are committed to providing a supportive environment for our employees and their families to thrive,” said Dennis Fisher, chief human resources officer at MRH. “Our organization is known for having one of the most competitive and comprehensive benefits packages in southern Middle Tennessee. To ensure we are meeting our employees’ needs, our team consistently evaluates new and existing benefits for our employees, striving to support their physical, emotional, spiritual and financial wellbeing.”
In addition to the organization’s comprehensive medical, dental and vision plans, as well as short- and long-term disability packages, Maury Regional Health offers various benefits to help employees meet their personal and family needs.
One of these offerings is the onsite daycare center Hospitots, which is available at a reduced rate for employees. Hospitots opened in 1988 as the first employer-sponsored early education and care program in Maury County. It was also the first facility in Maury County to earn a three-star rating and accreditation by the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs.
Maury Regional Health also recently introduced a new wellness program to provide further support for employees as they work to meet their personal health and wellness goals. The Maury Strong Wellness Program promotes action-based goals and includes wellness challenges, educational videos, recipes and meal planning options that can be used by the whole family. Employees also receive an employer-paid subscription to the Calm app that may be shared with up to five family members, as well as behavioral health services to ensure employees and their families have access to timely and high-quality resources on demand.
MRH offers employees free access to financial coaches through SmartPath to provide objective and trustworthy financial advice, in addition to a retirement savings plan with employer-matching opportunities and merit-based pay increases. The health system also partners with Rain to give employees access to earned wages prior to payday.
Some other benefits offered by MRH include career navigation and professional development opportunities; a discount program with Abenity that gives employees access to exclusive perks and savings on things like pizza, zoo and movie tickets, oil changes, hotels, car rentals and more; on-site amenities like free employee parking, access to a fitness center and Employee Health clinic, car maintenance and dry-cleaning services; and family friendly events like movie nights, holiday parties and a family picnic, which will make its much anticipated return this spring.
“This designation as a 2023 Best Place for Working Parents is reflective of our commitment to our employees,” said MRH CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “I am grateful to Dennis Fisher and the entire human resources team for consistently examining and evaluating new and existing benefits for our employees. They help make MRH a great place to work.”
The recognition as a 2023 Best Place for Working Parents comes after MRH was named to Forbes’ “America’s Best Employers by State” list in 2022.
Located in Columbia, Maury Regional Medical Center serves as the flagship hospital for Maury Regional Health, the largest health system between Nashville and Huntsville. The organization employees approximately 3,000 clinical and non-clinical staff members at the health system’s hospitals, surgery centers, outpatient facilities and physician practices throughout the region.
To learn more about career opportunities at Maury Regional Health, visit Careers.MauryRegional.com.
Johnson Scholarship (Press Release)
The Columbia State Community College Foundation recently established the Johnson Family Student Emergency Grant from Cecelia and Mitchell Johnson.
Cecelia and Mitchell Johnson are former educators who support college persistence and degree attainment. Cecelia is a retired employee of Columbia State where she worked in both academic services and student services for over twenty years combined and also served as associate vice president. Mitchell taught part-time in the history department at Columbia State for several years. They continue to live and participate in organizations in the college’s service area.
“This fund reflects how important education is to the Johnsons,” said Bethany Lay, Columbia State vice president for Advancement and executive director of the Columbia State Foundation. “The help provided for students to be successful even when faced with unexpected challenges may be just what they need to complete their educational goals.”
The fund is designed to help students who are impacted with an unforeseen life occurrence or emergency that significantly interferes with successful completion of classes. This can be used to assist with such things as books, fees, testing fees or uniforms, as well as, rent, gas, food or car repair.
The Columbia State Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that supports and partners with the college to positively impact student success and the communities in which it serves.
…And now, news from around the state…
Family Leave for State Employees (CDH)
Some Tennessee state employees could receive 12 weeks of paid family leave under a new plan that received Senate passage on Thursday.
Senate Bill 276 limits the plan to employees of the executive and judicial branches. Eligible employees would receive 12 weeks per year for the birth or adoption of a child.
Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, said the program is a necessary tool for employee retention and recruitment. Tennessee has struggled in recent years to fully staff a number of critical state positions.
"In this competitive job market, it's very difficult sometimes to recruit the kind of employees we want in Tennessee, and it's also difficult to keep them," Yager said.
Gov. Bill Lee, who announced the proposal in his State of the State address in February, had previously attempted to implement a similar plan via executive order in 2020. Lee later shifted to legislation, but the plan stalled due to little legislative appetite.
Lee renewed the plan this year, earmarking $27.4 million in recurring annual funding in his budget.
"A reasonable paid leave program will help us retain the best and brightest and help those who help our state, resulting in stronger families across Tennessee," Lee said in February.
An effort by Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, to add legislative branch employees to the plan failed.
The House version of the bill is up for committee consideration next week.
Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)
Easter comes early this weekend with events at Columbia's local parks.
Celebrate the start of spring by taking the kids out to see the Easter Bunny, who will make multiple appearances this weekend.
On Saturday, Maury County Park will play host to a Spring Carnival & Easter Bunny Arrival from 1-6 p.m. The event will include several arts and crafts vendors, life-size mechanical animals, balloon artists and more.
Kids can pay a visit to the Easter Bunny, who will be inside the Maury County Senior Center offering instantly-printed photos. Tickets are $10 each.
The Easter Bunny will also show up this weekend at Baxter's Mercantile, 808 S. Garden St., offering free pictures from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Pets are also welcome.
Bring the kids to Columbia's annual Easter Egg Hunt at Riverwalk Park, which will be the site of this year's Easter Grab & Go.
The event kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with times set up for specific age groups.
Kids ages 10-12 can hunt starting at 9:30 a.m., with kids ages 7-9 following at 10 a.m. and kids ages 5 and under at 10:30 a.m.