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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for May 4, 2023


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


We start with local news…

Active Shooter Hoax (MainStreetMaury)

Columbia Central High School went on lockdown Wednesday morning after a reported call that there was an active shooter at the facility, a call that proved to be false.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Columbia Police Department each reported on its Facebook page that the call was a hoax and appeared to be part of a pattern of such calls taking place across the state.

“TBI is currently working with state and federal partners to determine the source of several hoax calls, placed to local law enforcement agencies, reporting an active shooter at several high schools in the state. At this time, none of these reports has proven credible and there is no known immediate threat to public safety at this time,” TBI officials said via the agency’s Facebook page.

The TBI had cleared the scene shortly before noon, according to witnesses on-site.

“They told us we were on a hard lockdown and we had to go back in our classrooms,” student Carlos Pillow Jr. told reporters. “Actually we had to run into a closet and barricade everything… The police was running in the building with their vests on, he said.”

Parent Carlos Pillow added, “I was at work and when I got the call, they were saying people got shot. When I called (my son), he didn’t answer the phone so I’m thinking it was my son. I just ran out of work. It’s a scary feeling, he said.”

Although school resumed after the incident, Maury County Public Schools announced that any parent who wished to pick up their child from Columbia Central High School could do so. All Maury County Schools, including CCHS, were dismissed at the regular time.


Century Farm of the Year (CDH)

The Harris-Jones Greasy Branch Farm was honored as the Century Farm of the Year in Maury County by Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance at its annual early morning Farm City Breakfast April 28, drawing almost 200 farmers and business professionals.

Harris-Jones Greasy Branch Farm, established in 1915, has been in continual operation for over 100 years by the Harris and Jones families, today run by owners, husband and wife team, Melissa and Randy Jones in Culleoka, Tennessee.

The farm's namesake, Greasy Branch Farm on Greasy Branch Road, dates back to the 1800s when, according to legend, German settlers once cooled slaughtered pork in the nearby creek that runs along the property when the weather suddenly turned warm.

"We are proud and blessed to be this year's century farm honoree and pray the farm stays in the family for many more generations," Melissa Jones said.

The Joneses are passionate about carrying on the family legacy and preserving the family's history, through stories passed down as well as historic documentation.

"The life of a farmer is not without setbacks," Melissa said her father used to say. Her great grandfather lost his leg while milking cows and her father suffered from a broken back and crushed eye socket when a hay bale fell on him and later suffered a broken leg from a bull. Despite the hardships, he never stopped farming operations.

"The majestic hills and vibrant green grass look much like you would imagine 100 years ago," Melissa Jones said.

She emphasized that community leaders and legislators have to find a way to protect the lands, such as giving tax breaks to farmers.

"Century farms and farms that date back five, six and seven generations, are not only a heritage to those who live on them but are a huge blessing to the community. We as farmers and community leaders and legislators have to find a way to protect these lands from the ever increasing taxes."

She said if current trends in land value continue, the market might easily see $100,000 per acre of land in this decade.

"If you can give tax incentives to industry to move into this area to promote jobs and growth, then we can certainly give tax incentives to century farms and those who produce agricultural products to keep them in this area," Melissa Jones said.

The 160-acre property was originally formed from a circa 1830s land grant, but some deeds of ownership are unclear until the 1900s.

In 1915, Melissa Jones' maternal grandparents Byron F. Harris and Mary Lou Dillehay Harris purchased the land tracks where the Joneses now farm cattle. Later, Melissa's father and mother, William (Bill) Harris and Elaine (Eddlemon) Harris, married in 1956 after being lifelong neighbors, became stewards of the farm in 1973.

Bill Harris, serving as the state Future Farmers of American secretary and earning the 2013 Gold Star Farmer Award, farmed for the majority of his 91 years, passing away in 2019.

The land was eventually passed down to their daughters Melissa and Cindy Baker.

Melissa and husband Randy Jones, once her father's "right hand man" on the farm, have been farming the land ever since.

Kevin Ferguson, University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Specialist for the UT Center for Farm Management, addressed the alarming rate of farmland loss across the state, a trend that is also happening around the nation.

Although current statistics vary, his department, which was just added under the UT umbrella last summer, is in the process of evaluating and collecting the rate of farmland loss in Tennessee.

According to American Farmland Trust, from 2001 to 2016, Tennessee lost 277,300 acres of highly productive land, Ferguson said.

Tennessee also rates as the third (among the top 12) most threatened state in farmland loss, joining other states like Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey, according to American Farmland Trust. Ferguson said the state moved from fourth to third place after Ford auto's BlueOval City was announced in Haywood County in West Tennessee, bringing up to 5,000 new workers, who will require residential development.

The trust projects that from 2016 to 2040, if the current rate of land loss continues, Tennessee could lose a million additional acres of farmland, or 8% of farmland.

Ferguson also shared the statistic that 40% of America's agricultural land will be "in transition" over the next 15 years, meaning land will either change ownership, or change uses such as becoming residential, commercial or industrial development.

In Tennessee, there is approximately 4.5 million acres of nationally significant land.

Farm Bureau has also been addressing the issue and raising awareness about the issue.

Previous statistics show that Tennessee loses approximately 60,000 acres of farmland every year, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. In Maury County, farmland decreased by 6% between 2012 and 2017, according to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

UT Ag Extension agent Darrell Ailshie, who gave opening remarks at the breakfast, stressed that preserving farmland is vital to the state and Maury County.

"People come to Maury County for the greenspace. It's an asset to Maury County," he said.


Columbian Part-Owner of Derby Horse (MainStreetMaury)

When the three-year-old thoroughbreds break the gates at Saturday’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby, Columbia resident Melissa Duncan will have a special rooting interest. That’s because she owns 3.5 percent of the Florida Derby runner-up and Kentucky Derby participant, Mage.

Since getting her first Walking Horse in 1978, Melissa has loved horses. She fell in love with showing her horse at an early age, and by 1991 when she and her husband Craig watched their first Run for the Roses together at Hard Rock Cafe in Orlando – she was hooked. 

This Kentucky Derby, however, will be a little different.

“This is the first time I’ve ever had one of the horses I own compete in the Kentucky Derby,” Melissa said. “I love racehorses, and the Kentucky Derby is usually my favorite day of the year, but I’m a ball of nerves already.” 

Each year for the last quarter century on Derby Day, the Duncans roll out the red carpet – literally – for friends and family for their annual party at what is affectionately known as “Duncan Downs.”

“We try to do Derby Day right,” she said. “We send out invitations and men wear their most Derby-like attire and women are – of course – required to wear a hat.”

The gaudier, the better too, because the best hat at the party wins a prize. Prizes are doled out to a trivia contest winner and the person whose $10,000 wager (in Duncan Bucks – which is nothing more than Monopoly money) brings home the biggest payday. 

For even a novice Derby onlooker, the Duncan’s Derby Party is sort of like a Super Bowl party – the sporting event is secondary to the festivities. A live DJ keeps the party going and inside the house you can find plenty of Kentucky bourbon being passed around and enjoyed as well. 

But with a horse in this year’s race, will the Duncans be at Churchill or Duncan Downs? 

“We know this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, but if Mage wins, we felt like it would be so much better sharing that moment with our friends instead of strangers,” Melissa said. 

The Duncans have owned other horses, Dalmation Dancer was the first out of Tampa Bay Downs. A couple of years ago for Melissa’s birthday, Craig bought into a partnership with Commonwealth Thoroughbreds, which allows individuals to purchase shares of a horse. The first horse they bought into was Country Grammer, and in 2022 was the highest earning horse in the world, winning more than $11.2 million for the year. 

“It’s an investment where you buy shares of a horse,” Melissa said. “We’re not in this to make money. It’s a hobby and a thrill we do for love of the sport. It makes watching the races so much cooler when you have a horse to root for because you own a tiny piece of it.

“You aren’t going to get rich by any means, but it’s really special.”

That birthday present paid off so much that Mage was a Christmas gift from Craig to Melissa. 

The problem? He’d never raced – not even as a two-year-old. The secret? His pedigree.

“Craig loved Mage’s daddy (Good Magic) and granddaddy (Curlin), and that’s how he follows which horses he likes,” she said. 

Mage qualified with the aforementioned Place at the Florida Derby, where he lost to this weekend’s betting favorite, Forte, by only a length. 

On Saturday, Melissa made the trip to Louisville to check in on Mage while he trained, and she likes what she saw. After breezes of five furlongs and six furlongs at Gulfstream, Mage seemed to take a good hold of the track Saturday in his first work at Churchill.

“I drove to the track and got there when it was still dark in the morning,” she said. “I saw all the Derby horses work, but when he came out it was just magic. I don’t care how many times I’ve been, every time I see the twin spires, I cry. This time was different – a little more special.

“I don’t know what Churchill Downs has on me, but it’s an emotional experience for me.” 

If Melissa cries on Saturday, she hopes they will be tears of joy because her horse and his jockey – Hall of Famer Javier Castellano – will be wearing the roses as they ride into the Winner’s Circle.

“My emotions are already crazy and it’s still a week away,” she said. “I don’t know what the Duncan Derby Party atmosphere will be like if we win, but if you aren’t watching and you hear a sonic boom from out this way, you’ll know who won.”


Longview Pool Expansion (CDH)

The Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Excel Aquatics are discussing a possible expansion, at a cost of almost half a million dollars, to the Longview Recreation Center's outdoor pool, which would allow the pool to remain operational year-round.

Excel presented a proposal to BOMA members this week, which is estimated to cost about $475,700, 10% of which would be covered by Excel. This would be the most cost-effective method in meeting the increased demand after costs for a new facility were calculated between $8-$10 million.

The expansion would include constructing an aluminum structure over the top of the six-lane pool area, which could be opened during the summer months and serve as a climate control covering during the winter months.

The main goal of the project, Excel Head Coach and CEO Steven Murry said, is to allow the pool to be accessed year-round for things like school programs, swim lessons and aquatic therapy.

"What we are facing right now is that there are six lanes available for all 50,000 residents of Spring Hill on a year-round basis," Murry said. "Our most urgent need and limitation we are facing is with our swim school program, where young residents can learn to swim, learn life-saving skills at pools, lakes and other aquatic situations."

When it comes to local school teams, the pool currently offers a limited availability, which has forced many teams to limit their rosters. It has also made pool access unavailable to middle school teams, forcing many to seek other pools out of town in places like Franklin or Brentwood.

In other cases, pool goers are being turned away due to overcrowding.

"It's just not functional enough to allow these kids to train at the level they need to compete at the high school and college levels," Murry said.

Murry added that the upkeep and long-term utility costs would be covered by Excel and Williamson County Parks and Recreation, and that the city would only have to foot the original cost. It would also be an investment that could prove to have long-term benefits to the city as a whole.

If approved, the estimated construction time would have the structure operational by September, Murry said.

While BOMA members were in support in creating a solution to offer more pool time for the public, as well as local swim teams in need of a space to practice, some were unsure about committing to the cost. Aldermen Trent Linville and Matt Fitterer, for example, suggested Excel approach the county for additional support.

Others, like Alderman Jason Cox, were uncertain about the structure's design, particularly since it is made of metal and the potential safety hazards it could cause.

"There is a lot of metal and a lot of poles, and it seems like that could get in the way with kids having a good time," Cox said.

Murry said safety is something the manufacturer considers with the design, and that there would be a Styrofoam covering put in place, much like a goal post on a football field, which would provide additional safety while in use.

The item was presented as a discussion item, therefore no votes were taken Monday, but will likely appear on the BOMA's regular meeting agenda scheduled at 6 p.m. Monday, May 15.


Ashwood Subdivision (CDH)

One of the city's largest proposed residential developments is once again making its way through the approval process, and residents are still uncertain whether they want it.

The planned unit development at Ashwood Manor, which would be located off Trotwood Avenue near Ridley Park, has undergone many changes over the last year due to concerns regarding high-density housing, increased traffic and how it would affect other nearby residential neighborhoods.

Initially, the plan was to build the planned unit development over 987 lots. After multiple revisions, the plan is now to build on approximately 765 lots between 60, 70 and 100-feet wide. In addition, multiple acres of green space to be used for three miles of walking trails, sidewalks on Old Zion Road and increased buffering for homes located near the park.

Approximately 31 acres of open space will also be dedicated to Ridley Park.

The current request is to rezone the property, which will include the planned unit development master plan. After multiple revisions and lengthy discussions with city leaders, the request was approved by the Columbia Municipal Planning Commission in April, and will now go before Columbia City Council for the first of two readings.

"They reduced the density even more, provided more hiking trails and green space and provided a greater buffer to the homes in the county that were requesting they have more of a buffer before this large-scale development," Mayor Chaz Molder said.

However, nearby residents are still speaking out against the development, with many making their voices heard during the April planning commission.

Gabe Howard, a Maury County Commissioner and nearby resident, said one major concern is whether the city has enough capacity to service such a project.

"There are many technical concerns as to why you should vote no, but there are more serious concerns in our community, including water availability, school concerns, roads, solid waste concerns and overall public service offerings to say a few," Howard said. "The people of our community have already spoken multiple times on this same development, and I believe you have a responsibility to represent the people's will and lean on the side of the people."

Douglas Chapman, also speaking on behalf of Trotwood residents, presented a list of citizens' top concerns, and the potential negative effect the proposed planned unit development would have on the area. This includes disrupting access between Yeatmon Lane and Old Zion Road, increased traffic on Trotwood between James M. Campbell Boulevard and Old Zion Road, increased burden on the school system and creating a massive character change to the overall area.

Chapman suggested a possible solution would be to increase the buffer around Ashwood Manor to 350 feet.

"We want to increase the buffer to a minimum of 350 feet around any house on this property and Ashwood Manor. That would be done to preserve the rural area and nature of our community," Chapman said.

The planning commission ultimately approved the request with a favorable recommendation to Columbia City Council in a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Ray Pace and Charlie Goetz opposing. City council will meet and discuss the item during its study session scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.


And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mr. Robert Seay Parks, 91, owner and operator of Parks Motor Sales, died Saturday, April 29, 2023, at his residence in Columbia. Private family grave and masonic services will be conducted at Neapolis Cemetery. A Celebration of Life will be held Friday from 5:00 P.M – 8:00 P.M. at Parks Motor Sales. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

Mr. Jeffrey Paul “Jeff” Connelly, 49, self-employed mechanic, died Tuesday, May 2, 2023 at his residence in Santa Fe. Funeral services for Mr. Connelly will be conducted Friday at 7:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. The family will visit with friends Friday from 4:00 P.M. until service time at the funeral home.

Mr. Jerry Lee Barber, 83, retired maintenance employee for DuPont in New Johnsonville for 36 years, died Saturday, April 29, 2023 at Life Care Center of Columbia from complication from Parkinson’s disease. A memorial service will be conducted Saturday at 2:00 P.M. at South Gate Church of Christ. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 12:00 P.M. until service time at the church. Burial will be in Swiss Cemetery in Hohenwald at a later date. Oakes & Nichols Funeral Directors are assisting the family with arrangements.

Mr. Timothy Alan “Tim” Riddle, 62, died unexpectedly Friday, April 28, 2023, in Kansas City, Missouri while on a business trip for the County of Volusia, Florida where he served as the Ocean Center Director. Graveside services for Mr. Riddle will be conducted Monday, May 8, 2023, at 2:30 P.M. at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Monday May 8, 2023, from 12:00 noon until 2:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.


…And now, news from around the state…

US News State Rankings (Tennessean)

We’re making progress, Tennessee

Our state climbed five spots, from No. 29 to No. 24, in U.S. News & World Report's Best States rankings, released early Tuesday. States were measured on a series of metrics in eight categories including healthcare, education and the economy.

Two of Tennessee’s neighbors fared slightly better in the rankings: Georgia was No. 21 and North Carolina was No. 17. Florida landed at No. 10 in the South’s best showing.

Utah was No. 1 while Washington was No. 2.

In the overall individual categories, Tennessee ranked 5th for fiscal stability, 12th on the economy, 16th for infrastructure, 26th for opportunity, 31st for natural environment, 33rd in education, 34th in healthcare and 41st for crime and corrections.

This is the fifth time the outlet produced the rankings, which were last released in 2021. According to the outlet, "the data behind the rankings aims to show how well states serve their residents in a variety of ways."

More weight was given to some categories, based on a survey of what matters most to people, the outlet said, noting that health care and education were weighted most heavily. Then came state economies, infrastructure, opportunity, fiscal stability, crime and corrections and, lastly, natural environment.

Overall, the study showed national improvements in preventable hospital admissions among Medicare beneficiaries and a rise in the business creation rate. But it noted a rise in the age-adjusted rate of mortality.

“Citizens, business leaders and policymakers will benefit from the 2023 Best States’ data-driven journalism and rankings, said Morgan Felchner, executive editor for news and events, “to see how well states are performing and gain insights on both state and national levels.”


Gas Prices (MainStreetMaury)

For the second week in a row the gas price average in Tennessee is trending lower. Gas prices across the state fell nine cents, on average, over last week. The Tennessee Gas Price average is now $3.22 which is only a penny more expensive than one month ago and 67 cents less than one year ago.  

“Pump prices are trending lower thanks to a two-week streak of declines in crude oil pricing,” said Megan Cooper, spokeswoman for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “It’s likely Tennesseans will see additional decreases in pump pricing through this week. If crude oil prices fall further, it could mean that drivers will see even more discounted prices at the pump.” 


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The Factory at Columbia will host a Mother’s Day Edition of their Second Saturday event on May 13.


In addition to shops and eateries, there will be vendors, a kids area, and food trucks.


In addition, the band Cave Street will be performing live at the event.


Enjoy everything this event has to offer from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Factory at Columbia located at 101 N James M Campbell Boulevard.


For more info, visit www.factoryatcolumbia.com.


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