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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for September 1, 2023

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

We start with local news…

Columbia Woman Charged with Fraud (CDH)

A Columbia woman pleaded guilty to defrauding a North Carolina clinical lab out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a Wednesday report by the U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Tennessee.

Sonya White, 56, of Columbia, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to defrauding a North Carolina clinical laboratory company out of nearly $400,000, said U.S. Attorney Henry C. Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee.

White admitted that she defrauded the clinical laboratory company, identified in court documents as “Company A,” by creating a fictitious vendor named “Mid TN Diagnostics,” the reports says.

Between March 2017 and June 2019, White caused Mid TN Diagnostics to submit fraudulent invoices for payment to Company A. In total, the fraudulent invoice scheme caused Company A to lose approximately $389,620.

The report says White also admitted that, when the grand jury issued a subpoena to Mid TN Diagnostics, she caused the company to provide falsified documents to the grand jury.

White’s sentencing is set for Feb. 2. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In addition to any fine, White has agreed to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment against her in the amount of $389,620.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Taylor J. Phillips is prosecuting the case.

Republic Bank Opening (WKOM Audio 1:18)

Yesterday, Republic Bank, located at 128 Kedron Parkway in Spring Hill, opened their doors with a ribbon cutting. WKOM/WKRM’s Taft Ayers attended the grand opening to learn more about the services Republic Bank has to offer…

MRMG Gets $2M Grant (Press Release)

Maury Regional Health (MRH) has been selected to receive a $2,432,200 grant from the state’s Healthcare Resiliency Program that will go towards establishing primary care and specialty clinics in Lawrenceburg affiliated with Maury Regional Medical Group (MRMG).

“We see a high number of patients coming to Columbia from Lawrence County, and this grant will help us provide them with primary care and other specialty clinics closer to home,” said MRH CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “I want to thank our team for their hard work securing this grant and the Tennessee Department of Health for helping us to improve access to health care for all the communities we serve.”

The Tennessee Department of Health included MRH in its second, and final, round of grant awards, which totaled $119 million and went to 41 eligible applicants.

The Healthcare Resiliency Program is part of the Tennessee Resiliency Plan and is designed to expand the state’s ability to provide health care services, especially in rural and underserved areas. The grants are funded through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which Congress passed in March of 2022. Tennessee has committed $250 million from its ARP funds to health care modernization and transformation projects.

“We are going further than many states in responding with investments to address recent challenges in the health care landscape,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Ralph Alvarado, M.D., F.A.C.P. “While health care is only one part of a person’s overall well-being, these investments reach into communities to make access to health services easier for millions of Tennesseans.”

Justice Center GMP Amended (MSM)

The Maury County Commission approved at its Monday, Aug. 21 meeting an amended GMP (guaranteed maximum price) for the updated judicial center.

In June, the Building Committee sent the Commission a recommendation to move forward with a cost of $33.9 million, $159,018 under the budget. At the time, Jamie Spencer with the development firm Hewlett Spencer, said the reason the job was able to come in under budget was due to the early-release packages.

“The Commission in making that decision saved over $300,000 by approving that early-release package,” Spencer said.

Now, the county has approved a resolution which would take almost $1.5 million out of the county’s general fund balance.

The two-story, 55,000 square-foot center is currently under construction and is set to open in October 2024.

In other news from the meeting, the commission also approved a resolution accepting the SRO (School Resource Officer) endowment grant from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security for the Maury County Sheriff’s Department.

Previti said up until this point, the county has funded the SROs through the sheriff’s budget.

“That said, the sheriff has requested more because of growth in the county,” Previti said. “The state has funded to pay for SRO’s all through the state. In other words, the state is going to pay for SRO’s instead of the county,” he said.

The grant, which totals $1.65 million, would provide SROs in all K-12 public schools, with no matching funds required.

The funds may only be used for expenses directly related to placing an SRO in a school, which includes salary, benefits, training and equipment.

The state would make funds available to a local law enforcement agency after the agency presents the state with an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the agency and the local education agency or public charter school.

The agency would provide one full-time SRO to every school in the LEA or public charter school.

The grant, which began July 1, will be in effect until June 30, 2024. The General Assembly put $140 million in the state budget for 2023-24 to fund SROs statewide and is expected to maintain that funding in future years.

Maury County Fair (WKOM Audio 3:55)

The Maury County Fair opened on Thursday and runs through Monday. WKOM’s Delk Kennedy stopped by the livestock barn to check out some of the animals on display at the fair…

Kids Zone (4:51)…the Maury County Fair also offers a big Kid’s Zone which features petting zoos and educational programs. With more, is our own Delk Kennedy…

…And now, news from around the state…

Fisk Bars Students Who Don’t Pay (WPLN)

Students at Fisk University protested Thursday over a new policy that could kick some of them off campus.

Days after the school year began, students got an email saying those who owed more than $1,500 to the school would need to pay off their accounts — or pay it off in installments, starting with a 15% down payment and a $60 set-up fee. Those who failed to do so were no longer allowed to attend class.

Several students told WPLN News they received little to no notice about the policy. Junior Lauryn Maxie is among those who got purged from her classes. She says she usually pays her account off by the end of the semester. 

“And now they’re giving me days,” she said. “And, you know, I understand that you need your money or something. But how are people supposed to come up with thousands upon thousands of dollars out of thin air?” 

After a town hall meeting, Fisk administration has allowed students who were purged to return to class, for now. But a new deadline is looming: Sept. 8. Students who fail to meet financial requirements by then will be purged again, have their meal cards deactivated and have to move out of their dorms.

Students protesting Thursday are demanding a longer extension to the purge deadline and more transparent communication from the university, among other things.

BNA Expansion (Tennessean)

Middle Tennessee’s rapid growth has increased demand for more and faster connections around the world from Nashville International Airport, which emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the nation's fastest growing airports.

But the Metro Nashville Airport Authority's efforts to add new direct international flights to Asia have been delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration's denial of a 2021 runway expansion request and demand for more environmental studies, according to airport officials and documents obtained by The Tennessean.

Airport officials are actively working with the FAA on additional environmental reviews for ultimate approval of the extension, but FAA officials said they have yet to see justification for the project.

In letters to airport officials, Gov. Bill Lee and legislators have pleaded for direct flights between Nashville and Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and other long-distance commutes in Europe and Asia.

“While blue-chip firms such as Nissan and Bridgestone are among our best-known corporate headquarters, they represent just a portion of the nearly 200 Japanese-based businesses employing more than 36,000 Tennesseans," Lee wrote in a 2021 letter to BNA President and CEO Doug Kreulen. "Attracting increased tourism from Asia is seen as a substantial area for growth.”

Three independent engineering reviews determined that an 11,300- to 12,000-foot north-south runway would be necessary to travel between Nashville and Asia from Nashville International Airport.

FAA officials said they're not convinced demand for the additional service exists. However, they are continuing discussions with the airport for further studies for ultimate approval.

"I'm stuck on go," Kreulen said. “To fly 7,000 miles, you’ve got to have twice as much gas. And a longer runway helps them to take off safely without reducing cargo or passenger loads."

Airport leaders commissioned an environmental assessment and have been buying land south of campus for years to extend runway 2L-20R from 7,704 feet to 12,000 feet.

Reports detail the safety benefits from the project, which includes reduced reliance on a crosswind east-west runway that is more cumbersome for long-distance pilots than a north-south path.

The extension would support safety improvements from reduced airspace congestion with nearby Smyrna airport and fewer potential obstacles in the path of heavy jets taking off and landing, according to engineering reports.

FAA Memphis Airport District Officer Manager Tommy Dupree reviewed the airport's presentation in 2021 and rejected the environmental assessment.

"The Runway 2L-20R Justification Study did not provide data or rationale to support a major runway extension," Dupree wrote in a 2021 email to airport officials. "The document did not show a demand that required a major extension."

Just this week, an FAA representative said that it considers the matter a dead issue for now, writing in an email that it "has not received or provided comment on any additional runway extension justification since Nashville International Airport's 2021 submission."

Before construction can begin, an area south of the airport campus abutting Murfreesboro Pike needs to be cleared.

The area includes 19 homes, the former Genesco World Headquarters site, an antebellum mansion that houses Monell's at the Manor southern eatery and a graveyard for at least 137 unclaimed Central State Hospital patients buried in the early 1900s.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

Duck River Jam, a community event intended to raise awareness and funds to fight a proposed landfill along the Duck River, will take place at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5, at Cherry Theater at Columbia State Community College.

The event, which will feature performances by local musicians as well as a silent auction, is being organized by the concerned citizens’ group Protect the Duck River.

The group has advocated against plans by Louisiana-based Trinity Business Group to build a 1,300-acre trash disposal complex as close as 1,000 feet from the Duck River at a former Monsanto phosphate processing site in Maury County. The property contains multiple Superfund sites and is mandated for EPA rehabilitation because of hazardous waste contamination.

Protect the Duck River was previously involved in successful efforts to convince state lawmakers to pass legislation designating that segment of the Duck River as a Class II scenic river. In April, Gov. Bill Lee signed the new law requiring certain water resource projects to be permitted.

Trinity Group filed a lawsuit in May appealing the Maury-Marshall Solid Waste Regional Planning Board’s rejection of its landfill application. Funds raised at the Duck River Jam will help defray legal fees for opponents of that appeal.

“The Duck River is the most biologically diverse river in North America as well as the source of drinking water for more than 300,000 people in this community,” said Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder. “The Duck River Jam is an opportunity for Middle Tennessee residents to support this precious, fragile resource while enjoying a great day of music and fun.”

For more information about Duck River Jam or to purchase tickets, please visit


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