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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 5-7-24

Updated: May 8

WKOM/WKRM Radio

Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for May 7, 2024

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

We start with local news…


Fight Over Duck’s Water (MSM)

When Gov. Bill Lee announced the state had lured a General Motors lithium battery supplier to Spring Hill three years ago, it was his largest economic announcement to date:

A $2.6 billion corporate investment; 1,300 new jobs; a major stepstone along Tennessee’s path to become an EV hub — helped along by a then-record $46,000 per job in taxpayer incentives.

The factory deal’s less conspicuous specs — its continuous need for 1.4 million gallons of water per day — is now figuring in a larger battle pitting citizens and conservation groups against state environmental regulators.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) granted permission to Columbia Power and Water Systems —which pumps water to the new Ultium Cells plant — to increase its current withdrawals from the Duck River by 60%.

It’s one of eight water companies along the Duck River seeking to dramatically increase water draws to meet rising demands for water in the rapidly growing five-county region southeast of Nashville.

Should the state approve all eight requests, up to 73 million gallons will be drained daily from Duck — one third more than today.

Local residents and conservation groups say that’s unsustainable.

“We’re very, very concerned that development and corporate interests have just taken over,” said Doug Jones, a retired attorney whose family has owned farmland along the Duck for more than a century.

Industries like the lithium plant that are coming to the region are “like monsters, like dragons. We can’t quench them,” he said.

Jones now helps lead Hickman for the Duck, a nonprofit formed among neighbors to wage a legal challenge against TDEC over its approval of Columbia Power and Water’s new permit.

“We’re not fighting Columbia Power,” Jones said. “It’s the governor’s economic development people. It’s these people in suits. They just say ‘yes.’”

Now 72, he has seen the water levels dip alarmingly during his lifetime as droughts have occurred with greater frequency. A sandbar used for family gatherings has extended further out into the river so “you can almost walk all the way across and not get your ankles wet sometimes.”

“Can you imagine how bad it’s going to get if they take more out?” he said.

Randy Head, general manager for the Bedford County Utility District, said his small water company is trying to keep up with a growth spurt in rural parts of the county seeing more residential and business customers as growth spills outside the limits of Shelbyville, the county seat.

A proliferation of poultry farms in the area has also placed greater demands on water resources, he said.

“We’re not seeking to grow and use more water, but we’re simply required to provide water for development occurring in this area,” Head said.

TDEC last month approved a permit for the utility to increase its water withdrawals from the Duck River from 1 million gallons-per-day draw to just over 4 million gallons each day.

The permit is now the subject of a legal challenge by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which has accused TDEC of poor oversight of the Duck in issuing permits, including a provision that allows utility companies to waste up to 25% of the water they draw through leaky pipes or other accidental discharges.

Head said that wasn’t something the utility company asked for; TDEC set the waste water rate. But he stressed utility companies do not seek to intentionally waste water.

“We don’t want to lose 25%, he said. “We’re not losing 25% now. We find it quite offensive that anyone is implying we want that. We don’t want to misappropriate water.”

“I want to protect the river, too,” Head said. “We’re not in economic development, but economic development has come to us and we’re tasked with providing water for everyone in this district.”

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is also challenging TDEC’s permits to Columbia Water and Power and the Duck River Utility Commission, along with Bedford County.

The challenge accuses TDEC of assuming a “lax approach to protecting the Duck River” and claims that state environmental regulators have ignored long-term consequences for a river that is both prized for its beauty and biodiversity and also serves as the only source of drinking water for a quarter of a million people in the region.

“There’s a significant threat that if people take too much water from the river during drought, we will cause the ecosystems in this incredibly thriving river to collapse,” said George Nolan, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.

“It’s the backbone of the local recreational economy and, for many reasons, it’s worthy of protection and these permits don’t really do anything other than kick the can down the road as far as drought management and water planning is concerned.”

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation has questioned details in the permit allowing the utility companies to not only increase water withdrawal, but to leak as much of 25% of the water they draw – even in times of drought. Collectively the eight permits would allow as much as 18 million gallons of water per day to be wasted.

Some waste is inevitable as pipes leak or break, but Nolan noted that Columbia Power and Water had previously been limited to leaking 12% of its water takes.

TDEC has also directed the utility companies to follow a decade-old drought plan developed by the Duck River Development Agency that sets benchmarks for triggering water conservation measures and releasing water from the Normandy Reservoir to sustain the river’s levels.

The Tennessee Wildlife Federation is challenging that component, too, saying the plan is outdated and the agency, which is funded by utility companies and has no mandate to seek public input on drought management plans, should not setting guidelines.

“We are challenging the fact that TDEC is illegally attempting to delegate its responsibility to enforce our water quality laws to an entity that is not set up for that purpose and is being paid for by the industry that’s being regulated,” Nolan said.

TDEC did not respond to a request for comment about the legal challenges on Friday.

Doug Murphy, executive director of the Duck River Agency, pushed back against concerns that permits were allowing too much water to be withdrawn from the river at one time.

Permits outline peak-day demands, making it unlikely that on any given day all 73 million gallons of water be withdrawn by all eight utility companies should TDEC approve each of their requests, Murphy said.

“The information I’m seeing out there is that these water systems are going to drain the river and take 70-plus million gallons out every day, but that’s not true,” Murphy said “For all the water systems to hit the same peak day at the same time would be some crazy odds.”

Treated wastewater is also routinely returned to the river, he said, helping keep levels stable.

The agency is currently updating a regional river plan to account for the unanticipated growth in the region over the past two years, he said. The plan will include a drought management component that water utilities granted the new permits will be required to follow.

The plan will offer guidance but, he said, “we don’t have the authority over this. All we are is visionaries developing plans of how to protect the Duck River and meet growth needs. The regulatory agencies will have to decide if that’s doable.”

The river is already low for this time of year, John McEwan said as he skipped rocks from a rocky beach behind the 1860s-era home his forebears built in Maury County.

McEwan, a real estate broker, had grown up skipping rocks on the same stretch where he stood. He said he was troubled by the changes he had already seen.

At its shallowest bordering his family’s property it dipped to three or four feet deep – areas that now stood less than two feet.

The real estate market has been extremely healthy, in large part because people want to own property on or near the Duck River, he said.

“I just wish there was more concern for the diminishing quality of this river, which is the main reason people come here,” he said. “Eliminating that resource to fuel growth is just short-sighted.”

Santa Fe Needs Girl’s Coach (MSM)

Once again the Santa Fe girls basketball coaching position is vacant, as Corey Bishop informed principal Randy Hubbell late last week he will not be accepting the position he was named to previously.

“He called (Friday) and said he was withdrawing; it wasn’t the right time,” Hubbell said regarding the 31-year-old Bishop, a Chapel Hill native who previously coached at Forrest and Community but most recently was on the faculty at Nolensville Elementary in Williamson County as a physical education teacher.

Bishop was set to succeed John Wild, who left after one season at the Lady Wildcat helm to take a similar position at Forrest. Wild led the team to an 11-17 finish prior to his resignation a month ago. He replaced Jonathon Slaughter, who had spent the previous four years in the role.

Hubbell said previous applicants will be considered through this second process, but the position has been re-posted.

‘We had a few good applicants,” he said. “We’re not going to rule out any of the other candidates, but we have reopened it.

“We’re just using caution and now I think we’re going to be more cautious than ever, probably. We’re wanting somebody that’s going to stay and build a program.”

Bishop, who cited a previous relationship with Hubbell as one of the factors in his initial decision, was unavailable for comment.

“It is disappointing,” Hubbell said. “I was looking forward to working with him.”

Girls basketball coaching vacancies also remain at both Columbia Central and Mt. Pleasant, following the recent resignations of Megan Moore atop the Lady Lions and Westin Ford, who returned to Zion Christian after one season with the Lady Tigers.

Biffle Potts Farm Named Century Farm (CDH)

The Biffle Potts Farm in Hampshire was recognized as Maury County Century Farm of the Year at the annual Farm Breakfast, hosted by Maury County Chamber & Economic Alliance.

The beef and once tobacco farm, established in 1859, is run by Melissa Potts and her husband Darrell, on almost 400 acres. Inheriting 125 acres from Melissa Potts' stepfather James Ed ("Mr. Ed") Biffle in 1993, over the years, the couple added 256 acres on which to raise their beef cattle. The Potts are also longtime owners of United Country Realty & Auction in Columbia.

Biffle and Potts' mother, Audrey, married in 1990 when Biffle was 75, and he died in 1994.

Biffle served in World War II in the 1st Calvary, farming one handed all of his life because he had a severe injury. He did bulldozer work and owned one of the first combines in the community, Melissa Potts said.

"He combined crops for other farmers. He, of course never had any crops himself," she said.

Audrey and Ed Biffle traveled to many World War II sites in later life, and "they loved Mule Day", Melissa Potts said.

"It's all about the land," Melissa Potts said to hundreds of guests at the annual Farm Breakfast at the Ridley 4-H Center in Columbia.

"Our dream is to keep this farm intact and preserve its legacy," she said.

Melissa Potts also said they are also giving row crops a try this year. However, her true passion and favorite place on the farm is the small goat sanctuary, the Potts began when approximately a dozen goats from a nearby farm needed a new home. Now the herd has grown to 34 goats.

Sen. Joey Hensley read a proclamation approved by the Tennessee General Assembly declaring the farm a Century Farm and along with Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, presented it to the couple.

"There's something about the dirt, getting your hands messy, watering something and watching it grow, and holding a baby calf in your hands," Cepicky said. "Whenever we pass these resolutions, these resolutions are numbered and one day your great grandchildren can go up to the archives and look it up."

Keynote speaker Tennessee Farm Bureau President Eric Mayberry, originally of Humphreys County, spoke about the state of farming in Tennessee, an industry that is top in the state but has overall shrunk over the decades.

Founded in 1921, Farm Bureau was established after its founders recognized a need to come together to advocate for farmers and the industry.

"Sometimes life is just better in blue jeans and cotton T-shirts," Mayberry said.

He shared statistics that show farming is on some levels a shrinking industry.

In 1916, the U.S. was comprised of 32.5 million farmers, or a third of the nation's population, Mayberry said. Fast forward to today, there are 4 million farms left, or 1.4% of the population in the U.S., according to recent statistics.

"It doesn't look like a lot, and it's not. A lot who don't understand agriculture, don't realize that 1.4% produce the food for all the rest in the world," Mayberry said.

"Every farmer in the United States feeds himself and 172 other people in this country and around the world. ... It's a testament to the American farmer and speaks to the dedication of a farmer."

He also shared statistics show that most Americans, or 70% to 80%, trust farmers, a percentage that exceeds many elected officials and leaders.

"Find a way to preserve farmland because at the end of the day, they aren't making more of it," Mayberry said.

Here are some Ag facts: Number of Farms: 1,442 Land in Farms: 209,805 acres Average Farm Size: 145 acres Total Value of Ag Products: $50,538,000Avg. Value of Products per Farm: $35,047

Direct Agricultural Output est. $309 million Economic Impact est. $475.9 million Ag Generated Jobs est. 2,734

CFR to Host Car Seat Safety Event (Press Release)

Columbia Fire & Rescue will be hosting a Car Seat Safety Event in collaboration with General Motors and the Maury Regional Healthcare Foundation, on Friday, May 17th, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm at Fire Station 2.

According to research conducted by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Adminstration nearly half (46%) of all car seats are installed incorrectly! To address this alarming issue and ensure the safety of

our local young passengers, Columbia Fire & Rescue will be offering parents and caregivers the opportunityto have their car seat checked by one of our nationally certified child passenger safety technicians!

In addition to car seat safety checks, Columbia Fire & Rescue will be offering free car seats to parents who are unable to provide an appropriate seat for their child. We will have free car seats available for all ages and stages of development! All attendees will be treated to a complimentary Hawaiian shaved ice cone as a token of our appreciation for coming out to learn more about child passenger safety! This

event is designed to educate, empower, and protect our community's most vulnerable members.

It's important to note that the child must be in attendance in order to ensure the seat is fitted properly. No free seats or inspections will be provided if the child is not present.

Columbia Fire & Rescue extends its sincere gratitude to General Motors and the Maury Regional Healthcare Foundation for their generous support, which has made this essential program possible!

Don't miss this opportunity to ensure your most precious cargo is traveling safely! Join us at Fire Station 2 located at 711 Lion Parkway on May 17th, from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm for Car Seat Safety Checks and

Shaved Ice!

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

Kimberly Lee Elliott Brown Brewer, 67, resident of Columbia, died Friday, May 3, 2024 at her residence.

A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, May 9, 2024 from 4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

The family suggest memorials may be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105. Online condolences may be extended at www.oakesandnichols.com.

Frank Everett Sealey, 82, retired truck driver for Consolidated Aluminum, and resident of Columbia, died Saturday, May 4, 2024 at Magnolia Healthcare and Rehabilitation. 

Funeral services will be conducted Thursday, May 9, 2024 at 11:00 a.m. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Rev. Steve Swango officiating. Burial will follow in Jones Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the funeral home. 

Donna Sue Stewart Love, 75, Resident of Columbia, died Saturday, May 4, 2024 at Maury Regional Medical Center.

Funeral services will be conducted Wednesday, May 8, 2024 at 1:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home with Aaron Menard Officiating. Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Tuesday May 7, 2024 from 3:00 PM until 8:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

Kenneth P. Lord III, 81, resident of Williamsport, passed away on May 1, 2024.

A Memorial Service will be conducted Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 2:00 PM at Williamsport United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in Williamsport Cemetery with Military Honors provided by the U.S. Army. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 1:00 P.M. until the time of service at the Church.

…And now, news from around the state…

Money Available for Aquatic Cleanup (Press Release)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announces the availability of grant dollars to assist cities, schools, community organizations, civic groups, watershed organizations, and conservation groups, etc., with stream clean-up projects during the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Five grants, at a maximum of $1,000 each, are available for each of TWRA’s four regional Aquatic Habitat Protection regions (a total of $5,000 per region). The funds will be obligated as grants, so the grantee must have a nonprofit tax number. The application deadline for this program is June 30, 2024.

  The grant money could be used to buy supplies such as rakes, work gloves, and garbage bags. Also, it could be used to pay disposal fees for solid waste and tire removal or to provide promotional items like project advertisement or Tshirts and refreshments for volunteer support. 

Grant proposals should include the applicant organization’s name, tax ID number, address, phone, and name of a contact person authorized to enter into contractual agreement on behalf of the organization.  The proposal should also include the name of the stream, county or counties involved, and the project area and description.

Contact TWRA’s Jason Miller at (615) 781-6572 or by email at jason.edward.miller@tn.gov  with any questions. For additional information, interested persons may also contact a regional Aquatic Habitat Protection Biologist at the TWRA regional offices.

Cannabis Laws Changing (Tennessean)

Marijuana, long restricted as one of the most dangerous drugs in America, is up for reclassification by federal regulators as a medically useful narcotic.

What does that mean in Tennessee — one of the last U.S. states likely to approve a path to legalization?

That depends on what happens at the federal level and how local legislators respond. Nationwide, there is growing bipartisan consensus in favor of more lenient marijuana laws.

Cannabis advocates in Tennessee think the move by the federal government will make marijuana more mainstream.

"It goes to further reduce the stigma related to the plant," said Frederick Cawthon, president of the Hemp Alliance of Tennessee which promotes cannabis both for its fiber and its potential medical uses.

Cawthon believes the federal reclassification will spur more research into the pharmaceutical uses of the plant.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland reportedly submitted a proposal to remove pot from the list of "Schedule I" drugs along with heroin and LSD. These drugs are considered unsafe, highly addictive and of no medical value.

Cannabis was outlawed in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act for being dangerously addictive and having no medical value. A half century later, most Americans have a different view of marijuana, now a multi-billion dollar industry. According to the latest Gallup poll, 70% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

Forty-one states have approved medical, recreational or both kinds of marijuana use and sale, and Wisconsin is expected to join the list this year while others like Florida are considering expanding to allow recreational marijuana.

The proposal would reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous, and less restricted, "Schedule III" drug with ketamine, anabolic steroids and acetaminophen-codeine.

The change wouldn't automatically make pot legal in all 50 states, but it would open the door to more easily selling and buying cannabis.

In Tennessee, both medical and recreational uses of marijuana will remain illegal and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act will still prohibit selling marijuana across state lines.

"If it's going to do anything, it would just give a little bit of political momentum to advocates of legalization," said Robert Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law professor and an expert on drug laws.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

The City of Columbia Parks and Recreation Department will be launching its Family Fun Kickball day @ Ridley Sports Complex located at 6148 Trotwood Ave on May 11th from 3pm to 6pm.

Register online or the day of the event. All ages and skill levels are welcomed.

For more information, check out Armory Recreation And Fitness on Facebook or call Cayden Holt at 931-560-1449


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