In less than a half-hour the Chickamauga City Council convened, conducted and adjourned its May meeting.
The elected members were unanimous in approving the purchase of parcel of land at the corner of Sixth and Pearl streets, an action that will permit expansion of the city cemetery.
City Manager Micheal Haney advised the council and mayor that spending $50,000 allows adding about 250 plots. Cemetery lots are currently selling to residents for about $1,000 each, so this expansion could eventually generate $250,000 — or more — revenue.
The council was also informed that the Chickamauga school system is not seeking any increase in its tax rate and will continue with a millage rate of 14.25 in the upcoming school year.
Residents pay only school taxes. Since 2000 no property taxes have been levied to fund the operations budget for this city of about 3,100. Instead of taxes, the local government is financed primarily with revenue generated by the city-owned utilities.
But to pay for a multi-million dollar program to upgrade its water and sewer system, water rates are going up.
"This will repay loans to upgrade lines and wells," Haney said.
Planned upgrades will improve delivery, allow adding hydrants, keep consistent pressure system-wide and correct leaks, he said. Many of the upgrades will occur in areas that were once provided water by private companies that have since been acquired by the city.
Not only is the rate adjustment needed to repay loans, the municipal water company has lost two major customers: Crystal Springs, which closed its textile finishing plant, and the trailer park that was adjacent the cemetery.
Residential customers use less than 5,000 gallons per month and will see an increase of about $6 on their monthly bill.
But even with the increase, Haney said, "rates will remain lower than surrounding water providers."
Standing outside Pilgrim's Pride in downtown Chattanooga's Southside neighborhood, dozens of protesters on Thursday, May 31, announced their challenge to any plan to move the chicken plant to McLemore Cove in Walker County.
The protesters were responding to plans to carve out 300 acres of the 50,000-acre countryside for a multi-building, chicken slaughtering facility. The area in question, McLemore Cove, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
"We're not against development, growth or jobs for our neighbors in Walker County. We're against a chicken plant or any industry in the middle of protected, pristine land that's of national, cultural and historic value," said Ruth Almeter, a nearby resident of McLemore Cove. "We hope Commissioner (Shannon) Whitfield and any of the county leadership would use better judgment before ruining this national treasure and putting our families in danger. We will do whatever it takes to try to make sure this plant does not move forward in McLemore Cove."
On Thursday, protesters announced their initiative, "Don't Slaughter Our Cove," which urges Walker County to keep Pilgrim's Pride from putting a chicken plant in McLemore Cove. The group proposes Walker County's industrial park as a suitable alternative, acknowledging the need for growth and jobs in the area. To acquire what's been discussed between the county and Pilgrim's Pride so far, the McLemore Cove Preservation Society filed a lawsuit seeking nondisclosure agreement documents between the entities.
"McLemore Cove is thousands of acres of natural woods, rolling fields and historic farm land, and it is not suitable for a massive chicken plant," said Blackwell Smith, business man and longtime resident of the area. "Putting a plant in McLemore Cove will harm property values, ruin a historic site, destroy country roads with chicken trucks creating safety issues and pollute the air and drinking water with dangerous waste and horrible smells. More than that, it
"Our concern is that the Preservation Society sued the citizens of Walker County to prevent the County from exploring economic development opportunities. While the lawsuit mentions one specific company, if successful, it could set a dangerous precedent that could hinder our ability to attract industry and bring great jobs to Walker County in the future."
__Commissioner Shannon Whitfield's reply when asked about opposition to a commercial chicken processing plant in the McLemore Cove area.
will bring in low-paying jobs and dirty industry, which will only hurt the growth of our local economy and ability to attract clean industry."
"Don't Slaughter Our Cove" points to reports on the critical practices of Pilgrim's Pride, which include environmental issues, employee abuse, workplace safety violations, animal cruelty and labor rights. Protesters believe a chicken plant in McLemore Cove would have lasting negative effects on the watershed, creating major health issues for residents and potential workers. The group noted that several thousand supporters across the country have contacted them through Facebook, an online petition, email and phone calls.
McLemore Cove, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, is the protected valley between Lookout Mountain and Pigeon Mountain. Several creeks run through the area: West Chickamauga, Hogjowl, Mud, Voiles and Mill. The cove is about three miles south of Chickamauga.
About McLemore Cove
McLemore Cove is named after a prominent Cherokee/Scottish family that settled in the area during the 1820s. The Cove also played an active role during the Civil War in the events leading up to the Battle at Chickamauga. The area developed a few small communities with further growth occurring when the Chattanooga Southern Railroad was established in 1887. Industry also developed at Estelle during the early 20th-century with the mining of iron ore. A group of residents formed the McLemore Cove Preservation Society in 1989 to protect the cove from a power plant and to preserve its history.
The Walker County Development Authority meeting agenda for May included updates concerning environmental hazards at a county-owned property, efforts to assist an existing business, and new companies coming to the area.
Executive Director Robert Wardlaw reported that Marion Environmental is handling clean-up of a hazardous chemical contamination at the former Coats-American plant in Rossville.
"This is to remediate a PCB spill, something that could take four months," he said. "Two proposals for the property have been put on hold until the site is considered 'clean.'"
The chemical spill occurred when a thief was taking copper wire from several transformers that were stored at the building on Maple Street, near the former Rossville High School.
Authority board members discussed an ongoing project to help Unique Fabricating expand operations at its LaFayette facility.
"The aim is to keep Unique in Walker County," Wardlaw said.
Domestic truck and automobile manufacturers are the company's primary customers, ones served from two sites located behind the Chevrolet dealership on McCarter Street.
Director of Operations Robert Bell reiterated the company intends to move forward by hiring more than 30 full-time employees — with benefits — and investing more than $3 million in capital assets. The Development Authority is supporting Unique's expansion by offering tax abatements.
Wardlaw said the Authority, which acts as a go-between for site-selection agents and developers or land owners, has been contacted by a company that is interested in what Walker County has to offer.
The county is among several locations vying for selection as this company's new home, but it is too early in negotiations for the identity of the potential business being made public. In the meantime, Wardlaw said the location and company will be referred to as "Project Heel."
Non-disclosure agreements are common when sites are being scouted, both as a way to not tip the potential investor's hand and to keep the process competitive.
As an example, nearly two years of negotiations revolving around "Project Hilltop" in nearby Catoosa County, when successfully concluded, resulted in construction of Costco alongside Interstate 75.
Wardlaw was slightly more forthcoming about another opportunity, "Project Gingerbread," that is in the early stages of the courtship between the Authority and industry. In this case, a German company "has expressed interest in Walker County" for opening a baked goods plant that might have 200-250 employees.