"We hope to open before the Fourth of July," is how Food City President and CEO Steve Smith answered when asked about the grocery chain's store at 820 Mission Ridge Road.
The new 38,000-square-foot store will replace a store that served the community for nearly 50 years. Opened as a Red Food, in 1994 the store was among those sold in 1994 to become part of the Bi-Lo chain of groceries. Ownership changed again in 2015 when the Abingdon, Va.-based Food City bought many of the BiLo stores in and around Chattanooga.
"We were committed to rebuild or remodel when we came to Chattanooga two and a half years ago," Smith said. "There are still a couple of years of work to do."
Over the course of 46 years, the store at 820 Mission Ridge Road had grown long in the tooth. Aside from the normal wear and tear, the smaller store could not provide all that today's customers expect.
Smith noted "good locations" have always been one of the greatest advantages of a Red Food/Bi-Lo and now a Food City store. To capitalize on their prime real estate, Food City is committed to spending as much as $60 million on the Chattanooga and North Georgia area.
New and renovated stores are a boon to shoppers and at the same time, these newer facilities are cost-effective.
"A store like this uses about 40 percent less energy than a conventional store, like the one it replaces," Smith said.
Having LED lighting, improved refrigeration, state-of-the art heating and cooling systems and adding self-checkout lines in addition to five manned checkout lanes helps the bottom line in a highly competitive market.
At the same time the company decided to tear down its Mission Ridge store and rebuild, rather than remodel, no employees were pink-slipped. From managers to part-time workers, all employees kept their jobs at nearby stores and should be able to return to their Mission Ridge "home" sometime in June.
When those temporarily displaced employees return they will be joined by new hires as the larger newer store requires 50-70 more staff, meaning a total of about 125 full-and part-time workers will be on payroll.
Not only will there be new employees, a new pharmacy and a place to buy gasoline and diesel fuel, the new store will have a broader selection of foods and services.
Daryl Massey, district manager for the Food City stores in Chattanooga and North Georgia, said the new store will feature a drive-thru pharmacy and have a stand-alone Gas 'n Go fueling station
And, much like the upgraded Food City near the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and U.S. Highway 27 in Fort Oglethorpe, Store Manager Cade Allison said the Mission Ridge location will have an in-store bakery/deli — complete with a hot food bar and sit-down cafe — the meat/seafood department will offer upscale offerings and custom cut-to-order service.
Shortly after Food City came to the area, major upgrades were made at the Fort Oglethorpe and Rossville stores. In addition to groundbreaking for the Mission Ridge rebuild, company officials conducted similar ceremonies in Catoosa and Whitfield counties.
A replacement for the now-closed Red Food/Bi-Lo/Food City located on Ringgold Road in East Ridge, Tenn., near Exit 1 on Interstate 75, will be built at 541 U.S. Highway 41 near Costco and the I-75 Cloud Springs Road exit. And in Dalton, a new Food City will be constructed at 1308 W. Walnut Ave., near the Kmart close to Dalton State College.
While the Mission Ridge store is scheduled to open before Independence Day, company officials said the new Dalton and Ringgold stores should be ready for business before Thanksgiving
"This is a real opportunity for us," Smith said.
A regional burn ban goes into effect next week, meaning just a few days remain to legally burn leaves, brush and tree trash — limbs, wood chips and sawed up trunks — accumulated over the winter or after recent storms.
This May 1 - Oct. 1 open burning ban is part of efforts to make it safer for Georgians to breathe as officials say the combination of summer's higher humidity and temperature can create unhealthy levels of ozone.
The Georgia EPD has identified open burning as a significant contributor of smog-forming pollutants. Consequently, open burning in metro Atlanta and 54 counties — including Catoosa and Walker — must be restricted during the summer months.
Of Walker County's total land area of about 285,600 acres, roughly 130,200 acres (45.59 percent) are forested. Catoosa County covers about 103,800 acres, of which about 23,146 acres (22.30 percent) are forested.
Exceptions are granted for firefighter training, forestry service prescribed controlled burns and when open burns are required for agricultural operations. But any such exceptions must follow federal safety regulations and can only be done after a permit is obtained from the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Burning household garbage is prohibited year-round, but there are no restrictions on campfires, barbeques and other cooking fires.
Metro Atlanta used to pile up a ton of bad air quality days. They came so often that ''Smog Alert'' popped up as a regular part of summertime conversation.
In recent years, though, the American Lung Association reported the air quality in metro Atlanta and Georgia to be improving, in the wake of regulations on emissions from power plants and vehicles.
Last year, in fact, the Lung Association said metro Atlanta had the fewest ozone days reported since the group's report began 18 years ago, when Atlanta was on the list of the top 25 metro areas for ozone pollution, the main factor in smog.
The Atlanta metro area also made the 2017 list as one of the cleanest U.S. cities with respect to its level of short-term particle pollution. It was the first time that had ever happened.
Things don't look quite so rosy in this year's report.
After years of improvement, metro Atlanta's air quality has grown worse in terms of ozone and short-term particle pollution, according to a new American Lung Association report, using data from the years 2014 through 2016.
The organization's 2018 State of the Air report, released Wednesday, shows metro Atlanta with an increase in ozone. The same is true of the Macon/Warner Robins area in the center of the state.
Georgia cities and metro areas ranking in the top 70 in the nation for short-term particle pollution, with more unhealthy air days, included Macon/Warner Robins (56th); Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Athens/Clarke County (65th); and Columbus (68th), the Lung Association said.
And the Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Athens/Clarke County returned to two other pollution lists. The area tied for 22nd most polluted for year-round particle pollution, though it is at a lower level than in last year's report. The same area is also 23rd on the list for ozone.
The decline in metro Atlanta air quality was not dramatic, said June Deen, senior vice president of the American Lung Association in Georgia. "If you compare it to what it was like back in 2000, we've seen vast improvement," Deen said Wednesday. "We've done a lot of things to improve the air,'' she added, citing the Clean Air Act.
Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution worsened compared to the last report. With record-setting heat in 2016, high ozone days increased. Particle pollution levels, though, continued to drop, especially year-round particle pollution. (Here's a link to the Lung Association report.)
Ozone and particle pollution, or soot, are the most widespread air pollutants and among the most dangerous.
A variant of oxygen, ozone exists naturally in the atmosphere miles above Earth, and plays an important protective role. But at ground level — where it is created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources — ozone is unhealthy for living things.
Ground-level ozone is especially harmful to children, older adults, people with respiratory illnesses, and those who work outdoors.
Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. Exposure to particles can increase the risk of hospitalization for asthma, damage to the lungs, lung cancer and premature death.
In the Lung Association report, several metro Atlanta counties received F grades for ozone: DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale.
On the other hand, four Georgia areas scored among the cleanest in the U.S. for ozone. They are Brunswick; Rome/Summerville; Savannah/Hinesville/Statesboro; and Bainbridge. And Rome/Summerville and Valdosta were listed among the cleanest for short-term particle pollution.
Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia, an advocacy group, said Wednesday that the Lung Association report "proves we need to be doing everything we can to clean up Georgia's major sources of air pollution — the transportation and power sectors."
She cited some bright spots, including Atlanta's commitment to phase out electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear power; and the General Assembly's passage of a bill to boost mass transit and lessen commuters' dependence on automobiles.
But Gayer was critical of current federal policies on pollution.
Separately, the health effects of air pollution in metro Atlanta were the subject of a new study from Georgia Tech and Emory University, released Thursday.
The study, funded by the Health Effects Institute, tracked metro Atlanta hospital emergency department visits for respiratory-related illnesses from 1999 to 2013, comparing those visits to what would have occurred had pollution controls on power plants and vehicles not been put into effect.
The investigators reported that air pollution decreased over the study period for most pollutants evaluated.
Their modeling suggested that improvements in air quality were associated with fewer ER visits for asthma and other lung problems compared with what would have been expected without the regulations.
Study author Ted Russell of Georgia Tech said the biggest estimated impact was in emergency department visits due to asthma.
"The regulations are having an impact,''
quality can be linked to improvements in health outcomes.''
Various factors can affect pollution, and Russell said the Lung Association's new report could show a degree of variability in the weather from year to year. "It doesn't mean that emission control programs aren't working as well.''
Russell also noted that another factor is an increase in vehicle miles driven and of electricity use.
There has been considerable discussion in Washington in recent months about environmental regulations and how they are enforced, leading to political debates and litigation against the Environmental Protection Agency.
Deen said the Lung Association is worried about possible erosion of current air pollution regulations.
"We can and should do more to protect the air we breathe and save lives," Deen said. "The Lung Association in Georgia calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution."