By MARINA WATERS
The upcoming Tri-Cities aerospace park is a bit closer to reality after the Washington County Commission opted to set aside a portion of the county’s economic impact dollars for the project. But representatives from the Boone Lake Association are still hoping for a portion of those dollars.
The commission’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee approved sending a recommendation to the county’s budget committee to honor the BLA’s request for $20,200 out of the county’s impact money to assist the lake group’s operations.
But the decision didn’t come without lengthy discussion.
The Tennessee Valley Authority awarded the county $561,000 worth of impact dollars. And at the county commission’s Oct. 23 meeting, the group agreed to use the impact money to fund Washington County’s portion of the aerospace project. The total cost for the project will be split with Sullivan County, Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol.
“The best thing that ever happened to you all and Sullivan County and Johnson City is when that dam sprung a leak,” BLA First Vice President Tom McKee said. “If that dam had not sprung a leak, you wouldn’t be having these impact payments. These impact payments don’t come from taxpayers, this is money TVA collects from rate payers.”
McKee said in July the BLA discussed the group’s possible inability to be able to employee its staff to clean the lake after December. McKee also said the BLA told TVA the group wouldn’t have enough people to complete the clean up TVA requested.
“You all have basically said you’re dedicating all this impact money to this aerospace project, and I certainly don’t have any objections to that, but I’m saying to this committee, who’s charged with the environment, that you’re going to have an environmental disaster if we don’t get this $60,000. I think we’ve pretty well proven that to you.”
McKee also said TVA suggested the BLA request a certain percentage of funds from Johnson City, Sullivan County and Washington County. Washington County was requested to pay $20,200 and approximately $10,000 was requested from Johnson City and approximately $30,000 from Sullivan County.
Commissioner Paul Stanton said the impact dollars were designed for this sort of request, but he also took the lake’s property owners into account.
“I voted for the airport project too, but I think that impact money is there for things like this,” Stanton said. “But I am deeply bothered by the fact that some of the property owners aren’t putting in the money to help on this situation. If I were a homeowner on the lake, I’d be giving money upfront right now.”
BLA board member Ron Siegfried said over 2,000 people own property on the lake and that the most the group ever had in members was 630.
He also said when the BLA put letters in surrounding mailboxes, eight to 10 people responded.
“Does that tell you what the position is with these people on the lake? They’re just angry,” Siegfried said. “They’re not going to put any money into the BLA until the lake is back and that’s what they’ve told me.”
Committee chairman Tom Krieger suggested splitting the total request population rather than by what TVA suggested. In this case, Washington County and Johnson City would each pay $13,388 and Sullivan county would pay $33,204.
“Since the city of Johnson City has a population of 66,677 residents as of 2015, which is more than half of the 126,000 in the entire county, the case could be made for the county and Johnson City to each pay the same amount of the $30,000 requested from the BLA.”
The future of the lake’s progress and the county commission election which is slated for August 2018 also played a role in the committee’s decision.
“I suggest we settle on an amount we are willing to recommend for one year and one year only in as much as there are no guarantees the lake will be lowered in 2022. We all think it will, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
“The current commission could sit here and make a five-year commitment,” Commissioner Rick Storey said. “But next year when the new commission comes in, they could come in and stop it right then.”
The next budget meeting is scheduled for Wednesday Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. in the first floor conference room in the historic courthouse at 100 E. Main St., Jonesborough.