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Unicoi board approves $684,000 bid for completion of Mountain Harvest Kitchen

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 19, 2016 at 10:27 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday unanimously approved a $684,935 bid submitted by Armstrong Construction of Kingsport for final-phase construction of the town’s Mountain Harvest community kitchen and agri-business incubator.

Town Recorder Mike Housewright said the town will finance approximately $315,000 of the cost of the project, and the remainder will be paid with grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission and the federal Economic Development Administration.

Asked for a timeline for construction, Housewright said he is hopeful work will begin within the coming month and the kitchen will be operational in the spring.

Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said the project has been nearly a decade in the making and was planned in partnership with East Tennessee State University to provide instruction and assistance to entrepreneurs from around the region interested in launching locally sourced food-related businesses.

Lynch said the kitchen will also be available for local residents to use for canning and processing their own fruits and vegetables.

Brunhilde Tober-Myer, a member of the Mountain Harvest Kitchen committee, said more than 250 people expressed interest in the kitchen in a survey conducted prior to the project’s planning phase, and many have called since then to inquire about using the kitchen.

Lynch said the project has also attracted interest from Randy Boyd, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Development, who Lynch said contacted the town last week to say he he would present the Mountain Harvest project at the upcoming governor’s conference as a model for use across the state.

In other business, the board gave final reading approval to an ordinance that will allow Unicoi County Elementary School officials to close Garfield Street during school hours and as needed to ensure the safety of students, and authorized Town Attorney Lois Shults-Davis to proceed with a condemnation action if needed to secure the last of several right-of-ways for the Marbleton Road bridge replacement.

Shults-Davis said negotiations for the easement have so far been unsuccessful but my be resolved by a pending property appraisal.

But with construction of a new waterline beneath the bridge set expected to start soon, a condemnation action may be necessary to prevent a delay in the project’s completion.

The condemnation action was authorized by a vote of 4 to 1, with alderman Kathy Bullen opposed.

After several months of often-heated comments from town residents who have attended the board’s meetings in large numbers and expressed concerns about a variety of town issues, Monday’s meeting was comparatively calm.

While the crowd at Monday meeting was equal to the size of those seen in recent months, only three people spoke during the opportunity for citizens to address the board included on the monthly agenda.

While two of the speakers commended the town and the board members for their accomplishments, Unicoi resident Donna Perry questioned the economic return to taxpayers from “pet projects” and “special interests” promoted by the board, including Mountain Harvest Kitchen.

“My guess is these projects are not bringing in much money but are a money drain,” Perry said.

Unicoi resident Jean Stead responded by saying she was involved in the development of a similar community kitchen in Hancock County that she said had not only spurred economic development but also improved the quality of life in that county.

Lynch responded to Perry’s questions about the kitchen by saying, “These projects are investments in your town. We work very hard to get these grants and these grants take you money and triple it. We’ve done a lot of work to make that happen.”

Lynch also addressed the second of two anonymous flyers that have been circulated in Unicoi in recent months, questioning the town’s operation and encouraging town residents to come to the board’s meetings.

The most recent of the flyers was circulated Sunday and included an illustration resembling the Monopoly board game’s mascot, Mr. Moneybags, that Lynch said he assumed was supposed to be him and posed the questions, “is this the guy you want using your tax money” and “are you getting what you pay for with your tax dollars?”

The flyer also asked, “are you getting services you need or are all the pet projects getting more attention and money instead of what you and your family deserve?”

Lynch began by asking the person circulating the anonymous flyers to identify themselves. When no one responded, he said, “The things we spend money on are all for you,” and cited the town’s annual Strawberry Festival and Freedom Fest fireworks display as examples.

“If you are going to put these things out, let’s make sure it’s good information,” Lynch said. “What boils me is the cowardly way these letters have been put out.”

Then smiling, Lynch held up the flyer and continued, “I guess this is supposed to be me. It kind of looks like me with the mustache. I don’t mind the Monopoly man. I think it’s kind of cute and just to show I’m a good sport ... ”

The mayor then stopped his comments, pulled a top hat from a shopping bag and placed it on his head, soliciting a round of laughter from his fellow board members and others in attendance.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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