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Hot news stories picked as Top 10

Hot news stories picked as Top 10

Things got heated in Obion County during 2012 — in more ways than one.
Topping the Top 10 local news stories, as voted by The Messenger’s news staff, was the way to handle rural fire funding for municipal fire departments within the county. The issue strained an already unstable relationship between the county and the cities, especially Union City. That story came in at No. 2.
Literally heating up was Greenway Recover & Recycle (No. 7), which caught fire in Union City’s industrial park in September and rekindled in October, and the weather (No. 9), which caused concern for farmers who watched the summer drought decrease their yield production. The drought has also caused problems for Cates Landing (No. 6), which was nearing completion. Discovery Park of America (No. 5) was on a hot roll in 2012, announcing several developments and sponsorships. At the end of the year, though, Tennessee announced it was halting construction on I-69 (No. 10), leaving the roadway near DPA unfinished.
Rounding out the Top 10  stories were Obion County’s jobless rate (No. 3), the 913th returning home from its second deployment (No. 4) and a mass transfer of principals and teachers in the Obion County School System (No. 8).
No. 1
Rural fire issue
It was a hot topic across Obion County in 2012.
The rural fire issue burned up the front pages for several months last year as county and city officials scrambled for solutions — easily making it The Messenger news staff’s pick for No. 1 story of the year.
Problems began in early May 2012 when a countywide rural fire subscription program in existence the past year was halted after the county clerk expressed concerns about her office collecting a fee not authorized by state statute. There were also troubling questions about liability. As a result, the clerk’s office stopped collecting the rural fire fees.
After much heated discussion and debate, on June 1, the county commission rejected a proposed fire tax — basically sending the hot-button topic of rural fire protection back to square one and leaving the county’s municipalities scrambling for options. Some municipalities debated not going outside their city limits until a solution was reached, leaving county residents once again concerned about fire protection.
Four days later, Hornbeak Fire Chief Bob Reavis appeared before the Obion County Budget Committee on June 4 to propose a voluntary rural fire membership plan that would solve his town’s issue of how to provide rural fire protection. On June 18, the full commission approved the adoption of the proposed membership plan to include Hornbeak, Samburg and Rives and voted to make the plan a template for other towns to use. A similar rural fire agreement for Union City was approved by the commission on July 16.
Like Union City, other towns across Obion County ultimately went back to what they had previously done in offering subscription services or membership plans to rural fire program members. Troy began offering its first-ever subscription program. By the fall, municipalities across Obion County were notifying prospective rural fire customers of subscription services being offered to them.
The rural fire issue had been ranked as The Messenger’s No. 5 story in the annual rankings for 2011.
No. 2
relations strained
There was a call for unity as 2012 came to a close.
City and county relations were severely strained more than once over the past 12 months, and the year ended with some county officials urging everyone to work together for the benefit of Obion County.
There were some tense moments during the past year as city and county officials haggled over such controversial issues as countywide rural fire protection; the city school system’s loss of about $90,000 under the county’s 2011-12 budget due to a reduction allotted to the city and county schools last year when the county commission approved its budget in August 2011; and a 6-cent increase on the inside combined property tax rate for Union City.
There were harsh words from elected officials on both sides on more than one occasion during county and city meetings, as well as barbs exchanged through the newspaper and local radio broadcasts.
In the end, some two months after the county commission approved its budget, concerns about future city-county relations lingered as some county commissioners expressed a desire for unity and noted areas where the county and city had successfully worked together in the past.
Obion County commissioner Danny Jowers led the charge at October budget committee and county commission meetings as he addressed the turmoil and suggested county and city leaders meet to discuss long-term plans for future growth for everyone.
“We have got to come together as a county,” Jowers urged.
No. 3.
OC jobless rate
high all year
When the Union City Goodyear plant shut down in August 2011, it shifted Obion County from traditionally having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the region to having one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
As of last week, the county had among the state’s highest jobless rates for 16 consecutive months.
Obion County’s unemployment rate peaked at 17.2 percent in January and never went below 12.3 percent for the year. The county was ranked as having the second highest unemployment rate in Tennessee for nine out of the past 11 months. Obion County was ranked as having the third highest unemployment rate in the state in February and again in July, when Weakley County was ranked second in the state.
No. 4
913th returns home
Their mission accomplished, soldiers from the Union City-based 913th Engineer Co. returned home to a hero’s welcome Aug. 16 following deployment to the Middle East.
It was a joyous event as the community turned out in force for a patriotic celebration to welcome the local Tennessee Army National Guard unit, whose members saw service in Kuwait and Afghanistan during a year-long deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
The homecoming was long-anticipated and well-deserved for soldiers whom company commander Capt. Jacob Partridge said excelled at every task assigned to them in the year of deployment.
During a brief formation, Partridge expressed heartfelt appreciation to the soldiers’ families and the community for their support and to the troops for their outstanding efforts.
The unit had deployed Aug. 18, 2011, and the majority of its soldiers had worked in Kuwait from the time they arrived there in October 2011 by way of Fort Bliss, Texas, until they left the Middle East in early August to begin the trek home. About one-third of the unit’s soldiers were involved in a project in Afghanistan.
Among the projects completed were building roads and pads to store materials and de-constructing facilities to return the land to original desert conditions to give back to the Kuwaiti government, as well as a project related to one of the logistical hubs to get equipment and supplies out of Afghanistan for the drawdown of troops.
The Trenton-based 230th Engineer Battalion, which the 913th falls under, was welcomed home a day earlier on Aug. 16, 2012.
The 913th’s deployment was ranked as The Messenger’s No. 4 story of the year for 2011.
No. 5
Discovery Park adds
attractions, sponsors
Skeptics questioned whether the 50-acre site set aside for Discovery Park of America would ever be more than a man-made ramp and a landscape of mud or dust, depending on the weather. But in 2012, the  dream took shape in a way even the project’s small army of local volunteer display planners regarded with awe. And DPA suddenly ranked as the largest construction project in the State of Tennessee.
Colorful “skin” stretched across curved roof lines totally unlike anything seen in the area before, and the tower that will be the tallest structure in the area, at 120 feet, rose foot by fascinating foot. In 2012 DPA became a reality for those who dreamed it, those who helped it develop and those who will be forever changed by its presence in this community.
Numerous donations of structures — churches, log cabins and more — and the arrival of acquisitions such as an authentic model of the Liberty Bell and several pieces of military equipment, plus the assembly of an authentic grist mill purchased earlier in East Tennessee, moved to Union City and completely refurbished using as many original tools and techniques as possible made the news. The most recent partnership agreement and the cause for great excitement was the commitment by First State Bank to underwrite a portion of the children’s section at DPA to the tune of $500,000 in funds, services and labor. Baptist Healthcare and Walmart also committed themselves to the project.
Extensive landscaping changed the appearance of the site and water features began to cut through the grounds in 2012.
Behind the scenes, employees were added, providing a much-needed economic boost for the area, and exhibits began to take shape within the ultra-modern walls that captured the attention of anyone utilizing Everett Boulevard to pass around or through town.

No. 6.
Cates Landing progress
The Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority set March 2013 as the target date to open the Cates Landing riverport in Lake County.
Over the course of the past year, there were major advancements made in relation to the Mississippi River port. There were also some major setbacks.
To date, around $20 million has been spent to develop the intermodal riverport facility north of Tiptonville.
The port authority has had to deal with red tape, funding issues and the weather during this past year, but through it all the port authority has persevered. A hard hat tour of the port site was held in March and a second tour in July.
Memphis consulting firm informa economics was hired in January to draft a master plan and work with port officials on the hiring of a port director. Work on a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and a port office began this past year and everything appeared to be on track for the riverport to be completed by the end of this year.
Then came the drought and a violent storm that damaged the warehouse. The severe drought had a major impact on the Mississippi River, causing delays in construction and deliveries to the port site.
In a related development, it was announced in October that a Foreign Trade Zone was approved for the port site and nine other sites in West Tennessee. The Foreign Trade Zone designation will allow the Lake County port to compete globally.
No. 7
Greenway fire
A fire which burned for days and prompted questions about health hazards captured headlines over a two-month period during 2012.
The fire at Greenway Recover & Recycle in Union City’s industrial park broke out just before lunchtime Sept. 13 and thick smoke billowed all afternoon as the fire simmered inside the huge building — with the 50 or so firefighters on the scene severely hindered by poor visibility from the heavy smoke and difficulty maneuvering around bales of cardboard and plastic.
Eventually, the glow from a spectacular blaze and an ominous cloud of billowing smoke were visible for miles in the night sky after huge flames erupted about 9 p.m. when a back door blew out and bales of cardboard and plastic behind the building ignited.
Firefighting crews remained on the scene throughout the night, into the mid-September weekend and for several days afterward to monitor the smoldering remains and prevent them from spreading.
Union City firefighters ended up returning to Greenway seven weeks later on Oct. 31 after another massive fire erupted at the still-smoldering site, once again generating thick black smoke, flames and intense heat.
Local residents expressed concerns about air quality and possible illness due to the smoky and hazy conditions in the fire’s aftermath, but Union City fire officials and Greenway president of operations Jack Jernigan reported the Environmental Protection Agency had monitored air quality and no health hazard existed.
Union City’s public works, building and codes enforcement and fire departments later joined forces and spent three days moving and burying materials at Greenway, according to a report at a December city council meeting.
No. 8
OC Schools’
The transfer of 54 teachers and administrators in the Obion County School System caused concern among parents countywide as they prepared for the start of the 2012-13 school year.
School principal assignments were officially recognized before a standing-room-only crowd at the May 2012 school board meeting, where a group of Lake Road parents gave an emotional plea to express their disappointment at the transfer of the school’s principal.
Then, in June, concerned parent Dan Huggins made a passionate appeal to the school board and pleaded for teachers not to be moved around like chess pieces and children not to be used as pawns.
Huggins told the board he was appearing “as an advocate for the children” and claimed the reason given for the transfer decisions was to take weak teachers and pair them with strong teachers. He asked for data to support the alleged weaknesses.
The transfers were defended by Obion County School Board chairman Brian Rainey, who said the board had asked Obion County Director of Schools David Huss to fix the Balanced Literacy program because it was not being implemented consistently across the county.
Huss later told The Messenger that not all the principal and teacher transfers were related to Balanced Literacy and explained his decisions were also based on school needs and budgets, keeping students’ best interest a priority. He said all the conflict surrounding the transfers was “unfortunate.”
The new school year started as planned in mid-August without the reversal of any transfers. In late August, it was announced that Lake Road Elementary had earned Reward School recognition for academic progress for the previous school year from the Tennessee Department of Education.
No. 9
Weather and crops
When 2012 started, farmers in West Tennessee were ahead of schedule with their planting and looking forward to a great year. There was record March warmth and not too much April rain. The only stinkers were overnight freezes in April that seriously damaged some grape crops and frost that burned some early sweet corn across the state. But still, it looked like it would be a great year.
Then, the rains practically stopped. Less than 21⁄2 inches of rain fell in the Union City area in May, followed by only 1.91 inches in June and just a little more than 2 inches in July. The area suffered such severe drought conditions along the Mississippi River that the lack of water caused the temporary shutdown of the Dorena-Hickman Ferry and has threatened to stop barge traffic.
A severe summer heat wave smothered Obion County, with highs reaching into the triple digits at the end of June and into July. There was little reprieve in August when 33⁄4 inches of rain fell and the high temperatures were in the 90s. Many farmers invested in irrigation systems as they experienced one of the worst droughts in Obion County since the early 1980s. In July, Obion County was included in the designated natural disaster area, making all qualified farm operators in the designated area eligible for low interest emergency loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
Due to the extreme drought conditions, in August the Union City Water System issued a mandatory water conservation order for customers in the areas of Lake Road, Beech Chapel and Walnut Log. With a rainfall of just over 51⁄2 inches in September and almost 23⁄4 inches in October, members of the Northwest Tennessee Port Authority announced in October that, because of the summer’s drought, the completion of Lake County’s Cates Landing project had been pushed back from year end to February 2013.
By the end of November, it was reported cotton would finish among the best per-acre yields ever for Tennessee and that tobacco would also finish strong. In Obion County, the cotton yields were “decent,” according to Tim Smith, the county’s University of Tennessee Extension office director. Soybean yields varied greatly here, with some fields producing only 20 bushels per acre, while others had as much as 40-50 bushels an acre. The same could be said for corn yields. Smith said there were some farmers which were hit hard, while others did really well. Cooler temperatures and timely rainfall in the latter half of summer also helped livestock producers by keeping pastures in decent condition.
In all, rainfall registered at the A.L. Strub Wastewater plant in Union City during 2012 was down significantly from the year before. A total of 35.514 inches recorded in 2012, while 69.338 inches fell in 2011.
No. 10.
I-69 work halted
Interstate 69 will extend from the Canadian border at Port Huron, Mich., to the Mexican border in Texas when it’s completed.
However, the completion of the transcontinental interstate appears to be stalled in Obion County.
It was in October that state Transportation Commissioner John Schroer issued this statement: “Interstate 69 is a highway of national significance, reaching far beyond the borders of Tennessee. Thus far our investments in I-69 totals more than $200 million, most of which was comprised of federal earmarks, with some state matching funds. There is no further federal funding dedicated to the I-69 corridor, at this time.”
Locally, I-69 extends from South Fulton along Highway 51 until it veers to the west at Mayberry Road. The path of the new interstate then moves around Union City and back into Highway 51 near the Hampton Inn. The interstate is divided into segments and work on the project is done one segment at a time.
This past year local motorists watched as the new interstate began to take shape around Brevard Road and southward across West Main Street. The interstate dead-ends in a field south of West Main Street though, with the lack of designated federal funding stalling the project.
New interstate signs have gone up along Highway 51, heralding the coming of the new I-69 through West Tennessee, from South Fulton down to Memphis. Until more funding is designated in the Federal Transportation Funding Bill, no new construction is planned in Obion County. An estimated $37 million has already been spent on the intersect section in Obion County and an additional $230 million to $300 million is needed to complete the local leg of the interstate.
It has been estimated that $25 billion is needed to complete the Canada to Mexico interstate, with $1.5 billion of that amount needed to complete the interstate section through West Tennessee.
For now, that federal funding is nowhere in sight and I-69 in Obion County remains an unfinished and untraveled road project.
Other stories which were considered for possible top 10 designations were the local elections; animal control issues; a dispute between BlueCross BlueShield and Baptist hospitals; a Hickman, Ky., mayor being murdered; a Union City woman being stabbed 60 times and living to tell about it; Union City police officers fired after an internal investigation; controversy over the K-T building roof collapsing, which caused the closure of a portion of East Main Street; South Fulton’s city manager alleging a hostile work environment; a South Fulton mayoral candidate’s residency being questioned; fatalities in the area, including 12 traffic fatalities in Obion County, additional traffic fatalities in Weakley and Fulton counties, two Reelfoot Lake drownings and a house fire death; projects at the Everett-Stewart Regional Airport; and the nationwide fungal meningitis outbreak hitting close to home.

Published in The Messenger 1.1.13

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