Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 8, 2014

Fate of downtown, NW could be decided tonight

By Jim Young
Chronicle correspondent

CROSSVILLE — A very busy week for the Crossville City Council includes two budget work sessions as well as tonight's regular monthly meeting where action may be taken on decisions about the downtown improvement project and the Northwest connector.

Tonight's council meetings start at 5:15 p.m. with the audit committee, followed by a public hearing on the Dayton Spur annexation progress report at 5:45 p.m. The regular council meeting starts at 6 p.m. A budget work session was held Monday night at 4:30 p.m. and another budget work session is set for Thursday night at 4:30 p.m., as the council works in earnest on the budget for the upcoming 2014-'15 fiscal year.

Both of the long planned projects have been on and off again lately, as the council has studied the city's finances and the cost of the projects versus the returns they could bring. Both projects have had action taken on them recently during a special-called council meeting and questions about the actions taken were presented to the city's consultant the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), who has recommended courses of action to ensure there are no questions about the council's intentions.

Because the actions were taken at a called meeting without specific language in the agenda, the previous actions could possibly be protested and MTAS has given a set of precise recommendations for council to follow that will allow the council move forward without worrying about the issues being questioned.

New bids on the downtown project have been received. Two companies turned in bids with Highways Inc. the apparent low bidder with a small increase from the first bid round when they were the only bidder. Should the council decide to cancel the project, they will have some contractual obligations and will have to settle up with engineers and grant consultants hired for the projects.

A majority of the council has previously indicated they are ready to substantially reduce the scope of the project. After discussion at last week's work session, council members were told there is at least a possibility the city could retain some of the grant funds awarded to do the reduced project.

Possible action on the bids received is on tonight's agenda.

Council will also consider action on the Northwest Connector, with three possible directions from continuing forward on the project; canceling it completely; or continuing, but with different engineers/consultants than the ones the council has already approved hiring. State funding for the project from the Tennessee Department of Transportation hangs in the balance of the action taken tonight by the council, along with a cost for canceling contracts if the council opts to change contractors on the necessary work.

Even though work on the program has been underway since 2010, the Cumberland Habitat Conservation Plan (CHCP) has attracted attention recently from some who would like see the program ended before it gets underway. The city has been working in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy and others to formulate the CHCP as a way to better deal with federal regulations on endangered species.

A habitat conversation plan is a way to deal with federal regulations before a project is proposed that allows some leeway in the impact on endangered species over not having such a plan in place. The plan has been discussed at the last two work sessions, including a local biologist who spoke against the plan last week claiming it could create problems for private land owners. Randall Kidwell advised the council that if they haven't read or understood the plan, they shouldn't vote on it. Kidwell also said he felt the plan would be unconstitutional and he expressed concern of the effect it could have on property owners.

Crossville Mayor J. H. Graham III responded that the plan was not finished and still being worked on. He added that the action that was to be taken was to accept reimbursement of salary for city staff work performed on preparing the plan. Tonight, the council will consider extending the liaison contract to continue work on preparing the plan for an additional year.

The council will also consider bids on the upcoming Fourth of July fireworks display and road closures for the summer car shows and Taste of Crossville.