Carter County Commission approves $6.3 million state grant for trail expansion, rejects resolution criticizing Ballad Health

Published 10:40 am Tuesday, October 24, 2023

BY ROBERT SORRELL
Star Correspondent
The Carter County Commission on Monday accepted $6.3 million from the state to expand the Tweetsie Trail and Hampton Watershed Trails and rejected a resolution to criticize Ballad Health.
Commissioners debated both controversial topics in front of a full house of spectators.
On the trail expansion projects, some commissioners have questioned how much money the county would have to spend on the trail’s maintenance and security.
Commissioner Brad Johnson said the money from the state will be used to develop a master plan, as well as the construction of the extensions.
“We have up to five years to develop this,” said Johnson, who presented the motion from the Financial Management Committee.
Commissioner Danny Deal said he was concerned about the cost of equipment and estimated that it would cost more than $400,000 to purchase items for the trail’s maintenance. He said he obtained the numbers from the city of Elizabethton, which currently maintains the trail in the city limits.
The trail currently ends at the Snap-on plant in Elizabethton. The extension would take the trail all the way into Hampton, where officials also plan to add to the Hampton Watershed Trails. The expanded Tweetsie Trail, which begins in Johnson City, would include a bridge over the Doe River and a path through the former railroad tunnel.
The costs for the project can be split into multiple stages, Johnson said. He noted that $2.3 million will be used for the Hampton Watershed Trails and $4 million will be used for the Tweetsie.
Commissioner Avery Wynn said he was concerned about the cost of signs, and asked who would be charged if a crash were to occur at a road crossing.
County Attorney Josh Hardin said law enforcement officers would have to investigate each individual incident.
Johnson said the cost of the signs would be part of the master plan.
County Mayor Patty Woodby informed the commission that the county already owns the trail property and is responsible for its maintenance.
Regarding security, Johnson and Commissioner Aaron Frazier said the sheriff has already been planning for the trail’s extension. In addition, they said the local chamber of commerce has offered to use its tourism funds to purchase cameras for the trail and the tunnel.
Many topics were recently discussed about the projects at a community town hall in Hampton. Wesley Bradley, an outdoors enthusiast who has assisted the county with the projects, said he believed the recent town hall was beneficial.
Nine commissioners voted against a resolution drafted by the county attorney that criticizes Ballad Health’s operations at Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
“I think we’re opening up a can of worms,” said Commissioner Kelly Collins, who voted against the resolution.
Collins said she was upset with Ballad’s decision to close intensive and other services at Sycamore Shoals, but added that the hospital system is a private business.
The commissioner added that she felt the county’s decision to reprimand Ballad comes too late and should have been done when the Ballad merger occurred.
Commissioner Angie Odom, who has vocally opposed Ballad’s operations, said Ballad is a not-for-profit business that receives public money.
The commission has heard from people from Sullivan and Washington counties and Johnson City, but “very few” from Carter County, Commissioner Willie Campbell said.
After the Ballad vote, one person in the audience shouted: “Cowards.”

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