Council to get update on airport this evening

Oak Ridge Airport Development Plan

The Heritage Center airport development plan is pictured above. (Cropped image from DOE Draft Environmental Assessment)


The City Council will get an update on the proposed general aviation airport in west Oak Ridge during a work session this evening.

The update will be given by Billy Stair, public affairs consultant for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.

The airport could cost $30-$40 million, and construction could start in 2018, according to a current timeline and construction estimate. The airport would include a 5,000-foot runway and be built at the front side of Heritage Center, the former K-25 site.

The Oak Ridge airport would the third for the MKAA, which would own the site. The other two are McGhee Tyson in Blount County and Downtown Island in Knoxville. The Oak Ridge airport would be a reliever airport and help relieve congestion at the other two airports. [Read more…]

City officials meet with NPS, DOE, other communities to discuss Manhattan Project park

Chuck Hope

Chuck Hope

A delegation from the City of Oak Ridge recently traveled to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to participate in a meeting with officials from the National Park Service, the U.S. Department of Energy, and from Los Alamos and the Hanford communities to discuss the newly designated Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The meeting was sponsored by the Energy Communities Alliance, or ECA, which supported attendance at the meeting with travel grants to the participants.

The three-day event, with more than 50 in attendance, began with a tour of the cultural resources and Manhattan Project era sites at Los Alamos National Laboratory. David Klaus, deputy under secretary of management and performance with DOE, was the keynote speaker. He emphasized the importance of preserving the history of the Manhattan Project, and pointed to the important scientific and technological advancements that originated from that era.

Victor Knox, associate director for park planning, facilities, and lands for the National Park Service, then briefed attendees on the status of a memorandum of agreement, or MOA, currently under development by DOE and NPS. The draft MOA, which has been released for public comment, will govern the respective roles of the secretary of interior and secretary of energy in administering the park and its facilities. Completion of the MOA is the first major milestone required by the enacting legislation, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. [Read more…]

Opinion: Let’s keep the Secret City Festival, could still honor vets in November

To the Editor:

Hopefully, the City Council will think long and hard before ending the Secret City Festival as we know it and move “something” to the fall. The Festival now has many activities for children, music by community and aspiring groups, community booths, and much more that might not be possible outside in November. Not to mention the plethora of festivals, football, and other events in the fall already, making October an impossible time to schedule things.

One thing that will definitely be gone is the TN CREATES fine art and craft show, which the city asked the Oak Ridge Art Center to develop nine years ago. It has gown in scope and interest over the years and is one reason many people come to the festival. The Art Center has had its own show in November for 30 years (November 9 this year), plus there are already numerous other shows in the fall, including Museum of Appalachia and Southern Highlands and Foothills in November, plus the non-juried Pilot Club show here in November, two weeks after the Art Center Gallery of Holiday Shops.

Has this small group, which did not ask for input from many who had led the Secret City Festival for ages, thought about a seven- to 14-day festival in late June, culminating with July 4, which is already a time of family visits home to Oak Ridge (I met dozens of my kids’ friends at Secret City last year)? What the task force seems to be envisioning as a time to honor veterans could still be held in November. We keep saying we want activities to attract younger families—let’s keep the great one we have now, which had its biggest attendance ever this past June and is a great summer family time.

Judy Kidd

Oak Ridge


Note: The submitted letters and columns published in the Opinion section do not necessarily reflect the views of Oak Ridge Today or its staff.

Opinion: Alarmed by proposal to privatize library, calls for feasibility study

Dear Council Members:

I am both alarmed and dismayed at the current proposal to privatize the Oak Ridge Public Library beginning January 2016. I understand the City Council’s need to create a workable budget for the upcoming year, but we must beware of making sudden major changes to a valuable city resource on the vague promise of saving money. It is unconscionable that the city would make such a change without a full feasibility study of particulars, both positive and negative, along with full documentation of public comment and thoughtful analysis and response to those comments. Such a study is crucial because it would reveal the extent to which privatization would affect the city’s long-term ability to meet its citizens’ needs as well as its finances. More importantly, the study is necessary in order for our Council and citizens to exercise informed consent or dissent on the matter. [Read more…]

Opinion: Responding to Baughn, Hardy says Chamber a voice for business concerns

Parker Hardy

Parker Hardy

By Parker Hardy

Note: This is a response to a July 9 column by Oak Ridge City Council member Trina Baughn.

Let me begin by expressing my dismay at the continued war of words fueled by “guest columns” such as Ms. Baughn’s. The practice can be divisive, driving wedges of conflict into community unity that is crucial to Oak Ridge’s future. At worst, it can be destructive, damaging the morale and reputations of  volunteers, elected and appointed officials, professional staff, local organizations, and community institutions engaged in moving our city in positive directions. I am concerned that it also may discourage residential and business prospects that are considering locating in our city.

The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce is a voice for business concerns, and it is sad that a public official thinks there’s something wrong with such a traditional role and such a fundamental right. In our almost 70 years of existence, we have built a broad membership base, most of which are small businesses. We are proud that our diverse membership ranges from local “mom-and-pop” companies, to respected professionals, to major corporations in the community and the region. In fact, if your readers will visit our online membership directory, perhaps they will recognize and support the hundreds of companies, individuals, and organizations that are investing in Oak Ridge through support for chamber initiatives. Yes, we count not-for-profits, government contractors, and out-of-town companies among our members. I believe they deserve praise, not punishment, for supporting our mission to enhance Oak Ridge’s economic vitality and business climate, and to provide business, leadership, and advocacy opportunities for our members. [Read more…]

Oak Ridge upgrades courtroom media equipment for City Council meetings

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

With help from a contractor, the City of Oak Ridge has upgraded the media equipment in the Municipal Building Courtroom to provide a better viewing experience during televised City Council meetings.

The city contracted with M&M Productions USA of Oak Ridge in June to help with the broadcast upgrades, a press release said. Part of the upgrade included permanently mounting pan, tilt, and zoom (PTZ) high-definition, robotic cameras that would “provide for better viewing angles of City Council, city staff, and audience members during televised City Council meetings,” the release said.

This recent broadcasting upgrade further complements the audio and City Council voting equipment improvements that were completed in 2014 as a result of deteriorating equipment and Courtroom needs, the release said.

“The PTZ cameras provide for better area coverage and greater detail of City Council meetings,” Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said. “Additionally, there have been several broadcast efficiencies experienced with all of the media upgrades, not to mention that the upgraded equipment has added to the professional composition of the City Council meetings and the Courtroom.” [Read more…]

Guest column: All AC communities decreased in assessed value, which is unprecedented

Note: This is a copy of a letter from Leonard A. Abbatiello, Anderson County/Oak Ridge Equalization Board representative, to Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and City Council regarding the 2015 Board of Equalization results.

Dear Honorable Mayor Gooch and Members of City Council:

I currently serve as the Oak Ridge representative on the Anderson County Board of Equalization.

The Anderson County Board of Equalization has completed its task of appraisal hearings for 2015. Attached is our report which has been sent to the Tennessee State Appraisal Office. It is the first year ever when there has been a decrease in the total appraisal base, Anderson County’s first in history.

This is also the lightest Board workload in recent history. This year, we evaluated 208 cases totaling $125,886,000 of appraised value, reducing their total to $95,781,000. Commercial appeals are now dominating Anderson County appeals, with the requests for changes in commercial exceeding residential values by 5.6 times. Some commercial cases are expected to also appeal to the state for additional relief. [Read more…]

Guest column: Won’t support tax increase, urges residents to prevent further waste

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

Sixteen years ago, Partners for Progress successfully lobbied the city to spend over $15 million of your (the taxpayer) money to launch a major development on the West End of Oak Ridge. The promises were enough to make people starry eyed. There was to be a picturesque subdivision of nearly 4,000 homes along with an industrial complex that, when all was said and done, would produce 17,000 jobs, $1 billion in payroll, and nearly $13 million in additional annual property taxes.

Three years ago, many of the same folks behind Partners for Progress began a similar PR campaign touting the sale and redevelopment of the mall. “More shopping choices are coming!” they proclaimed. To date, the city has approved the use of $1.5 million of your money for infrastructure costs and a $13 million TIF (tax increment financing), which will  suppress property tax revenue at current levels for the next 30 years. In other words, no matter what happens, the 64 acres will continue, as it has for the last decade, to produce only 10 percent of its original value because any increases will be used to repay the TIF loan. Developers and city officials claim that the project will produce $1 million (or 20 percent) in additional sales tax revenue to the city, though, historically, the national retail sales growth rate range is between -11.51 percent to +11.18 percent. Even if we find a way around the notoriously stringent Wal-Mart non-compete covenants and actually bring in real retail, it is absolutely impossible to expect these projections to materialize, since, even in the best of times, we’ve not seen half that level of growth. [Read more…]

Letter: Chamber board lists spending priorities

Note: This is a copy of a June 8 letter from the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce and its Board of Directors to Mayor Warren Gooch and members of City Council, and Chairman Keys Fillauer and the Board of Education.

Mayor Gooch and Chairman Fillauer:

The Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted, following the recommendation of our Advocacy Committee, to request the following be given serious consideration as discussions and voting occurs for your respective Fiscal Year 2016 budgets.

Spending Priorities:

  • Development and funding of a prioritized capital improvement plan for infrastructure improvements such as city/school buildings, streets, utilities, etc.
  • Pay increase for Oak Ridge Schools teachers and staff and City of Oak Ridge staff.
  • Waterfront improvements.

While we understand that the city is faced with adjusting the tax rate to reconcile with lower property appraisals, we do feel strongly that the city needs to prioritize spending around these three areas in order to position Oak Ridge as a community of choice for new and expanding businesses and residents.


Melinda Hillman

Chairman of the Board


Parker Hardy


Letter: Gives thanks, says this year’s Police Week a ‘great success’

Police Week at Oak Ridge Police Department

This month, the law enforcement community celebrated Police Week 2015. For those who do not know, in 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation that designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that date falls as Police Week.

Currently, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, D.C., to participate in a number of planned events that honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Here in Oak Ridge, the Police Department celebrated on a smaller scale, honoring officers everywhere with a ceremony at the Police Station on the 15th. The week was also marked by a proclamation given by the City Council declaring an official Police Week in Oak Ridge.

I represent a group of wives of police officers in Oak Ridge. We worked to make this the best police week ever for our husbands and the rest of our blue family. We organized meals, snacks, and treats for the officers, and hung banners of love and support in the station to let them know we “see them.” [Read more…]

Letter: PBA chapter president hopes for fair, thorough investigation of ORPD

Editor’s note: This is a copy of a March 3 letter to Oak Ridge City Council.

Dear Oak Ridge City Council members:

I am honored to communicate with you today regarding a very important issue affecting the members of the City of Oak Ridge Police Department. Many of them are affiliated with the Knox County Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association.

Before I discuss the issue at hand, I want to give you a very brief background regarding the PBA. We are not a union. We do not engage in union activities such as work disruptions or strikes. We are respectful when working with the administrations our officers serve. I’ve found most problems can be resolved if both parties come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to compromise.

The law enforcement officers from Anderson, Loudon, Roane, and Knox counties that make up our chapter depend on our local chapter board to monitor situations and protect their interests. Mostly those interests are confined to the following: a fair working environment and returning home safely at the end of a watch. [Read more…]

Letter: Praises Baughn, says City Council needs more like her

To the Editor:

I would like to commend the outstanding job that Trina Baughn is doing on City Council. Of all the members of City Council, she is the most knowledgeable about the city’s massive and rising $186.4 million debt. Trina Baughn understands the history of how this debt was accumulated; she also has developed a strategic plan to help the taxpayers resolve this debt.

While Oak Ridge slipped deeper into debt, past City Councils have wasted and squandered taxpayer funds on law firms in Washington, D.C., to lobby for more money for Oak Ridge’s government facilities, as if lobbying rather than the qualifications of local scientists could swing federal funding to Oak Ridge. The taxpayers derived zero benefit from those lobbyist payments or the largesse City Council has bestowed on the Chamber of Commerce over the years. [Read more…]