Frank Cagle writes a great piece in the MetroPulse about the controversy regarding a proposed Norfolk Southern inter-modal rail facility in New Market. Jefferson County residents want to see the facility in the area because of the jobs that it will create, but many don't want green farmland ruined when there is plenty of unused industrial property in East Knox County that the railroad could utilize:
Knox County has spent millions of dollars on Eastbridge Industrial Park. It sits on Mine Road in Mascot with hundreds of acres of expensive graded land still empty. It is considered too far from the interstate to be successful. It sits in an area with 2,600 acres of idle land already zoned industrial, with water, sewer and a railroad line.
Norfolk Southern wants to build an inter-modal facility, where cranes will take up to 300,000 tractor trailers a year and put them on railroad cars for shipment across country. They propose to put the facility in New Market, on 1,300 acres of farm land because it’s cheaper than locating it on an existing industrial site, as in Morristown or near Eastbridge in Mascot.
But there is one cost factor that has not been considered. Though the land is cheaper in New Market, it is 12 miles from the Asheville Highway exit of I-40 and it’s even further going the other direction through Jefferson City out Highway 92 to I-40. That’s 300,000 trucks a year going through Jefferson City or going down Asheville Highway to East Knoxville.
It would be a profitable venture for the State to build an industrial road which is just long enough to make the trip from the industrial site to I-40, as Frank points out, because of the tax revenue involved. However, Norfolk Southern would prefer to develop green fields in Jefferson County instead of using lands already prepared for this kind of industrial use.
Norfolk Southern is once again showing that the railroad has no real understanding of the people who live in these parts:
The railroad will only listen to dollars and cents. They have to be convinced Mascot is a better deal. I know my neighbors. They will fight Norfolk Southern in court for years and to the last man, woman, and child. They will fight for their tomato fields, their chicken farms, and their dairies. They don’t understand the logic of losing 50 agriculture jobs and millions in agriculture revenue to provide jobs for 12 Norfolk Southern crane operators.
At the meeting Saturday not one person made any statement opposing an inter-modal facility. Everyone wants it in the region, everyone sees it as an environmental plus and an economic boost to jobs in Morristown and Knoxville where their children might get a job. But they cannot understand raping the environment in New Market for an environmental stimulus project to get trucks off the road.
Norfolk Southern executives have the problem of believing that they are entitled to whatever they bloody well want. Further, they really have no concept of why some people might be inclined to oppose their plans, and they assume that everyone who opposes them is opposed to any kind of industrial development when that isn't always the case. In response to Frank Cagle's article, Bob Wolfenbarger writes:
Your analysis of the situation sounds like an ad by TDOT for the Tennessee Road Builders Association. WHY NOT JUST BUILD THE INTER MODAL TRANFER STATION AT ONE OF THE CURRENTLY EXISTING INTERSECTIONS OF THE INTERSTATE SYSTEM AND THE RAIL LINE?
Bobby has to remember that his idea makes sense, and this is something Norfolk Southern as a company is markedly short on. It was Norfolk Southern, after all, that tried to tell Nicole and I that they had 100 feet of right of way on our property and our neighbors to do whatever they wish with (the railroad runs through my back yard, and a hundred feet would take my outbuildings and put them in my living room). My deed and the deeds of my neighbors begs to differ, as all of those documents say that the railroad has 15 feet of easement, not 100. A company with so little going for common sense can't be counted on to do the obviously right thing.
I have mixed feelings about the inter-modal being in Jefferson County. I agree with Frank Cagle about the prospect of good farmland being ruined in this agrarian county in which we both live, and both he and Frank Niceley are correct that if an alternative can be found without destroying greenfields, that needs to be done. The one fear that I have is that this may embolden those forces within the county-and there are plenty of them near White Pine-opposed to any industrial development. At a time when Jefferson County needs to expand its tax base to avoid being placed in a situation where it must raise property taxes perpetually to avoid default (which in turn hurts farmers), the only way to do so is through industrial and business development.
We need to develop our available resources, and find a way to do it without completely destroying Jefferson County's unique agrarian character.
Later in the day, Jenny Sanford said in a statement she asked her husband to leave their Sullivan’s Island home two weeks ago.
“This trial separation was agreed to with the goal of ultimately strengthening our marriage,” she said
How Mark Sanford and his wife choose to deal with his infidelity is their business, but how that infidelity may impact Sanford's ability to do his job is the business of the sovereign people of South Carolina. The damage that Mark Sanford has done to the Republican party nationally by his actions (as he has been seen as a rising star in the national GOP) is a concern for every one of us going into next year's election.
Sanford's actions were beyond selfish. The Governor didn't only endanger his marriage and his relationship with his sons, and he didn't merely ruin any chances he might have had at the Presidency in 2012. Mark Sanford left his staff, the General Assembly, and the people of South Carolina wondering where he was and who was in charge for four days. Because South Carolina law does not allow for the transfer of power unless the Governor authorizes it (or unless he or she dies), had their been some catastrophe that required leadership from executive authority immediately, Mark Sanford would have left South Carolina without a leader.
Governor Sanford has also sullied his party and the conservative movement by enhancing the reputation that while the movement speaks of strong family values, our conservative men can't keep their pants on. As readers may recall, I have been openly critical of Republican leaders who I actually know because of their propensity to fool around while putting their political careers at risk.
When you are involved or connected to politics in any way, shape, form, or fashion, and you are male, the devil comes to you in the form of someone looking very attractive, being very sweet, and wearing great perfume. For some reason that I will never understand (neither will anyone else who has tried), there are women in this world who live to be the "other woman" in the life of a man in a place of political authority. As many times as it has happened throughout history that a woman has been the undoing of great political figures, one would think that political men would know by now that when the pretty girls come calling, just stay away if you intend to remain in public life for very long.
Back when Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, it was common to hear the Democrats say "it was just sex!" The sex was something to be dealt with between Bill and Hillary, but the lying under oath-the perjury-was the problem that made it our business. Similarly, Mark Sanford's Buenos Airies friend became our business when he abandoned his duties for four days and harmed his party and perhaps his country, and maybe even some Iranian protestors who were counting on the news coverage to stay with them in order to keep their movement alive.
It is for those reasons, and not merely because he had an affair, that Mark Sanford should resign.
The impulse to spend money which we do not have has finally trickled down, it would seem, to the Mayor and Aldermen of the Town of White Pine. It was announced this week that the city is prepared to borrow $85,000 from the account of the White Pine Water and Sewer Department for the purpose of finishing a splash pad to be used by children playing at Lions Park. The splash pad is meant partly as a replacement for the former municipal pool, which long ago needed replacing but was a drag on revenue and expenditures even before the Depression hit.
White Pine's Water Department is by far the most efficient and cost-effective local utility in the area. Residents of the town and of the surrounding county district which may tap into the city's water system enjoy some of the lowest per capita water rates in East Tennessee. I can't recall ever having a monthly water and sewer bill over $40, even when my usage has been very high. As a result of the low cost, people generally can afford their water bills and are able to pay them, which in turn means that the Water Department is also able to meet its expenses. The result of this munumental efficincy is for the Aldermen of this town to borrow money from the Water Department to complete a project that is utterly unnecessary.
I can hear them now, the cries of "but its for the children!" Much of the waste and mismanagement in our State government is done in the name of "the children," even though few if any of the bureaucrats in Nashville can show how this money is impacting the lives of "the children," and real children here in Jefferson County are getting a less-than-suitable education-and not because their teachers and staff aren't trying, but because the State will pony up for a pre-K program of questionable effectiveness but not for books, technology, and teacher pay that we know will enhance the quality of education for kids old enough for the spending to have a discernable impact on their direction in life.
We are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the 1930's, and our municipal government is preparing to rob Peter to pay for a splashpad?
Let me be clear in saying that I actually think the splashpad is a wonderful idea, and I don't even have a problem with dedicating municipal funds for that purpose (as a parks and recreations improvement), but before doing so, we have to be careful that we have the funds available and that the town does not have more pressing needs. As it is, the budget passed this year just barely allowed the city to meet its expenses without a tax increase. Further, the kids here do have a playground behind the pavilion at the park itself. In this present crisis, our municipal governments need to stick to the basics by necessity to save the resources we do have for what we hope are better times ahead-for the children.
The final budget proposal sailed through both houses, passing 85-12 in the House and 31-1 in the Senate. Gov. Phil Bredesen is expected to sign the measure.
The two houses reached a compromise on the $350 million bond issue for bridge construction and replacement that had been scrapped by the Senate. One-fourth of the amount of the bonds will be issued in the 2009-10 budget and one-fourth in each of the next three years.
The Senate also called for about $100 million in accelerated cuts. That also generated a compromise, with the figure reduced to $55 million and the cuts being identified as impoundments, which could be re-funded if revenue collections surpass expectations.
This budget is far better than either the Governor's original version or the Democrats' House version, but its heavy reliance upon bonds still passes much of the burden to the next generation. This budget was passed for one reason only, and that is to avoid the political specter of a government shutdown on July 1st. It is still a terrible budget, and that is a reality that nearly everyone admits.
No one in the press is talking about next year's budget, or the year after that, because they know that the choice is likely to be that this State bonds itself into permanent debt, or we make the cuts that needed to be made this year-but at twice the rate and with twice the impact. Either choice is bad, and all because of the political consequences of doing what needed to be done this year.
Phil Bredesen doesn't care, because as we begin to deal with the worst of this crisis, he will be gone, and hopes history lays the blame on his successor instead of him and his insistence on fiscal irresponsibility.
After being present for the final week of the first session of the 106th General Assembly, there are some things worth noting about this year's legislative session that I would not have said six months ago.
The first and most obvious is the general state of affairs in the House. Those who read this space in January know that I expected the business of the House to grind to a halt. No one trusted Kent Williams then, and I believed that this lack of trust would cost everyone in terms of what the Legislature was able to accomplish this year. I will be the first to admit that what I predicted is not exactly what happened. Many Republicans still look to Williams with a wary eye-how can we not after the way in which he gained power? However, when it came to committee appointments Williams kept his word, for the most part, about appointing conservatives to some of the most important committees. Further, Williams allowed the major pieces of the Republicans' non-fiscal agenda, from SJR 127 to all of the gun bills to make it to the floor. When these bills did see the light of day, they were approved in the House with large bipartisan majorities-just as we believed they would be in this conservative State. Jimmy Naifeh understood that reality as well, which is why he did everything in his power to keep those bills from reaching a floor vote.
Kent Williams' biggest fault is that he does have a tendency to play politics with his own vote and which policies he pushes. It is hard to pin him down and get him to take a firm stand on anything. While this seems like a good thing to those folks who clamor for the Legislature to "be more bipartisan," the problem is that whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Speaker of the House does move policy. In practical terms he (or potentially she) is more powerful in our Tennessee system than the Governor. Hence, it is often important to know where the Speaker stands on important bills and not have to play guessing games about where the Speaker is going to fall on this bill or that one. Overall, however, I would say that Kent Williams has thus far done a yeoman's job as Speaker of the House.
One of the biggest difficulties with this session has been the reality of the constant political jockeying which seems to be occuring in advance of the 2010 gubernatorial election. It isn't a secret that I support Ron Ramsey for that office, but I believe the attempt to steer through a bill during the last week of session that would allow Ramsey to raise money during next year's session had the appearance of a blatant political manuver on Ramsey's part (Note that I support the bill itself, as our system is blatantly unfair to any legislator who wishes to run for Governor-either everyone seeking a Statewide office must be allowed to raise money during the legislative session, or no one should. See Jim Bryson and Jim Kyle) designed to equalize his chances of being elected. The fact that we are still over a year away from the gubernatorial primary, yet real campaigning began months ago is a symptom of a larger problem not exclusive to Tennessee, but entirely evident during the proceedings of the first session of this General Assembly. We ought not have been too concerned with a Governor's race that is still many months from fruition, and should instead have been concerned with dealing with the issues facing Tennessee right now.
Whether it was Ron Ramsey trying to push through a bill which benefits his campaign, or Zach Wamp apparently trying to take advantage of the disarray over the House Speakership row by conveniently showing up to visit Kent Williams in Elizabethton, everyone seemed to use this session for purposes of political posturing for an election over a year away.
Democrats are equally as guilty of the crime of jumping the political gun. Many liberal activists are declaring victory after last week's passage of the State budget. In doing so, one has to wonder how many of them have read any portion of the omnibus budget amendment which made the budget before it passed the House. I will admit that I didn't read the whole thing (I will leave that to staff on Capitol Hill), but what of it I did read didn't seem like much of a victory either for the Left or the Right. There wasn't much to cheer for in this budget for either side-remember the final version was not the House version presented on Tuesday last. I'd be willing to bet that within six months, liberals will be running from the results of this budget like the plague.
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