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Kingsport reverses course on skimmer boat funds

KINGSPORT — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen plotted a new course Tuesday night when it came to the proposal of helping purchase a new skimmer boat for the Boone Lake Association.

During its regular meeting, the BMA voted 5-2 to give $31,250 to the BLA toward the purchase of a skimmer boat. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because the BMA voted 3-3 in May on the same issue, meaning the measure did not pass.

The main difference is the makeup of the BMA, given the city election on May 18. Alderwoman Jennifer Adler, who voted against the skimmer boat contribution, chose not to run for re-election.

Alderman Paul Montgomery, who won his seat on the board in that election, voted for the measure Tuesday night.

Mayor Pat Shull, who has supported the proposal since the beginning, brought the matter back for another vote.

“Now I feel like a majority will vote for it and I think considering the amount of impact money we’ve received from the TVA, this is a reasonable thing to do,” Shull said Tuesday afternoon. “If we don’t do it, we look chintzy and look like we don’t want to cooperate with regionalism.”

With Boone Dam essentially being out of commission for more than six years, this caused a financial hardship for many local residents, businesses and municipalities. To help offset this hardship, the TVA has made annual impact payments to local municipalities, including Kingsport, which has received more than $1 million.


The BLA approached Kingsport in March asking for $32,500 to help buy the boat, which would be used year round to help keep the Holston River side of Boone Lake clear of debris.

BLA representatives have made a similar request to Bristol, Tennessee, (which has not approved it), while Sullivan County agreed last year to pitch in $62,500 toward the $125,000 purchase.

One main difference in the wording of the agreement between Kingsport and the BLA is that now the BLA will make the skimmer boat available 14 days a year for use in Fort Patrick Henry Lake.

Val Kosmider, president of the BLA, said he was not initially excited about the provision, but after further thought he believes it’s the catalyst to help the group grow beyond its initial mission.

“I believe this will help us very much in keeping our area safe and clean for local and regional enjoyment,” Kosmider said.


Vice-Mayor Colette George and Alderwoman Betsy Cooper both voted against the measure in May. They did so again on Tuesday.

“I do appreciate the change, but I’ve heard from several citizens who are not in agreement. My vote will be no,” Cooper said.

George said she too has heard from many citizens, who are on both sides of the issue.

“When the lake was lowered, it did have an effect on Kingsport. We had flooding in the Riverfront Park area, and the impact payments are to make up a loss of city revenue,” George said. “To my knowledge, we have never given city money to a nonprofit to be used outside the city limits.”

Even though a majority of Boone Lake is in Sullivan County, no part of the Kingsport city limits is on the lake.

Alderman Darrell Duncan said the skimmer boat project is regional in scope, adding the $32,500 is a small amount compared to the total amount of impact funds Kingsport has received. Alderman James Phillips said he worries about the precedent of bringing a matter back before the BMA.

“It failed the first time and we’re bringing it back up. I worry about setting a precedent of things failing and then bringing it back until we get the vote someone wants,” Phillips said. “I struggle with that.”

Pat Shull

Jeff Bezos blasts into space on own rocket: 'Best day ever!'

VAN HORN, Texas — Jeff Bezos blasted into space Tuesday on his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft.

The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas — the youngest and oldest to ever fly in space.

“Best day ever!” Bezos said when the capsule touched down on the desert floor in remote West Texas after the 10-minute flight.

Named after America’s first astronaut, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket soared on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, a date chosen by Bezos for its historical significance. He held fast to it, even as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pushed up his own flight from New Mexico and beat him to space by nine days.

The two private companies chasing space tourism dollars, though, have drawn criticism for catering to the rich while so many are struggling amid the pandemic.

During Tuesday’s flight, Blue Origin’s capsule reached an altitude of about 66 miles, more than 10 miles higher than Branson’s July 11 ride. The 60-foot booster accelerated to Mach 3 or three times the speed of sound to get the capsule high enough, before separating and landing upright.

Unlike Branson’s piloted rocket plane, Bezos’ capsule was completely automated and required no official staff on board for the up-and-down flight.

During their several minutes of weightlessness, video from inside the capsule showed the four floating, doing somersaults, tossing Skittles candies and throwing balls, with lots of cheering, whooping and exclamations of “Wow!” The Bezos brother also joined their palms to display a “HI MOM” greeting written on their hands. The capsule landed under parachutes, with Bezos and his guests briefly experiencing nearly six times the force of gravity, or 6 G’s, on the way back.

Led by Bezos, they climbed out of the capsule after touchdown with wide grins, embracing parents, partners and children, then popped open bottles of sparkling wine, spraying one another.

“My expectations were high and they were dramatically exceeded,” Bezos said later.

Their flight lasted 10 minutes and 10 seconds — five minutes shy of Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 flight in 1961. Shepard’s daughters, Laura and Julie, were introduced at a press event a few hours later.

Sharing Bezos’ dream-come-true adventure was Wally Funk, from the Dallas area, one of 13 female pilots who went through the same tests as NASA’s all-male astronaut corps in the early 1960s but never made it into space.

“I’ve been waiting a long time to finally get it up there,” Funk said.

“I want to go again — fast,” she added.

Joining them on the ultimate joyride was the company’s first paying customer, Oliver Daemen, a last-minute fill-in for the mystery winner of a $28 million charity auction who opted for a later flight. The Dutch teen’s father took part in the auction, and agreed on a lower undisclosed price last week when Blue Origin offered his son the vacated seat.

“It was so amazing,” Daemen said. “Let’s hope that many, many more people can do this.”

Four hours after their flight, Bezos drove his crew over to see the rocket that carried them safely to space. .

Among the items brought on the flight: A pair of aviator Amelia Earhart’s goggles and a piece of fabric from the original Wright Flyer.

“I got goose bumps,” said Angel Herrera of El Paso, who watched the launch from inside Van Horn High School, about 25 miles away. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up, just witnessing history.”

No one is rushing to buy a ticket from this bleak and isolated town.

“This ride is only for the wealthy,” pizza shop owner Jesus Ramirez said after watching the launch, adding that he hoped the venture would attract businesses to the town and provide opportunities for local companies.

Blue Origin — founded by Bezos in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters — hasn’t revealed its price for a ride to space but has lined up spots for other auction bidders. Ticket sales, including the auction, are approaching $100 million, Bezos said. Two more flights are planned by year’s end.

The recycled rocket and capsule used Tuesday flew on the last two space demos, according to company officials.

Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations at $250,000 apiece. Founded by Branson in 2004, the company has sent crew into space four times and plans two more test flights from New Mexico before launching customers next year.

Blue Origin’s approach was slower and more deliberate. After 15 successful unoccupied test flights to space since 2015, Bezos finally declared it was time to put people on board.

The Federal Aviation Administration agreed last week, approving the commercial space license.

Bezos, 57, who also owns The Washington Post, claimed the first seat. The next went to his 50-year-old brother, Mark Bezos, an investor and volunteer firefighter, then Funk and Daemen. They spent two days together in training.

University of Chicago space historian Jordan Bimm said the passenger makeup is truly remarkable. Imagine if the head of NASA decided wanted to launch in 1961 instead of Shepard on the first U.S. spaceflight, he said in an email.

“That would have been unthinkable!” Bimm said. “It shows just how much the idea of who and what space is for has changed in the last 60 years.”

Bezos stepped down this month as Amazon’s CEO and last week donated $200 million to renovate the National Air and Space Museum.

Fewer than 600 people have reached the edge of space or beyond. Until Tuesday, the youngest was 25-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov and the oldest at 77 was Mercury-turned-shuttle astronaut John Glenn.

Both Bezos and Branson want to drastically increase those overall numbers, as does SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who’s skipping brief space hops and sending his private clients straight to orbit for tens of millions apiece, with the first flight coming up in September.

“We’re going to build a road to space so our kids and their kids can build the future,” Bezos said. “We need to do that to solve the problems here on Earth.”

Despite appearances, Bezos and Branson insist they weren’t trying to outdo each other by strapping in themselves. Bezos noted this week that only one person can lay claim to being first in space: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who rocketed into orbit on April 12, 1961.

Branson sent a congratulatory tweet: “Impressive! Very best to all the crew from me and all the team” at Virgin Galactic.

Blue Origin is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its proposed lunar lander Blue Moon; it’s challenging NASA’s sole contract award to SpaceX.

Included in the many people that Bezos thanked Tuesday was “every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer. Because you guys paid for all this.” Bezos has said he finances the rocket company by selling $1 billion in Amazon stock each year.


AP reporters Sean Murphy in Van Horn and Candice Choi in New York contributed to this report.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Times News Facebook friends chime in about billionaires in space

We asked our Facebook friends for a word or phrase to describe the space trips by billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. Below are some of their responses.

Joshua Dylan Wilcox

“Ive literally ran out of ideas to spend my billions on”

Karen J Hutson


Liesa Jo Jenkins

Ego trip

Dan Gramer

A new era. This type of spacecraft has been in the works since at least 1995, and took WAY longer than expected.

Brian Archer

All the rich kids are doing it.

Julie Blazer Holt


Tony King

I think what we did 52 YEARS AGO TODAY was much cooler.


Alice Alesia Bennett

It was unreal. just like a futuristic movie or a very expensive carnival ride.

Laura Wilson Springer


Sara Mullins

New Space Age

Ashley Clark

It didn’t look like a rocket shipLacey Robinson

One giant leap for a man and one small step for mankind.

Anne Tolley

Happy for Wally Funk!

Joyce Mills

Money waisted again!!!

Jamie Anders Tipton

Happy for the folks involved, the future is wide open

Kimberly Sigmon


Fleda Kern


Debbie Doxstader Dunn

Dollywood ride for the rich and famous.

Michael Callahan


Lorie Keller


Jason Salley

History made in the pursuit of commercial space travel. Truly amazing to see in my lifetime!

Ron Castle

Carbon footprint, OK for the wealthy?

Jennifer Absher Patterson

Waste of money!

Travis Dickenson

I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Cathy Stokes Anderson


Sherry Rickards


Jodi Just

Money CAN buy happiness!

Kathy Dickenson

Money wars

Gertrude Johnson


Tamara McClellan

Must be nice to have money

Jerome N Angie

Man, I’ve bought a lot of crap from Amazon!

Jonathan Case

You’ll never see this happen in a socialist or communist country. Period.

Connie Gilley Boling

So many homeless, hungry and medically in need for someone to spend this kind of money on this show of wealth ...

Glenda Adkins Miles


Anna SighSki

Spoiled children.

Dreama Fields Anderson

This is a reason to tax the rich even more. There are many hungry children that they could feed with this wasted money!

David Alvis

They preach about lower carbon emissions and reducing our footprint while they do stunts like this and have footprints 100s of times larger than that of average citizens. Hypocrites!!

Fun Fest schedule for Wednesday, July 21

Baseball Skills Camp

Ages 6-13

Pre-registration required

Sponsored by Jones Sports Management, Wheelhouse Print Design, NET Elite Baseball

9 a.m.-noon

Domtar Park

Registration: $15/participant; $20 on-site

Basketball Knock-Out Tournament

Registration required

Sponsored by West Colonial Hills Baptist Church

2-8 p.m.

West Colonial Hills Baptist Church

Register at www.wchbc.org

Kid rounds 2-4 p.m.; adult rounds 6-8 p.m.

Smiles & Sight Community Appreciation Day

Sponsored by Martin Dentistry

4-8 p.m.

Parking lot of 1599 Fort Henry Drive

The Taste

Sponsored by Bank of Tennessee

4-9 p.m.

Memorial Park, 1625 Fort Henry Drive

Lazy Crazy Triathlon

Pre-registration required

Sponsored by Race Day Events, Reedy Creek Bicycles, Kingsport YMCA, Cattails at Meadowview Golf Course

6:30-8 p.m.

Kingsport Aquatic Center

Registration at http://racedayevents.net/events/

3/1 thru 5/31: $40; 6/1 thru 6/30: $45; 7/1 thru 7/13: $50; 7/14 thru 7/20: $55; day of race $60

Adult One-Pitch Softball Tournament

Pre-registration required

Sponsored by Kingsport Parks and Recreation, Action Athletics

6-10 p.m.

Brickyard Park, 2017 Brickyard Park Drive

$100 per team (double elimination)

Registration deadline: July 14 at 5 p.m. at Civic Auditorium

Register online: www.kingsportparksandrecreation.org

Blind Draw: July 15 at 6 p.m. (Kingsport Parks & Recreation FB Live)

Giant Screen Outdoor Movie

Movie TBD

Sponsored by Bristol Broadcasting Company Inc., WXBQ/WAEZX/WEXX/WFHG/WWTB

7-11 p.m. (movie begins at dark)

Fort Henry Drive at Indian Court

Sullivan school board OKs revised budget, COVID protocols for 2021-22

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Board of Education has approved a revised 2021-22 general purpose school budget, reflecting revenue changes made by the county commission.

It also has adopted COVID-19 protocols of sorts for opening the new school year.

The year is to start with no mask mandate, although masks will be allowed in schools, no restrictions on athletic event attendance, and no requirements to have a COVID vaccination for students, staff, faculty or others on campuses.

However, board members at the Tuesday meeting said COVID protocols are not what the approved opening plan would be called, and interim Director Evelyn Rafalowski said she will come up with a better name for the 12-part document the board approved 5-0 with two absent.


The budget change reflects that the $89,691,002 budget will have $1,025,574 in property tax revenue supplanted by a like amount of sales tax revenue. The plan designates nearly $9 million in fund balance to be used to balance the budget, and it funds a salary equalization plan for teachers plus 4% raises for teachers and other school system employees.

At the end of the meeting, BOE member Michael Hughes spoke at length about attempted actions by Commissioner Herschel Glover over the years to cut education funds, although Commissioner Mark Vance spoke at the end of the meeting during public comment about looking ahead rather than in the rear view mirror.

Vance emphasized that proponents of teacher pay increases to get closer to area city school systems finally won with this school budget, which the commission approved on July 8.


“We still believe that COVID vaccines are a personal decision, and the school district will not require vaccination for COVID,” Rafalowski said, reading from the draft copy of the protocols to be given a new, yet-to-be-determined title.

In addition, the Sullivan County Regional Health Department — not school nurses or any other school employees — will do contact tracing, quarantines and isolations. Students living in a household with someone who tests positive may be required to stay at home for 20 days, “depending on individual circumstances,” the protocols say.

The protocols also point out that students and staff with vaccinations will not be subject to quarantine unless they test positive for COVID and that some research indicates vaccines may lessen the ability of the virus to mutate into variants.

The protocols also will not require temperature taking before school starts, although parents are asked not to send students who are sick or have a fever to school. Athletic events will have no limit on the number of spectators unless the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association (TSSAA) “or another governing agency” says otherwise.

The school system will not release daily case counts; will return to cafeteria-served meals, which will include free breakfasts and lunches for all students; field trips will return as allowed on a case-by-case basis; sanitization and hygiene practices are to continue; water fountains will close but water filling stations will be open; and students can bring their own water bottles.

As for the Virtual Learning Academy, Rafalowski said although the school system’s application for a virtual operation was approved by Tennessee, plans are not to use it this coming school year.

“This is something that is there just in case,” Rafalowski said. “Currently, we do not have a plan to operate a Virtual Learning Academy.”

The document ends with a disclaimer that the guidelines may be changed quickly as health conditions dictate, but the school system will communicate that quickly to families and the community.

Immediate past Sullivan County Director of Schools EvelynRafalowski (2015-2019)

ETSU typically leads the SoCon in basketball attendance each year.