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Northward extension of State Route 357 under consideration
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BLOUNTVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Transportation has worked up new options for building a road between Interstate 81’s Exit 63 (Airport Parkway) and Memorial Boulevard (State Route 126).

It is not the same project commonly called “Airport Parkway North” several years ago. This project would not cut through Chestnut Ridge to connect directly to Stone Drive, which helped spur public backlash against that once-hot topic.

The latest effort is considered by some as “357 lite” because it is seen as a smaller version of that project and is a reference to its official designation as State Route 357 North.

The Sullivan County Commission saw and heard a presentation on the potential new road last week.

It is designed in part, according to that presentation, to improve access to the county’s new high school, West Ridge. It would provide a more direct route to the school from neighborhoods to the east and north without having to get on I-81. It also could provide non-I-81 access to traffic coming to the school from Colonial Heights via Fall Creek Road.

Even if the project were approved by all parties involved, it would be an estimated eight to 11 years before the new road would be completed.

Estimated cost: $46 million for the “eastern” route option; $54 million for the “western” route option, which the presentation indicated would be about 3.5 miles in length and would better serve the new school.

Both options traverse mostly undeveloped areas, and neither would “take” more than “a few” homes. Adjusting the actual routes could further reduce the number of homes in question.

Those cost estimates, from TDOT, are “probably worst-case cost.”

The “eastern” option would “follow ridges toward Indian Springs” and intersect with State Route 126 near Fall Creek Road.

The “western” option would connect with State Route 126 near East Lawn Cemetery, and it was described as a perfect fit because it would connect to 126/Memorial Boulevard near already-planned improvements to that roadway. Right-of-way acquisition is underway and construction is expected to begin with two years on a long-term long-planned improvement on 126/Memorial Boulevard. The “western” option would feed into what will be an improved three- to four-lane section of the roadway, providing a more direct link, via Highway 93/John B. Dennis Bypass to Stone Drive, Bloomingdale, and Wadlow Gap Road to Southwest Virginia.

In addition to improving access to the new high school, the road would provide a more direct “north/south” link to Tri Cities Airport and Northeast State’s main campus. It would also likely spur commercial development near Exit 63 and possibly on 126/Memorial Boulevard, according to the presentation, and it would likely decrease traffic on 126 between Fall Creek Road and Interstate 81’s Exit 66.

The Sullivan County Commission heard and saw the presentation at its monthly work session and no action was taken. In fact, no resolution has been presented.

Rogersville may put new city hall, gym, indoor pools next to City Park

ROGERSVILLE — Next month, architects are expected to present the Board of Mayor and Aldermen with conceptual drawings of ideas for a new indoor rec center and city office complex that will be located adjacent to Rogersville City Park.

City Attorney Bill Phillips, who sits on the committee that selected Nashville-based Pfeffer-Torode Architecture, said the former Unite Grocery complex at 921 E. Main St. is expected to feature multiple buildings including a new city hall and indoor gymnasium and swimming pool.

On Tuesday, the BMA gave final approval to enter into a contract for architectural services with Pfeffer-Torode, which is expected to make a presentation to the BMA at its Dec. 8 meeting.

“What the Board of Mayor and Aldermen are looking at is a recreational facility, as well as a city hall, governmental offices, indoor pool — that type of thing,” Phillips told the Times News Thursday.

Pfeffer-Torode provided the Times News with two drawings that were submitted for consideration when the committee was considering different firms for the project.

Phillips said that those drawings played a big role in Pfeffer-Torode getting the nod for the project.

“That may not be it specifically,” Phillips said of those initial drawings. “Obviously they’re pretty rough at this stage of the game. But I think they’ll bring that and a little more detail to the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen to show them. Eventually the board is going to have to decide what exactly they want there.”

In March, the BMA purchased the three-acre shopping complex for $625,000. The site is adjacent to the old Blue Spring House property and 1.5 acre lot that the BMA bought for $75,000 in 2016.

Both properties are divided by the south entrance to Rogersville City Park, and Phillips said it’s possible that this new project will encompass both properties, resulting in a rerouted south entrance to the park.

The Parks and Rec garage will probably be consumed by the new project as well.

“I think that will probably be part of this new building or buildings,” Phillips said. “That’s just an old block building setting there.”

Phillips added, “It’s really up to the board to decide, but I think the idea is to have a lot of the governmental offices there, recreation, gymnasiums, indoor pool, that sort of thing.”

As for the current city hall on Kyle Street, Phillips said there’s a possibility that the Rogersville Police Department and Rogersville Fire Department, which currently share that facility with city offices, would take over the building completely.

“That facility will have to be used for something and that seems like a logical use,” Phillips added.

194 new COVID-19 cases reported in Sullivan County among 464 in Northeast Tennessee

Northeast Tennessee had its second-highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a single day reported on Sunday: 464, bringing the eight-county region’s pandemic total to 18,646.

Three new COVID-19 deaths were reported in the region: two in Washington County and one in Carter County. The deaths bring the region’s death toll to 339.

Statewide, 16 new deaths and 5,817 new cases brought Tennessee’s pandemic totals to 3,893 deaths (3,620 confirmed as COVID-19 and 273 probable) and 310,937 cases (289,358 confirmed as COVID-19 and 21,579 probable). 270,091 (87%) of the 310,937 cases were listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The new case numbers were based on 45,396 new test results statewide, since the day before, with a positive rate of 12.37%.

Ballad Health’s daily COVID-19 Scorecard on Sunday reported a positive rate of 18.1% for the system’s 21-county coverage area, and Ballad officials released the following statement:

“Today’s numbers represent Ballad Health’s highest regional positivity rate to-date. Additionally, Nov. 8-14 marked the largest number of weekly cases (3,246) the region has had, representing a 30% week-over-week increase.”

Other numbers from Ballad on Sunday: 55 COVID-19 deaths in the system’s service area over the last seven days; 231 COVID-19 patients hospitalized; 47 in intensive care; 27 on ventilators; 30,433 total cases and 559 total deaths in the system’s service area since March 1.

Each of Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had new cases reported Sunday. The region’s 464 new cases, by county: 194 in Sullivan; 119 in Washington; 45 in Greene; 38 in Carter; 36 in Hawkins; 17 in Unicoi; 13 in Johnson; and two in Hancock.

Total cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 5,253 in Sullivan; 4,930 in Washington; 2,496 in Greene; 2,240 in Carter; 1,611 in Hawkins; 1,324 in Johnson; 661 in Unicoi; and 131 in Hancock.

Active cases in Northeast Tennessee, by county: 771 in Sullivan; 625 in Washington; 341 in Carter; 335 in Greene; 216 in Hawkins; 116 in Unicoi; 65 in Johnson; and four in Hancock.

The 16 new deaths reported statewide by age group: eight in the 81+ group; four in the 71-80 group; three in the 61-70 group; and one in the 41-50 group.

Sources: Tennessee Department of Health; Ballad Health COVID-19 Scorecard.

Eastman kicks off annual Supplies for Soldiers campaign

KINGSPORT — Kingsport-based Eastman has announced this year’s launch of its Supplies for Soldiers campaign, which helps military members.

For Eastman employee Travis Coomer, being overseas during the holidays in 2018 was one of the toughest times of his military deployment. One thing that helped him keep his head up was the shipment of care packages he received through Eastman’s Supplies for Soldiers campaign. Now that he’s back home, he’s paying it forward, and he hopes the Kingsport community will help do the same.

A Kingsport native, Coomer graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in December 2009 and joined the U.S. Army the following month. Most recently deployed to Eastern Europe from July 2018 to May 2019, Coomer missed nearly a full year of holidays, birthdays and celebrations. As tough as it was to be away from home, he had a great support system with family and loved ones sending letters, cards and care packages. He quickly realized, however, that some of his peers didn’t have that same support. So, when he received several boxes of food, hygiene and practical items from Eastman’s Supplies for Soldiers initiative just in time for Christmas that year, he did the only thing he knew to do: share the joy.

“Some people didn’t have anyone back home to send them anything,” said Coomer. “Receiving something from Eastman put a smile on their faces. It means a lot knowing somebody back home is thinking about you, somebody back home cares about you, and they haven’t forgotten about you.”

That is exactly why Eastman, with support from the Eastman Foundation, volunteers and the community, continues its annual Supplies for Soldiers campaign. This year is no different, and there are new opportunities for the community to help thanks to online shopping and giving options.

Community residents can purchase some of the most needed items from the Supplies for Soldiers Amazon Wish List. Items are shipped directly to the Supplies for Soldiers headquarters on Lincoln Street. Supporters can also make a donation online through Eastman Foundation. All monetary donations are used to purchase items for the care packages.

For those wanting to purchase items around town, there are also several Supplies for Soldiers donation drop-off locations, including Eastman’s Toy F. Reid Employee Center on Wilcox Drive, participating CVS pharmacies in Kingsport (West Stone Drive, Allandale, Memorial Boulevard, Fort Henry Drive) and Gate City, and the Sullivan County clerk’s offices.

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has created some challenges with 2020 donation collections, we are adapting to this new normal and have created new ways for people to participate and give while staying safe during this year’s campaign,” said Angela McCamy, Eastman’s Supplies for Soldiers program lead. “Last year, we shipped 1,100 care packages to 105 deployed service members and their units. We would love to do the same this year … or more!”

The deadline for donations is Monday, Dec. 7. Requested items include hygiene items, practical items such as batteries, twin-sized bed sheets, nonperishable foods/drink mixes, and entertainment items such as DVDs, playing cards, and inflatable sports balls. For full details and links to the Amazon Wish List and Eastman Foundation online donation form, visit https://responsibility.eastman.com/supplies.

“As a recipient of Supplies for Soldiers, I’m now volunteering with the program,” said Coomer. “I’ve seen how much it means to receive a care package. I encourage everyone to give whatever they can. Whether it’s hygiene kits, a blanket or a card, that means more than anybody can imagine when you’re not home.”

COVID-19 in SWVA: Region sees 48 cases

Far Southwest Virginia neared 50 new COVID-19 cases and the only death in Virginia, according to Sunday’s state data report.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 1,161 new cases and one additional death in the prior 24 hours for pandemic totals of 201,960 cases and 3,800 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District saw 48 cases and one death for totals of 2,433 and 36 deaths during the pandemic. Scott County had 18 cases and a death for totals of 625 and 11 deaths. Lee County saw 16 cases for 739 and 11 deaths.

Wise County added 14 cases, pushing its pandemic total over 1,000 to 1,006 and 14 deaths, while Norton remained at 63 cases and no deaths.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Sunday’s VDH report was 3,162,458 of 8.63 million residents, or 36.64%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,920,737 people have been tested to date, or 33.84%. In the LENOWISCO district, 21,790 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 25.2%.

Pandemic-wide testing rates by locality were:

• Lee County, 6,806 of 23,423, or 29.01%.

• Norton, 2,078 of 3,981, or 52.2%.

• Wise County, 8,172 of 37,383, or 21.86%.

• Scott County, 4,734 of 21,566, or 21.95%.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor cases, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections COVID-19 webpage (https://vadoc.virginia.gov/news-press-releases/2020/covid-19-updates/).

Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at no inmate cases and two active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases and one active staff case.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Sunday’s report dropped from 14.1% to 13.5%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 6.8% to 7%

According to Sunday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, the case incidence per 100,000 people in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — was ranked as rising after a 55-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 35-day increase in that measure.

All four school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties and Norton — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district. Wise County and Norton schools were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences. Lee County Schools were ranked higher-risk, and Scott County Schools ranked lower-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.

The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:

• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011.

• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312.

• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000.

Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.

The Health Wagon will partner with the Virginia Department of Health to offer 17 sessions of free drive-thru testing at Food City in St. Paul through Dec. 31. Call (276) 328-8850 for an appointment.

In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk users through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.

Jimmy Owens poses on the frontstretch after his victory on Saturday night.