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Kingsport endorses TDOT road improvement plan prompted by Domtar changes

KINGSPORT — The Tennessee Department of Transportation has developed plans to improve tractor- trailer access to Domtar in connection with the company’s $300 million conversion project currently underway.

The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently endorsed those plans, which call for improvements to two key intersections along Lynn Garden Drive.

In August, Domtar announced it would permanently close its uncoated freesheet manufacturing plant in Kingsport and the converting center in Ridgefields and then over the next three years convert the Kingsport site to manufacture linerboard.

It’s a $300 million project expected to wrap up in 2023.

One notable change resulting from the project is how tractor-trailers will access the Domtar property. Before the plant went idle in April, the trucks — loaded with woodchips — would come into the plant off Industry Drive, day and night, practically every day of the week.

The conversion plan outlines the future main route for trucks coming to Domtar: Interstate 26 to Stone Drive, to Lynn Garden Drive and then to a new plant entrance on Center Street.

Because of this change, TDOT came up with plans to improve the intersections of Stone Drive and Lynn Garden and Lynn Garden and Center.


In order to ease the merging of traffic coming from Stone Drive to Lynn Garden, motorists traveling south will be directed to the far left lane, thus allowing for a dedicated merging lane coming down the ramp, said City Manager Chris McCartt.

“That will go down to two lanes as the road nears Lynn Garden and Center,” McCartt said. “It’s much easier to merge into a dedicated lane instead of having to stop and merge over. It really should have minimal impact on other motorists as they travel Lynn Garden.”

The second piece of the improvements is at Lynn Garden and Center, which will include new signals and re-striping to allow for four lanes instead of three, to better facilitate the movement of truck traffic into Domtar’s new entrance, McCartt said.

Some modifications will also take place at the exit ramps from I-26 to Stone Drive and radius improvements at the ramps off Stone Drive to Lynn Garden. Work will begin sometime next year, as a firm date has yet to be established, city and state officials said.

“The goal is to have these improvements in place prior to Domtar ramping back up for operations. We hope we’re able to meet that,” McCartt said.

Look on the sunny side: Big Stone Gap business tries solar power

BIG STONE GAP — Lorenzo Rodriguez and Robert Bloomer operate an outdoor adventure business in Big Stone Gap, but the two men are trying a new adventure: practical solar power.

Bloomer and Appalachian Voices New Economy Program manager Chelsea Barnes watched under cloudy skies Friday as a team of installers set mounting tracks, wiring and solar panels to convert the roof of Iron Works Cycling on Wood Avenue into a 16-kilowatt solar energy farm.

Bloomer said the rooftop arrangement is expected to cover Iron Works’ annual electricity use, including replacing a wood pellet-burning heater with electric heat, once final inspections by electric utility Old Dominion Power and the county building code inspector are done.

“Chelsea put us in touch with the group handling grant funding for the project, and that made this really affordable for us,” Bloomer said. “Lorenzo is really the mover behind us doing this, and after four years it’ll be a net-zero expense.”

Barnes said the Iron Works project got started through a $25,000 grant from Hammond Climate Solutions and its managed Solar Moonshot Program. Solar Moonshot has helped fund solar power installations at institutional and educational sites in several states, and the program granted $25,000 of the $37,000 total cost of the Iron Works project.

The project also ties in with Appalachian Voices’ Solar Workgroup, which came together in 2016 as a coalition of Southwest Virginia colleges, businesses, planning district commissions and development agencies to help develop renewable energy in far Southwest Virginia.

Part of Solar Workgroup’s efforts have included getting local and county governments to achieve SolSmart certification, Barnes said. That certification is based on localities adopting model building code and local ordinance provisions that ease solar power installations for commercial and residential use.

Installation of Iron Works’ solar panel array and wiring took about five hours, said Sabriel Serrano, foreman of the team from Sigora Solar. Serrano said that his three-man team can do two to three installations per day.

Rodriguez said he first got interested in solar power after a workshop at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2016.

“I got an assessment for the cost of business and residential solar installations and it wasn’t really for the business then,” Rodriguez said. “But Solar Workgroup and Appalachian Voices came to us with information on the grant, and we were able to finance the difference.”

Rodriguez had already installed solar panels on his home to offset energy costs and realized the savings in monthly energy bills. The system is connected to an Old Dominion Power meter that tracks both power produced by the solar array and any power drawn from ODP’s connection, Rodriguez said, and the company can bill based on production versus usage.

In billing periods when his home system produces more power than the house actually uses, ODP tracks that in an account where either Rodriguez’s power bill is offset in months when solar production is lower than usage or he is paid at the end of a year cycle for the excess solar power.

“When you’re paying the financing for the installation, that’s a fixed monthly payment as opposed to power rates that may increase year by year,” Rodriguez said, “and that helps protect you from higher bills. Payment on solar panels is typically less than a monthly power bill too.”

Solar panels have also become more reliable and compact over the years, Rodriguez said. The 3 ½-by-5-foot panels have a 25-year useful life and can still produce 80% of designed power near that 25-year mark.

“If enough people and businesses in the area go with solar power, it can help the environment,” Rodriguez said. “It also means job opportunities for solar installations. I want this to be a conversation starter.”

Barnes said that building owners interested in working with Solar Workgroup their own solar installations can email chelsea@appvoices.org.

COVID-19 in SWVA: Region averages more than 70 cases a day in past two days

Far Southwest Virginia saw more than 140 new COVID-19 cases in the past two days, according to state health data Sunday.

The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) reported that the state had 2,753 new cases and 12 deaths in the prior 48 hours for pandemic totals of 182,393 cases and 3,655 deaths.

The LENOWISCO Health District added 145 cases since Friday’s report for totals of 1,804 and 26 deaths during the pandemic. Lee County added 63 cases in two days for 579 and 10 deaths. Wise County had 43 cases for 712 and 10 deaths.

Scott County saw 38 cases for 461 and six deaths. Norton added one case for 52 cases and no deaths.

By comparison, on Oct. 1 the LENOWISCO district locality case and death totals stood at:

• Lee County: 290 and seven.

• Norton: 35 and no deaths.

• Wise County: 426 and nine.

• Scott County: 194 and four.

The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Sunday’s VDH report was 2,856,751 of 8.63 million residents, or 33.1%. For nasal swab testing only, 2,647,659 people have been tested to date, or 30.68%. In the LENOWISCO district, 19,870 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 22.98%.

Pandemic-wide testing rates by locality were:

• Lee County, 6,233 of 23,423, or 26.61%.

• Norton, 1,938 of 3,981, or 48.68%.

• Wise County, 7,382 of 37,383, or 19.75%.

• Scott County, 4,317 of 21,566, or 20.02%.

Red Onion State Prison remained at 20 inmate cases and decreased by one to two 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 added two cases for five active staff/contractor cases. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 16 inmate cases while adding one case for seven active staff cases.

The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Sunday’s report rose from 16.2% Friday to 17.3%. The statewide positivity rate rose from 5.4% to 5.7%.

According to Sunday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/key-measures/pandemic-metrics/region-metrics/), cases in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — were ranked as rising after a 41-day increase in cases. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results remained increasing based on a 21-day increase in that measure.

Three school systems in the LENOWISCO district — Wise, Lee and Scott counties — were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district, while Norton was ranked higher-risk. All three county school divisions were ranked highest-risk for percent change in seven-day case incidences while Norton was ranked higher-risk.

Where to be tested

Do you think you may 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 at 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.

State reports no new COVID-19 deaths, 754 new cases

The Tennessee Department of Health’s daily online COVID-19 report Sunday reported zero new deaths statewide, 754 new cases statewide, and 23 new cases for the eight-county Northeast Tennessee region.

The department announced late Friday that upgrades to its disease surveillance system over the weekend could impact the state’s daily COVID-19 count reports. A press release stated as a result of the upgrade, “TDH may not be able to provide updated COVID-19 case data on Saturday, Oct. 31 and Sunday, Nov. 1.”

Statewide, the 754 new cases reported Sunday brought Tennessee’s pandemic total to 261,426 (246,563 confirmed as COVID-19 and 14,863 probable), with 233,175 of those cases listed as “inactive/recovered.”

The statewide death toll held steady at 3,353.

The 23 new cases reported for Northeast Tennessee: eight in Washington County (3,948 total with 59 deaths); six in Greene County (1,973 total with 55 deaths); two in Sullivan County (4,144 total with 53 deaths); two in Carter County (1,747 total with 36 deaths); one in Hawkins County (1,300 total with 29 deaths); two in Johnson County (1,222 total with eight deaths); two in Unicoi County (505 total with five deaths); and zero in Hancock County (128 total with three deaths).

The new case numbers were based on 11,305 new test results statewide, compared to the day before, with a positive rate of 6.71%.

Ballad Health System’s COVID-19 scorecard on Sunday noted a 17.25 positive rate for the system’s 21-county service area over the last seven days.

Source: Tennessee Department of Health, daily COVID-19 report, Nov. 1, 2020; Ballad Health.

Johnson City rider Adam Britt gets some hang time on his way to a second-place finish in the Pro race at Muddy Creek Raceway.