ROGERSVILLE — A $135,000 allocation that would complete a riverbank erosion protection project at Laurel Run Park was approved on Monday by the Hawkins County Commission’s Budget Committee, reversing a June 7 decision.
On Monday, the Budget Committee finalized a handful of remaining funding requests in the proposed 2021-22 budget.
County Finance Director Eric Buchanan will compile the decisions made by the committee over the past three weeks into a second draft of the proposed 2021-22 county budget, which will be presented to the Budget Committee on July 7.
Although the committee rejected the Laurel Run Park erosion project funding at its June 7 workshop, Commissioner Jeff Barrett, who chairs the Parks Committee, said he had been asked by several of his constituents to bring the project back up before the committee.
After a lengthy discussion, the committee voted 7-0 Monday to include $135,000 in the second draft of the 2021-22 county general fund budget.
The original funding request for Laurel Run Park was $250,000 and also included repairs to the hiking trail up to the waterfall, the addition of drainage elements on the trail, and construction of three foot bridges over the creek.
At the June 7 Budget Committee meeting, Barrett made a motion to fund only the Holston River shoreline erosion project not to exceed $135,000, but it was defeated by a vote of 4-1.
Two years ago, about half of the park’s 2,500-foot shoreline was protected by an erosion protection project.
That project was planned at no cost to the county by USDA engineer Daniel Horne, who has estimated that completion of the remaining 1,176 feet of shoreline will cost between $133,000 and $135,000.
Barrett told the committee he was asked by several constituents to reconsider the project Monday because they feel the park is worth saving.
Budget Committee Chairman Mike Herrell expressed concern that the project won’t hold back the river.
“I don’t care what you put in up above or down below. It’s eventually going to go away, no matter how much rock you put in there,” Herrell said.
County Facilities Manager Sarah Davis noted that the proposed Laurel Run Park project is the same procedure that the Tennessee Valley Authority uses at its locations, including the John Sevier power plant near Rogersville.
A fiber material is placed along the shoreline, followed by large “table top” size boulders on top of the fiber. The small boulders, which are already piled up at the park awaiting this project, are then placed on and around the large boulders.
“This is the same thing TVA does to their shoreline,” Davis said. “It’s working for them. Hopefully it will work for us.”
The county’s permit to work on the riverbank expires in December 2022.
Davis told the committee that Horne advised them not to let this permit expire before the erosion project is completed because it will be extremely difficult to get another one.
“The thing about the shoreline is once it’s gone, you can’t get it back,” Davis said. “It’s not something you can say, we’ll fix it in five years. You can’t fix it in five years.”
Commissioner Danny Alvis expressed support for the park project, noting that it is well used by the public. Alvis said that even if the committee didn’t approve it, he would support an amendment when the county commission votes on the budget to include the funding.
“I think the park is worth keeping,” Alvis said. “I certainly would never support anything that would require a tax increase. Anybody serving should know that. … We deserve to have our park fixed to keep it from washing away. It’s a beautiful park.”
Alvis added, “This is something where the taxpayers can see where their money is going.”
Commissioner Jason Roach said it’s not an “unworthy cause,” but he’s concerned about putting the county back in the financial situation it was a few years ago when the wheel tax increase was implemented.
Roach said just because he supported the $135,000 project in the second draft of the budget doesn’t mean he’ll support it in the final draft.
Despite his concerns, Herrell said he sees the merits of preserving the park’s shoreline.
“The park has potential as far as being a draw to the area, and we already have the shoreline permits until end of 2022,” Herrell said. “I think the project is going to get more expensive the longer we wait, if we can even remediate at that point.”
Herrell noted, however, that if the project low bid comes in over $135,000, the project will have to come back to the Budget Committee for approval again.