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Swift Museum to hold fly-in later this week

The 2019 Swift National Fly-In will take place in Athens this week.

Located at the Swift Museum, the fly-in officially begins on Wednesday, Sept. 11 and will end Saturday evening.

There will be a range of air activities, such as a fly-out to Tullahoma on Saturday and a contest recognizing the top airplanes in different categories. The self-proclaimed “Swifters” will be traveling to Athens from all over the nation and, potentially, the world.

“We do encourage the local community to come out and experience this with us,” said Swift Museum Executive Director Scott Anderson. “We have had good response from the local community in the past. They do seem to like to come out, see the airplanes and be a part of our event.”

Anderson said the event is free and hopes folks will come support the Swift Museum Foundation’s mission of keeping a historical aircraft alive and cherished.

“There’s no admission, although we will have our donation box,” he said. “We rely on donations, so they will be gratefully accepted.”

As far as the fly-out on Saturday, Anderson noted the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is hosting one of its regional fly-ins at the Tullahoma airport, so the Swift Museum Foundation decided to coordinate its event so that some of its members could join the event.

That crew will depart from Athens Saturday morning and return that afternoon.

Awards will be distributed Saturday evening to various members of the organization for their skills and in some cases, their airplanes.

Anderson explained that in the past, the organization has hosted the annual fly-in in Athens, but now it is hoping to keep it in Athens every year.

“This is our headquarters and we’ve been discussing doing less away events,” he said. “We’re now looking at the very likely prospect of having the event in Athens from now on and having the event in mid-October and just be consistent.”

Anderson said he believes folks would be intrigued to know the Swift Museum Foundation’s membership continues to grow, despite the Swift becoming more historic each year.

The Swift Museum is always accepting membership — and members help the 501(c)(3) non-profit continue to operate.

“It’s a unique thing we’re doing because there are other aircraft clubs, but none of them other than the Tullahoma Beechcraft have something like this or put on the events we do,” Anderson said, motioning to its facility. “People seem to be recognizing we’re doing something pretty special.”

On Saturday, there will be food trucks onsite for guests to purchase food.

To learn more about the Swift Museum Foundation, call (423)745-9547

Update offered, no date change on Highway 30 project

Work is progressing and the completion date has not changed on the road project on Highway 30 through Athens.

The grading, drainage and paving of Highway 30 (White Street) from near Park Street to east of Knight Road in Athens has been ongoing since March 2017 and the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) recently provided an update on it.

According to TDOT Region 2 Community Relations Officer Jennifer Flynn, “the contractor is in the process of completing storm drain installation for the project” and the “westbound lanes have been completed up to the base stone.”

The contractor, Talley Construction, originally worked on the eastbound lanes and construction on them has been completed.

“All drainage structures, sidewalk and curb and gutter have been installed,” according to Flynn. “Traffic is currently traveling through the project using the eastbound lanes while phase 2 is being constructed.”

The original completion date for the project was Nov. 15 of this year, but it had previously been announced that a new discovery required that to be changed.

“It was discovered that the plans for the second phase of the project did not match the actual conditions in the field,” Flynn noted. “Because of this, two large retaining walls were added to the project. This change required some rescheduling of utility relocations and pushed the final paving date into January of 2020.”

However, potential wintery conditions in the early quarter of the year required a further push back of the expected completion date.

“Since the contractor cannot perform paving operations due to winter weather paving restrictions, the final project completion date was adjusted to April 30, 2020,” she explained. “This will allow the contractor time to complete final paving, pavement marking, and other end of project activities.”

The original purpose of the project was to “widen the existing roadway with the addition of a continuous center turn lane and installation of new drainage through the limits of construction.”

Project activities include “installation of erosion prevention and sediment control measures, installation of new culvert, installation of new drainage, tree and brush removal, relocation of utilities, grading, construction of retaining walls and paving.”

The total construction cost estimate stands at $10,241,728.92, according to TDOT.

TVA COO talks business, environment with Kiwanis Club

The chief operating officer of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was the keynote speaker in Athens on Friday.

Kiwanis Club of Athens featured Mike Skaggs, who also serves as TVA’s executive vice president, as its guest speaker during its weekly meeting last week.

Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity to local power providers throughout the entire state, as well as parts of Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.

Skaggs — who has responsibility over a number of ventures ranging from natural resources, nuclear power units and environmental stewardship — provided an operational update about TVA’s current state.

“I like the mission of TVA, I like helping people, I like being a servant to the objective and since 1991 I’ve been blessed to work with TVA and customers like AUB, very good people,” Skaggs said to attendees, most of which likely receive power from Athens Utilities Board.

Skaggs explained the mission of TVA hinges on providing “the lowest rates we can make but it’s got to be reliable and safe” as well as respecting the environment in the process of providing service.

“The land either needs to be either as good as we found it or better than what it needs to be to support the safety of the public and economic development for the area,” he said.

Above all the intricacies of the operations, Skaggs emphasized that TVA prioritizes the safety of its employees and customers.

“We find it necessary to make sure that the people that work for TVA and people we serve are our assets,” he said. “The only way to build trust and make sure they know you care more about them than a piece of equipment or money.”

The concern for safety goes hand-in-hand with TVA’s tenet of maintaining facilities properly and following environmental regulations, he said, before explaining the organization embraces trends which conserve energy and look out for public welfare.

For one, he noted 45% of TVA’s power is derived from nuclear power, which he believes is a “good source” because it “does not make greenhouse gases and the waste it does make is low compared to a gas or coal plant.”

In the gamut of environmental precautions, Skaggs stated the company looks at how its operations affect land and bodies of water, including run-off and the effect its land has on inhabitants of its region.

“We can say that the ground water is safe,” he said. “We believe that we’re doing the right thing for the regulations as well as public safety.”

Looking towards the future, Skaggs said TVA is currently in the second year of a 10-year project with a budget of about $300 million to provide more fiber optics to its service area.

“We have 3,500 miles of fiber and we’re trying to get new fiber, better fiber to the rural areas of Tennessee and the other six states to make sure that some of our less fortunate or less economically developed areas have the abilities (to support the service),” Skaggs said, explaining additional fiber will better support both its operations and, in turn, its customers.

Recreation survey will be available throughout McMinn County

The City of Athens is in the process of developing a new recreation master plan for all of McMinn County.

Part of the process includes the collection of data from county residents to help better inform the public’s current and future interests in recreational activities and venues.

On Thursday, the results of a recreation needs assessment survey were presented and discussed. Dr. Ananda Mitra, with Management Learning Laboratories (MLL), conducted the survey and summarized its results for review. Mitra is also a communications professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“There are different elements of putting a master plan together and the citizens survey is one of the first things you do,” explained Athens Park & Recreation Director Austin Fesmire.

A different firm will develop the new master plan once all citizen data has been compiled. Mitra’s firm was contracted so the same company does not conduct the survey as well as develop the master plan.

Focus groups were formed from among representatives of both city and county government, including the recreation committees of each. These focus groups collaborated to determine the questions to be included in the survey.

“I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years now all over the United States and some internationally,” said Mitra. “We don’t come up with the questions by ourselves. We do write the questions, but we use the focus groups to tell us about the community.”

Mitra worked with the focus groups in May to develop a questionnaire. Those questions were then distributed to and completed by a random sampling of county residents to provide data.

“It’s impossible to ask everyone by constraints of resources” explained Mitra.

Postcards were mailed to the sample group that contained several options to obtain the questionnaire.

“We got sufficient responses to be able to analyze the data and come back with recommendations,” said Mitra.

On Thursday evening, Mitra presented the results of the initial survey, that included about 250 respondents, to the respective city and county boards, as well as some interested citizens.

The next phase in the process will be youth data collection from students in eighth through 12th grade. These students will respond to the same questions that were developed from the focus groups.

“That will be a whole other report which we’ll get done as soon as the date comes in,” said Mitra.

The survey questions will now be made available to the entire county. City and county officials are determining the method by which the survey will be distributed.

“Anybody — even if they responded to the random sample study — can now again respond,” said Mitra. “Not only can they respond once, but they can continue to respond for the next 12 months.”

The countywide master plan has not been completely revamped in more than 15 years. The advantage of master planning, particularly with guidance from firms such as MLL, is to develop a short- and long-term outlook for projects, as well as to gain leverage when pursuing state grant funding. Total grant awards accrued by Athens Parks & Recreation since 1975 has surpassed $5 million. Projects such as the Athens Splash Pad, Market Park and Eureka Trail received grant funding under the current master plan.

“This sample does project a certain story about this community,” said Mitra. “Countywide, this is a group that is interested in walking, hiking, trails, social activities, concerts, developments in the downtown area, particularly in Athens, and dining out.”

Among the trends identified in Mitra’s initial report is 94% agreement that “the existence of well-maintained parks adds to the general quality of life” of a community. Mitra also noted that 79% of respondents believe the facilities they visit are safe.

“In this day and age, that’s an important thing — safety for your family and so forth,” said Mitra.

Another considerable majority of respondents — 77% — believe these facilities are clean.