As 2023 begins, we take a look back at the top stories of 2022 in Catoosa and Walker counties, from Gov. Brian Kemp’s visit to Roper Corp. in LaFayette last January, to the go-ahead in December for a new hospital. What follows are summaries of the Catoosa-Walker area’s top news stories arranged in chronological order:
Governor visits Roper Corp. to celebrate expansion
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, speaking Jan. 7 during a visit to Roper Corp. in LaFayette, commended Georgians for not being “too scared to work” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor and several state and local officials were on hand to celebrate recent announcement that GE Appliances, Roper’s parent company, would invest $118 million to boost production capacity, advance manufacturing technology and add more than 600 jobs at the range manufacturer. The expansion is scheduled to be completed in 2024.
“Protecting livelihoods meant just as much as protecting lives” during the pandemic, Kemp said, adding that his administration wanted to make sure the state’s current and future workforce will have economic opportunity and prosperity.
He asserted that “this great victory” happened because state government allowed manufacturers to control their own destinies, rather than taking a top-down approach and shutting them down during the pandemic, he said.
Sen. Jeff Mullis announces he won’t seek reelection
Republican state Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga, who had served more than two decades, announced Monday, March 7, that he would not seek reelection.
“Serving the hardworking people of Northwest Georgia for the previous 22 years in the state Senate has been one of the greatest privileges of my life,” Mullis said. “My goal has always been to represent my fellow Georgians in an effective way and I’m proud to say we have accomplished a multitude of great things together”.
The veteran senator represented Georgia Senate District 53, which includes Catoosa and Walker counties. He was chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.
“During these 22 years,” Mullis said, “we have defended faith by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, defended life by passing the Heartbeat Bill, protected the 2nd Amendment with Constitutional Carry and Campus Carry, cut taxes so that people keep more of what they earn, and seen Georgia solidify itself as the best state in the country to do business.
New Catoosa County school superintendent sworn in
Chance Nix was sworn in Thursday, March 31, as Catoosa County Public Schools’ new superintendent.
Employees in the district’s central office gathered for a brunch to say goodbye to Denia Reese, retiring superintendent, and to welcome Nix to his new position. He was joined for the swearing-in ceremony by his wife Heather and his daughters Hailey and Savannah.
The county Board of Education voted unanimously on Nov. 18 to approve the appointment of Nix as superintendent of Schools. He officially began as superintendent on Friday, April 1.
Nix had worked in Catoosa County Public Schools since 2006. In 2006, he was employed as a deputy with the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office, and he worked at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School as a school resource officer. In 2008, he was hired to teach public safety at Heritage High School. In 2014, he became assistant principal at West Side Elementary School, then moved back to LFO High School as assistant principal in 2015. Nix became principal of LFO High School in 2017, and he had continued to serve in that position.
Nix thanked the board members in attendance for the opportunity to serve as superintendent.
“I am honored that the Board of Education selected me as superintendent,” Nix said. “I am committed to continuing the tradition of excellence they have established. I am looking forward to an exciting future for our students and our schools.”
EPA awards Walker County $500,000 to assess brownfield sites
Walker County and the cities of Chickamauga, LaFayette and Rossville will share a $500,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to perform brownfield assessments and develop cleanup plans on up to 30 sites.
A number of sites will be assessed with redevelopment in mind. They include the Crystal Springs Print Works Mill in Chickamauga and the former Peerless Woolen Mills in Rossville.
“These sites are primed for redevelopment due to their city center locations,” said Elizabeth Wells, economic development consultant for LaFayette and Rossville. “But environmental contamination and the cost of cleanup have inhibited site reuse. Through environmental assessment and site-specific risk screening, these properties can be cleared for redevelopment.”
Redevelopment plans for these sites could include affordable housing and commercial storefronts, as well as green space.
“Brownfield redevelopment will promote economic success for these communities, including new employment opportunities, increased property values and additional tax revenue, which will help to provide improved health outcomes and quality of life,” said Shannon Whitfield, chairman of the Walker County Board of Commissioners.
Moore wins Senate District 53 seat
Colton Moore was elected on May 24, during the general primary, to be next Georgia state senator for District 53, which includes Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties and part of Floyd County. Moore won four of those counties, with a total of 14,636 votes (51.4%).
His opponent, Steven Henry, came in with 13,827 votes, winning only his home county of Catoosa.
The number of votes by which each candidate won his home county was very similar. Moore won Dade County by 650 votes and Henry won Catoosa County by 687 votes.
Moore won Walker County by 328 votes, Chattooga County by 298 and Floyd by 238.
At 29 years old, Moore is one of the youngest senators in the state. A person must be at least 25 years old to run for the Senate. But it won’t be a new experience for Moore — he served as one of youngest state representatives (District 1) from 2018 to 2020.
Upon winning the general primary on May 24, Moore posted on his Facebook page: “Freedom Ringing in the Hills tonight. Thank you all. Moore soon. Sincerely, Senator-Elect Colton Moore”
Moore faced no opposition in the November general election.
He assumes office on Jan. 9.
Fire heavily damages vacant Rossville plant
Firefighters from more than a dozen units worked five hours Tuesday, Aug. 23, to bring a blaze under control at a vacant industrial building in downtown Rossville.
Walker County 911 received a call around 2:21 a.m. that a tree was on fire near the Rossville Athletic Association gym. When fire crews from Rossville arrived, they discovered the blaze was actually at the old Coats American building on Maple Street and was already about 30% involved.
More than a dozen units from Walker County, Catoosa County, East Ridge (Tenn.), Georgia Department of Corrections, Trenton and Hamilton County (Tenn.) provided assistance to help get the fire under control, which took about five hours.
Fire officials estimated that about 75% of the building was a loss, but reported no injuries. The vacant building did not have any power. The cause of the fire is currently unknown. Walker County’s new Accelerant Detection Canine Team is investigating the fire.
Firefighters remained at the site all day dousing the 240,000-square-foot building with water. The building’s roof collapsed, trapping flames underneath the rubble.
Several roads in Rossville were closed to through-traffic on the day of the fire, including portions of Maple and Williams Streets, Walnut Street and the 700 block of Flegal Avenue.
First-class resort taking shape in Walker County
On Oct. 10, Duane Horton, president of Scenic Land Company, the developer of the McLemore project, presented an update on progress at a town hall meeting at the LaFayette-Walker County Public Library.
The project includes the — The Highlands Golf Course at McLemore, the growing resort, golf club and events venue on Lookout Mountain, Ga., in Rising Fawn.
The Highlands was named by Golf Digest as “the best finishing hole since the year 2000.”
A second golf course, to be called The Outpost, is in the works for McLemore. Golf course designer Rees Jones is also the architect on this one and has said “it could host a major.”
Already existing at McLemore, in addition to the golf course, said Horton, is The Clubhouse, a 9,000-square-foot pro shop, locker rooms and The Creag restaurant where diners can make reservations to eat.
The resort is already hosting events, from music festivals to weddings to Fourth of July fireworks.
Under construction on the 1,500-acre piece of property is a 245-room Hilton Curio Collection Hotel with 24,000 square feet of conference space, two dance floors, two full restaurants and a café, spa, fitness facility, cliff-edge pool and more. The hotel should be finished by November 2023 and open by March 2024.
When all is said and done, Horton said the plan is to have about 1,000 homes in the community, ranging in price from $500,000 to $3 million.
The community will also eventually include some retail stores and medical services. Horton said he sees the project reaching out to surrounding neighborhoods, too.
For all that’s been accomplished so far, there is a long way to go. The ultimate investment will be around a billion dollars.
In addition to the people now working at The Clubhouse, maintaining the golf course and houses and planning and executing events, 150-200 are working on the construction of the hotel most days.
For those planning ahead, the resort is already booking corporate events, weddings and golf-centered events. A Songwriters Series is held regularly at McLemore, at around $55 per participant. A Fourth of July fireworks event was held this year, with tickets running $50-$100. There’s wine-tasting and other events.
Catoosa attorney presents proposal for allowing chickens in residential areas
Catoosa County officials, after debating for months the issue of chickens in residential areas, offered a working draft of what might serve as a template for an ordinance allowing backyard chickens.
Chris Harris, attorney for the county, on Nov. 22, presented to the Board of Commissioners a sample zoning option based, he said, largely on that of Oconee County, one of several Georgia counties whose codes regarding chickens he studied.
Harris made it clear that what he submitted was merely a framework for a possible Catoosa code, that it could be changed in any way commissioners saw fit.
One point on which the model Harris submitted differs from the Oconee code is on the number of chickens that would be allowed. Oconee code allows five per acre. The model submitted by Harris allows for three on one acre of land and one per half acre after that.
Oconee’s code and the potential code Harris submitted restrict chickens to coops and adjoining runs and do not allow for free-range chickens in residential areas.
Residents who support backyard chicken ownership had previously submitted proposed code changes to the zoning board.
Some of the primary differences between what Harris submitted as a model for possible new wording of the code and what residents submitted includes:
The residents’ proposal allows for 24 chickens. Under the version submitted by Harris, 12 acres of land would be necessary for 24 chickens.
Roosters would be allowed under certain conditions in the residents’ proposal.
The residents’ proposal would remove language from the current code that allows for the zoning administrator to investigate at “his own discretion” and insert language that allows investigation of nuisance complaints only from adjoining neighbors and never by an anonymous tip.
Some things about the two versions of code are not that different.
The residents’ proposal allows for restrictions and regulations in R1 and residential zones, including keeping chickens on their owner’s property, providing appropriate shelter and proper disposal of waste.
Further, the residents’ proposal would disallow peafowl and guineas in subdivisions.
The residents’ revisions maintain that the rules of HOAs (home owners’ associations) and subdivision covenants must be honored.
Jerry Hawthorne, commission chair, said that more time should be allowed to study the sample code and the revisions suggested by residents.
Hawthorne made reference to the possibility of compromising and using aspects of both models.
Hawthorne urged residents to submit comments about proposed changes by Jan. 10, 2023.
Plans for new hospital to serve Northwest Georgia move forward
In December, Parkridge Health System in Chattanooga withdrew its appeal to the certificate of need (CON) that the Georgia Department of Community Health had approved for CHI Memorial to construct a news hospital in Catoosa County to serve Northwest Georgia.
Parkridge had claimed there was no need for a new hospital, that Catoosa, Walker, and other counties in Northwest Georgia counties were already well-served with hospital facilities, including Parkridge.
“We have learned,” CHI Memorial Communications Manager Karen Long on Dec. 12 said, “Parkridge has notified the hearing officer of its decision to withdraw its appeal of our certificate of need (CON) for a replacement hospital in Catoosa County.”
The dispute over the new hospital had dragged on for more than six months. Parkridge refused to back down, even after receiving over 100 letters and appeals from officials and citizens in Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties and facing the disapproval of many more in the communities a new hospital would serve.
In December Parkridge said it had decided to focus on developing two freestanding emergency centers it has planned — one in East Ridge, Tenn., at Camp Jordan and one in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn.
The Georgia Department of Community Health changed its rules in October 2022 so an out-of-state healthcare entity would no longer be able to challenge the certificate of need of a Georgia healthcare facility, but there were questions about whether the rule-change could be applied retroactively.
The new hospital will replace CHI’s current hospital building in Fort Oglethorpe, called CHI Memorial Hospital-Georgia, which is located at 100 Gross Crescent Circle and is 70 years old, with some portions of the hospital dating back to 1904.
The $130 million-plus hospital will feature state-of-the-art inpatient beds, including an intensive care unit (ICU), a full-service emergency department, and operating rooms and procedural suites. Plans include 64 medical/surgical beds, an emergency department with support services and related on-site infrastructure.
The new hospital will connect to the current CHI Memorial Rees Skillern Cancer Center and CHI Memorial Parkway medical office building at 4750 Battlefield Parkway in Ringgold, creating a single campus and establishing a central location for inpatient and outpatient services.
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