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Seven Days

Thursday, Aug. 17
Superintendent Charles Lindsey announces that representatives from each Knox County school are now required to attend every County Commission meeting. Jeez. And you thought detention was bad...

Friday, Aug. 18
County Commissioner John Griess proposes a compromise on annexation, which would allow the city to grow within prescribed boundaries but limit it to voluntary annexations. Everyone has a good chuckle.

Saturday, Aug. 19
Dolly Parton returns to Sevier County High School to congratulate the school's state champion football team. "I know you worked your little tight buns off for this," she says. Sigh. Doncha just love her?

Monday, Aug. 21
A County Commission committee approves John Griess' annexation compromise proposal on a narrow 4-3 vote. But most of the public falls asleep on hearing the words "County Commission committee" and misses the whole thing.
Officials report $1,200 in cash stolen from a safe holding child support payments in the Knox County Circuit Court Clerk's office. An investigator says there are some clues: "Whoever got into the safe definitely knew how to open it." Oh.

Knoxville Found

What is this? Every week in "Knoxville Found," we'll print the photo of a local curiosity. If you're the first person to correctly identify this oddity, you'll win a special prize plucked from the desk of the editor (keep in mind that the editor hasn't cleaned his desk in five years). E-mail your guesses, or send 'em to "Knoxville Found" c/o Metro Pulse, 505 Market St., Suite 300, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Last Week's Photo:
Willie Albritton of Knoxville just squeaked under the wire with the winning guess at last week's mystery object. Or almost, anyway. The old-fashioned burglar alarm in the photo is on the Union Avenue side of the Fidelity Building between Gay and State Streets. Mr. Albritton thought it was the nearly identical alarm on the Arby's building across the street. And we say that's good enough. Congratulations, Willie! Your prize is a lovely hardcover edition of Neil Grant's illustrated guide to Scottish Clans and Tartans. Give us a call at 522-5399 ext. 29 to pick it up.

Meet Your City
A calendar of upcoming public meetings you should attend

Knox County Commission
Monday, Aug. 28 * 1 p.m. * Main Assembly Room of the City County Building
The annexation fight gets rolling as County Commission considers both a lawsuit against the city for past annexations and an odd compromise plan offered by Commissioner John Griess. You might also get to talk to some of the principals or teachers in the audience.


Waiting for Scripps

The big blank spot in downtown plans

A year ago, Metro Pulse reported that the possible centerpiece of downtown development plans was a proposed cable TV complex in the World's Fair Park. The center would be owned by E.W. Scripps Co. and would house offices, studios, and some kind of interactive "institute" for its popular HGTV, Food Network, and DIY home improvement channels.

A year later, despite numerous presentations on the downtown proposal by development firm Worsham Watkins International, that's still about all we know. On the official WWI proposal, the space tentatively reserved for the Scripps showcase (the location of the current Knoxville Convention and Exhibition Center) is designated only as "a new destination attraction." In a splashy June presentation, WWI partner Ron Watkins talked about possibilities including "a comprehensive 'home museum,' product demonstration, and educational experiences."

The financial documents in the back of the proposal, which spell out the justification for the proposed $130 million in public spending to support WWI's projects, include several references to anticipated spending by "HGTV Guests." But with the proposal now before the Public Building Authority for consideration, further details are lacking. It is the elephant missing from the living room.

"The most significant issue, in my opinion, is where is Scripps/HGTV?" says PBA administrator Dale Smith.

Scripps, a media company based in Cincinnati that also happens to own the Knoxville News-Sentinel, has made no statement about its intent other than to say it is considering various proposals for a downtown Knoxville presence. A call to its corporate office this week went unreturned.

People familiar with the discussions have most often compared the Scripps institute concept to the CNN Center in Atlanta, which draws tourists with a tour of CNN studios, a live broadcast area, stores, and affiliated attractions. But the Scripps proposal, if and when it surfaces, may also include more active elements: hands-on seminars or courses in home improvement, cooking, and the various topics covered in Scripps' programming.

Its presence in the WWI plan is significant. Much of the proposal presumes high numbers of visitors—conventioneers and others—who would be drawn by an attraction other than the new convention center itself. Some elements, such as the "Wintergarden" greenhouse in World's Fair Park, are expressly tied to possible live programming on HGTV.

Without the Scripps element, Smith says, the rationale for some portions of the WWI plan gets shaky. "The justification for the conservatory is very difficult without HGTV participation," he says. "Obviously, there are other areas that could call for further analysis [as well]."

Tom Ingram, president of the Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership, says there are good reasons for Scripps' lengthy deliberations. Among other things, the company recently underwent a change of leadership, with former HGTV head Ken Lowe becoming CEO. Lowe's ascension itself is seen as a positive sign for HGTV expansion.

"We can't prescribe a timetable to the Scripps board," Ingram says. "This will be a bold, creative decision...What encourages me is that discussions are continuing."

Scripps has taken an initial step into downtown with the location of some HGTV offices in the new Digital Crossing development, located in the Kimberly Clark complex on Summit Hill Drive. Ingram says pushing the company too hard too fast could result in a complete rejection.

"If you put this in the public domain right now, it would probably kill it," he says. "It's very inappropriate to float a dream before it's gone through all appropriate levels of review...I don't think we have any choice but to play Scripps' game by their rules."

Others involved in the process seem content with that approach.

"I don't have a whole lot of information," says PBA board member Robert Watson. "I keep trying to find out more about this...[But] I don't mind waiting a little bit longer, and I hope everybody else feels the same way."

City Councilman Nick Pavlis, who until recently served on the Knox County Tourist Commission, says he expects to see more details before the plan gets to City Council for approval. But even if Scripps isn't in it, he thinks other elements of the WWI proposal can go forward on their own. "I would hope that one player in this whole equation wouldn't tip the boat completely over," he says. "To me, a destination, whatever it might be, is not the drawing force. The convention center is the drawing force."

But that's at odds with recommendations two years ago from the Urban Land Institute, which cautioned PBA and the city that a convention center on its own is rarely enough to bring visitors to a city. The entire WWI plan arose from PBA's determination of the need for a large-scale attraction close to the convention center.

Smith says PBA probably won't make a recommendation on the proposal for at least 10 to 12 weeks. If the Scripps element is still a cipher at that point, he says he expects the board would only recommend the WWI plan on a conditional basis—the condition being that the "destination attraction" is clearly spelled out before City Council considers it.

"The city needs to get a read on Scripps, but we need to do it at the right time so we don't muck things up," he says.

—Jesse Fox Mayshark and Joe Sullivan

Bombs Away

Spraying of forest land worries some Tennesseans

Last fall, planes started flying over Beverly Hicks' home in the woods of Sequatchie County. Sometimes every 15 or 20 minutes, the planes dropped pellets onto her property and the land around it. Some of them pelted her tin roof, sounding like hail.

Shortly after that, her husband—who had had a heart attack a year before—came down with flu-like symptoms. She wondered if there might be a connection.

"We had no idea what the planes were spraying. I called the health department, the county—nobody knew what those planes were spraying," Hicks says.

Neighbors had similar problems. One woman's eyes burned and teared. Another had trouble breathing, and one got blisters. A girl had an allergic reaction and wound up in the hospital.

Hicks had one of the pellets analyzed and found out it contained ammonium nitrate and urea, fertilizer compounds. "The poison control center said the only way the symptoms would stop is if they stopped spraying immediately. We had to get out of that environment," Hicks says.

The pellets were being sprayed by Bowater, Inc., a paper company that has several thousand acres of forest land in the region.

Bowater and other paper and timber companies have stepped up logging in the Southeast over the past two decades—the region now accounts for two-thirds of the timber harvested in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

Although aerial spraying of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides has been used in other parts of the country for forest management, it is new to Tennessee. And many residents are worried about it.

The Sequatchie County Commission eventually got a restraining order to temporarily stop Bowater's spraying in the county, a hundred miles west of Knoxville on the southern Cumberland Plateau. According to a settlement reached earlier this year, the company is now required to notify residents and Sequatchie County Executive Arthur Tollett before spraying.

"It's basically an agreement for us to be in touch with the folks named whenever we're fertilizing in those specific areas," says Barry Graden, a forestry development manager with Bowater. But aerial spraying isn't regulated by law in Tennessee, and the settlement only applies to a small percentage of Bowater's forest holdings in the state.

Elsewhere in East Tennessee, the environmental group Save Our Cumberland Mountains has set up a hotline to monitor aerial spraying and try to determine what effects it could have. The number is (877) 431-SOCM.

Frantz Raetzer, chairman of SOCM's toxic committee, says the spraying has started here as more and more timber companies move into the Southeast—clearcutting and then planting soft pines (which grow faster than hardwoods), and spraying to help them grow even faster.

"Eventually this fertilizer will get into the water. Some of it will run off into the waterways," Raetzer says. "It's not needed for growing wood and we think the benefits to the paper companies are not as great as the threats to the environment and Tennesseans."

SOCM is considering proposing legislation to regulate aerial spraying in 2001. "We started the hotline to get more information on where they are spraying and whether they keep to their land or not," Raetzer says.

People may also write to Mike Knapp at SOCM, PO Box 479, Lake City, TN 37769 or email him at [email protected].

Joe Tarr

August 24, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 34
© 2000 Metro Pulse