A bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly that would regulate the use of drones in agriculture also outlaws “surreptitious commercial surveillance." And that has animal welfare groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States, concerned that its just another attempt to pass a so-called "ag gag" bill in the state, according to an article in The Tennessean.
Last year, the state legislature passed a bill that would have made it illegal for whistleblowers (and journalists) to hold undercover footage of animal abuse for longer than 48 hours without alerting law enforcement, but it was vetoed by Governor Bill Haslam.
Such bills, known as "ag gag" bills, have been introduced in state legislatures across the country as a way to crack down on undercover animal abuse investigations on factory farming operations. Most undercover investigations take much longer than 48 hours, and without being able to secretly record for several days, animal welfare groups are less likely to successfully expose animal abuse.
The Med is not “The Med” anymore.
The health care system that has operated as the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, or commonly called “The Med,” is now called Regional One Health. News of the name change and re-branding effort came at an unveiling event Wednesday.
Regional One Health will be the umbrella group for the system’s acute care hospital, stand-alone specialty centers, and primary care clinics.
The Downtown hospital will now be called the “Regional Medical Center” instead of the “Regional Medical Center at Memphis.” The specialty centers will be renamed and re-branded, becoming the Regional One Extended Care Hospital, for example. Finally, the once-called “Loop Clinics” will be renamed to reflect their location - the Hollywood Primary Care Center, for example.
“The main thing we want to evoke is our coverage area,” said Regional One CEO Dr. Reginald Coopwood of the name change. “The ‘one’ implies that we’re one team, one family. And it’s not ‘health care,’ it’s ‘health.’ We’re looking to improve people’s health and not just take care of people who are sick.”
The effort is a big move for a health care system on the verge of closing some of its key components about five years ago because of financial woes. New management and some new funding mechanisms have brought stability and new dollars to invest in the operations of the system.
For example, Regional One leaders showed off the newly finished and opened floors of the renovated Turner Tower. The building is on the hospital’s campus but went largely unused for years because of scarce capital funds. The $40 million project has brought the system a new outpatient surgery center, and a long-term acute care center. Both are expected to make the Regional One more competitive in the Memphis medical marketplace.
Nine of the 13 schools on Shelby County Schools' original list of proposed school closures will be shuttered as a result of Tuesday night's vote at the board's business meeting.
But the board voted to keep Alcy Elementary open, to defer their decision to close Northside High School for one year, to combine Riverview Elementary and Middle into a K-8 school, and to ask the Shelby County Commission for $11 million to build a new school for Westhaven.
Corry Middle, Cypress Middle, Gordon Elementary, Klondike Elementary, Lanier Middle, Graves Elementary, Shannon Elementary, and Vance Middle will be closed effective the end of the year. Students from those schools will be moved to neighboring schools.
The schools were chosen for closure because of low enrollment and low academic achievement. Many of the schools on the list currently have less than 300 students.
Westhaven Elementary, however, does not have low enrollment or poor grades. That school was originally slated for closure because the building is in poor condition.
"Whitehaven is an anomaly. The building is in the worst condition in the district, but it's not the people of Westhaven's fault," SCS Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told the standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night.
The board voted to move Westhaven students to neighboring Fairley and Raineshaven Elementary Schools while they await a decision from the county commission about constructing a new building to house the student bodies of all three schools. Board member Shante Avant pushed the board to allow Westhaven students to stay in their current building for at least a year while the board awaited the commission's decision. But Hopson argued that, should a major building repair be needed at Westhaven over the next year, the board couldn't afford to take that risk. He said Westhaven needed to be demolished.
As for keeping Northside open for at least another year, Hopson said he would work with the community on getting their enrollment up.
"There are more kids zoned in Northside now than kids who go to Northside. We need to attract those students back," Hopson said.
The board had originally proposed closing both Riverview Elementary and Middle, but now they'll be consolidated into a K-8 school. Hopson said Alcy Elementary was being allowed to remain open because although "Alcy has very low enrollment, building utilization is very high."
Hopson told the board he didn't yet have any plans for the nine school buildings that will be vacated, but he said he would have proposals in place by the end of the year.
Tennessee was the seventh most miserable state in the union last year, according to a new study.
The results are from polling firm Gallup and Healthways, a Franklin, Tenn.-based health care company. They are based on surveys of more than 4,000 in Tennessee on 55 measures of well-being, like body mass index, sick days taken, history of disease, work habits, and more.
Tennessee’s company on the list is a cluster of states including, West Virginia (50), Kentucky (49), Mississippi (48), Alabama (47), Ohio (46), Arkansas (45), Missouri (43), Oklahoma (42), and Louisiana (41).
Tennessee’s average rank on the list has been around the 43rd mark since the companies began the survey in 2008. The state did rise three positions from its fourth-place finish in last year's report.
The top 10 for the 2013 were North Dakota (1), South Dakota (2), Nebraska (3), Minnesota (4), Montana (5), Vermont (6), Colorado (7), Hawaii (8), Washington (9), and Iowa (10).
The ground-breaking for the two-mile bike path that leads from Overton Park to the Shelby Farms Greenline is scheduled for Monday, February 24th at noon.
Mayor A C Wharton will be on-hand at the ceremony for the Hampline, named for the nickname of Binghampton, the neighborhood the lane will run through. The path will be the first two-way bicycle track (one lane in each direction on the same side of the street and a buffer from traffic) in the city.
The ceremony will take place on the green space between Broad Avenue at Hollywood Street and the new bicycle plaza and entrance to Overton Park. The first section of the Hampline will cost $80,000, which is being paid for by FedEx.
The entire project will cost $3.6 million, all of which has been raised. About $78,000 of that cost was raised on the crowd-source funding website, ioby.com. The city is contributing $2.3 million through a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality transportation grant. Other local and national grants are funding $839,000, and local foundations, corporations and other private donors have contributed $383,000.
The other portions of the Hampline will be constructed in the late summer and fall of this year.
On Thursday, the Memphis Airport Authority board announced their plans to downsize the airport by demolishing the south end of the A and C concourses and consolidating airline flight operations into an enhanced and expanded B concourse.
Walkways in the B concourse will be nearly doubled in size to give passengers more room as they move to and from gates, and moving walkways will be installed. The ceilings will be raised, and more windows will be added to provide natural light. During construction, the airport will see seismic upgrades as well.
The project is slated to cost $114 million, much of which will be funded through federal and state grants. Forrest Artz, vice-president of finance for the Memphis Airport Authority, provides a breakdown of the numbers.
Flyer: Can you provide an overview of the grants that will be funding this project?
Artz: Because there are federal grants and state grants, we are required to have a matching portion to receive those grants. For the federal grant, that matching portion is 25 percent, and they give us 75 percent. For the state grant, it is 10 percent, and they give us 90 percent.
The federal grant is the AIP, the Airport Improvement Program. Those monies are generated each time a person buys an [airline] ticket. There's a tax on everybody's airline ticket. That money is collected by the federal government, and it's intended use is for airport capital improvement projects across the country. Every airport is entitled to a certain amount of AIP dollars to be used for their capital programs. We make an application on those monies on an annual basis, but we have to provide them a five-year program of what our program is going to be.
So we may put in the first year of our modernization program for the request for those monies this year, but over the next four or five years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will know exactly what our funds requirement will be for the full program.
On the state side, it's quite similar. The state dollars are derived every time an airline pays for jet fuel, they're required to pay a tax to the state. That tax is collected and distributed back out to the airports within the state of Tennessee for capital purposes. We receive an annual entitlement of those dollars, and we put our financing program together so they know what we're doing over the next five years as well.
Where will the matching portion come from?
Our matching portion will come from, in 2017, we have a reduction in debt service that the airlines have to pay to us of about $12 million. We anticipate giving them a reduction in the rates and charges but collecting some of it, so we can use that as our matching portion for our state and federal grants. That way we'll fund the entire program using the monies from the reduced debt service, the federal portion of the grant, and the state portion of the grant.
At this point, we're still working on what the different percentages will be of the federal and state portions, so I don't have any concrete numbers at this point. But we'll need to have that completed to send a schedule to the FAA on April 1st.
The Airport Authority has stated that it does not anticipate that this project will require the issuance of any additional general airport revenue bonds. Can you explain what that means?
For a lot of big projects, and we did this in the past, we have on our books general airport revenue bonds that we issued in prior years for capital projects. So what that means is, if we had a $200 million program that we want to do, some sort of capital improvement at the airport, we would go out and issue general airport revenue bonds in the market. We would promise to pay those bonds over a 25 or 30 year period, but we would receive the $200 million from the bonds immediately. Then we would use that $200 million to pay for the project for construction costs.
But then we would have debt service payments over the next 25 or 30 years. With that, you have not just the principle but interest, just like a note on your house. When you pay the interest over that 25 or 30 year period, just like your house payment, you pay a whole lot more money than if you were able to pay it with just the principle amount all at one time. But we're not anticipating issuing any general airport revenue bonds.
I think most people want to know how this will affect their wallets.
As a result of the way that we're structuring, it won't have any impact on the rates and charges that are associated with the airlines. There will be no impact on what the airlines have to pay us.
But what about the debt service the airlines have to pay?
The debt service money, they wouldn't have to pay us, but we have had discussions with them that, because of the reduction in debt service, we can do this program without having to issue any new general airport revenue bonds. They're very much on board for that, because, the interest savings in 25 years is huge.
At a meeting hosted by Livable Memphis yesterday, city officials, members of the Active Transport Alliance (ATA) and community members presented strategies to get the most out of Memphis roadways.
Through a program called Complete Streets, Livable Memphis and the Mid-south Complete Streets Coalition are working to safely accommodate all users of public roadways. After the Active Transport Alliance was hired to take a tour around Memphis, they found a number of ways Memphis can improve city streets, including the use of raised crosswalks, more bike lanes, more sidewalks and more transit shelters. Members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union recently complained about the lack of overhead shelter at bus stops at a Livable Memphis meeting at the public library last week.
Last January, Mayor A C Wharton issued an executive order for establishing complete streets in Memphis. The order called for the city of Memphis to “create an attractive, vibrant public realm that supports the diverse qualities of neighborhoods and provides a robust, balanced transportation network that is safe, financially responsible, serves all users, and considers multiple modes of transportation.”
Members of Livable Memphis also discussed the plan for a Mid-South Regional Green Print, a project currently being coordinated by The Memphis and Shelby County Office of Sustainability. The Mid-South Regional Green Print would be a network of parks and open space, trails, transit routes, bike paths, and more that will connect the whole region. To learn more about the Green Print, visit www.midsouthgreenpring.org.
Since the plan to downsize Memphis International Airport calls for consolidating all airline operations into concourse B, that area will be enhanced with a widened corridor for passengers, a moving walkway, raised ceilings, and more windows for natural lighting.
UrbanArch Architecture has created this virtual video tour of what the redesigned airport will look like.
In about six years, all of the gates at Memphis International Airport will be consolidated into the existing B concourse as part of a "modernization" plan announced during the Memphis Airport Authority's monthly board meeting Thursday morning.
The $114 million project is an effort to move all of the airline flight operations closer together. Currently, operations are spread over three concourses, and some areas are walled off since Delta removed its hub status and has been steadily reducing flights.
Although the airport as a whole will be downsized since the south ends of concourses A and C will be demolished, concourse B will see enhancements. Walkways will be nearly doubled in size to give passengers more room as they move to and from gates, and moving walkways will be installed. The ceilings will be raised, and more windows will be added to provide natural light. During construction, the airport will see seismic upgrades. About 60 airline gates will remain open for future growth.
Security screening will be moved to concourse B, but a checkpoint at concourse C will remain open for busier times. Ticketing and check-in will continue in concourses A, B, and C, but baggage claim for all airlines will be moved to concourse B. The A and C baggage claim areas will be open for passengers to enter and exit the airport.
Jack Sammons, chair of the Memphis Airport Authority board, told the board that all of the airlines that operate out of Memphis International have advocated for this change. Removal of the south ends of concourses A and C frees up more taxi space for airplanes, and it will create a livelier B concourse since all concessions would be relocated to that area. Over the past year, a number of airport concession businesses have closed due to the loss of the Delta hub.
Sammons said he recently paid a visit to Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas to ask them to bring more flights to Memphis, and he said Southwest expressed support for the airport's construction plan.
"They want to prune the tree, and the areas on south A and C concourses are the way," Sammons told the board.
The removal of the south end of the A concourse will begin this year, and the removal of the south end of the C concourse is scheduled for 2015. Relocation of the airlines to concourse B should also begin in 2015. The enhancements of B concourse are scheduled for 2016.
Memphis Airport Authority president Scott Brockman told the board that much of the $114 million price tag would be funded through federal and state grants that are made up of taxes paid on airline fuel and airline tickets. The Airport Authority does not anticipate that the project will require the issuance of any additional general airport revenue bond debt.
"Passengers have a choice. Hundreds go to Little Rock everyday on perhaps the most dangerous highway in America [to fly out of the airport there]," Sammons said. "We want them to know that the Memphis airport is the airport of choice. To do that, you have to have a modern facility."
Below is a map of the current airport gate layout. The south wings of A and C concourses will be demolished.
An army of hard-hatted, neon-vested construction workers paused their work briefly Tuesday for a tour inside the mammoth shell of the Pyramid as Bass Pro Shops officials invited Memphis leaders and media members for a look at the progress there.
Company officials predicted Tuesday the store will open by December. When it does, it will be the second largest Bass Pro in the country.
New details about the project emerged at Tuesday's tour. The hotel inside the store, called Big Cypress Lodge, has been expanded from 56 rooms to about 100 and will feature a spa and fitness facility. An alligator pit will be built around the base of two interior elevators that will take guests to the top of the Pyramid that will have an expanded viewing area, and a restaurant.
“There will be two large, glass, cantilevered decks that will be added to the south and west (top portion) of the Pyramid,” said Tom Jowett, vice-president of design and development for Bass Pro Shops. “This will allow people to walk out (over the edge) similar to the way people can walk out on the Grand Canyon.”
The main floor of the store will feature large, swamped-themed water features like a lake, a stream, and a river. It will also have two cypress tree sculptures that will rise 100 feet from the store floor. The Ducks Unlimited National Waterfowling Heritage Center on the store’s second floor will have an aviary for ducks. The store will also have Uncle Buck’s Fishbowl, which will have 13 lanes of fish-themed bowling.
Bass Pro took over the construction at the site in October after the city completed interior demolition, the removal of the seating, seismic protections and the replacement of the heating and cooling systems.
Construction workers are now putting in steel supports for the tree sculptures and the in-ground structures to support the elevators. Demolition of the floor is underway for the alligator pit and water features.
The project will create 500 permanent jobs in Memphis, company officials said Tuesday, with 300 of them working in the Pyramid.
Television angler Bill Dance said Tuesday Bass Pro president Jim Hagel tasked him with the decision to open a store in the Pyramid eight years ago. Unable to come up with a decision, Hegel suggested he and Dance go fishing on the Mississippi River close to Memphis. If they caught a 30-pound catfish, they’d take on the project, Dance said.
“We caught a 32-pound catfish and we released that old fish.,” Dance said Tuesday. “She’s still out there swimming. So, if you catch her, give her a pat on the head and a big hug and thank her for this great facility. We’re here eight years later.”
Representatives from Memphis Light, Gas and Water met with the Memphis City Council's MLGW committee to discuss why they think residents of planned developments should continue to pay a streetlight fee just like everyone else living in the city limits.
An MLGW presentation packet provided to committee members stated, "If all homeowners and commercial property owners fund the maintenance of city streets, then shouldn't all property owners fund the streetlights that illuminate those streets? The answer is absolutely yes."
MLGW presently charges apartment residents $1.08 per month, residential non-apartment dwellers $4.32 per month, small commercial customers $6.48 and large commercial customers $19.07 on a monthly basis. The fees are included in utility bills.
Certain people who live in planned development properties don't have streetlights in their neighborhoods, which has led to the MLGW committee studying the possibility of certain areas being exempted from the fee. For example, some neighborhoods in a newly annexed section of Cordova currently don't have streetlights but still pay a fee. MLGW representatives have said they think the area should be exempt from the fee until they receive streetlights.
However, if streetlight fees for residents in private developments are waived altogether, all other residences in the city would experience a slight increase in their bills. Considering this, MLGW provided a potential scenario to reduce the fees paid by those who reside in private developments.
With the 10,000 private developments added into the apartment residents category, fees would change for those dwellers from $1.08 to $1.11 per month, residential dwellers would pay $4.44, small commercial customers would pay $6.66, and large commercial customers would pay $19.54.
The other scenario explored the results of streetlight fees for residents in private developments being waived all-together. This would cause all other residents in the city to experience a slight increase in their bills higher than those previously mentioned. Apartment residents would pay $1.12 per month, residential dwellers would pay $4.48, small commercial customers would pay $6.72, and large commercial customers would pay $19.71.
Nothing has been decided at this time. The current streetlight fees are still in effect.
The state of Tennessee is responsible for the backlog of untested rape kits in Memphis and should pay for their testing, according to Memphis City Council member Wanda Halbert.
In September, Memphis Police Department director Toney Armstrong told the Memphis City Council that his department had discovered 12,164 untested rape kits. The kits are collections of pieces of evidence gathered after a person reports that they have been sexually assaulted. MPD has used state and local funds to send off 2,226 of these kits for testing so far.
Halbert floated an idea Tuesday to delay a $1 million transfer from the city’s general fund to the Memphis Police Department to begin the process to test additional kits. Halbert said she wanted an admission from the state government that it is at fault for the untested kits before the money was transferred.
She said the state has threatened to intervene in the city’s financial matters in the past, and that now the state is “asking Memphis citizens for money for something that the state should have taken care of.”
“I applaud the city for getting involved with this, and I am not having a problem making an investment but still recognizing this was never a responsibility for the city to begin with,” Halbert said during the council’s public safety committee meeting Tuesday. “For the [Wharton administration], the police, and any attorney sitting in this room, we’re just repeatedly knocking on the door of the citizens of Memphis to pay for others’ challenges and needs, and it hurts Memphis in many ways.”
George Little, the city’s chief administrative officer, told council members that inquiries are now underway to determine what government is ultimately responsible for the untested rape kits but could not say Tuesday if Halbert’s charge was correct. But he warned against any action that would delay the testing of the kits.
“We have pending litigation right now and there’s a discovery process associated with that,” Little said, noting that a federal lawsuit about the kits was filed against the city in December. “The further delay of the testing of the kits will be justice denied to the victims and we’d be on pretty thin ice legally.”
Halbert was resolute in her assertion, however, saying Memphis “is paying for someone else’s job.” But she pulled her amendment that would have delayed the funding transfer to the MPD. The amendment was in a package of financial transfers brought to the council Tuesday from the Wharton administration. The council will vote on the package in its full meeting Tuesday afternoon but could be changed in its next meeting in two weeks.
Halbert said she wants to hear from the state before the final vote is taken on the matter.
Little said the administration is now in talks with state officials to get $2 million for further testing. Wharton said last week that the city needs about $5.5 million to test all of the city’s untested kits.
“I don’t dispute the assertions of Councilwoman Halbert but from my position, they’re irrelevant,” said council member Shea Flinn, “The city and the state failed these people and the list of failures on this is a mile long. We need to just move on and we have the rest of our lives to cast aspersions and point out blame.”
Midtown Nursery has started work on its new, temporary location at the corner of McLean and Madison on the former site of Neil's, the Midtown bar, before it caught fire in 2011.
The nursery became the center of a low-heat debate late last year when they were told they had to vacate their former site at the corner of Cooper and Central. The corner's owner, Loeb Properties, leased the site to Chiwawa/Yolo/Tamp & Tap restaurateur Taylor Berger and attorney Michael Tauer for their Truck Stop restaurant/food truck hybrid concept. Midtown Nursery owners claimed they had a handshake agreement with Loeb for a lease extension at the site. But Loeb had indeed signed a new lease with Berger and Tauer.
The nursery closed its former location at Cooper and Central earlier this month. The company plans to have the new nursery open by March, according to its Facebook page.
"We hope to find a permanent location soon, but until then we will be (at Madison and McLean) come spring," the company said in a Facebook post. "We can't say thank you enough for your encouragement and support! See you again in March!"
Berger and Tauer won city approval for The Truck Stop in January from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Work has been underway on the site since. A fence has been erected around the site and heavy machines are tearing up the old parking lot.
Plains and Eastern Clean Line LLC wants to invest $259 million in an area around Millington for a hub that would bring wind energy from Oklahoma to Tennessee.
The company has asked for an 11-year tax break from the Memphis Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County. The request will come before that board during its meeting Wednesday, according to an updated agenda released Monday morning.
The proposed Shelby County project includes $9.6 million for transmission lines, $1.2 million for the the purchase of 208 acres of land, the $10 million construction of a 30,000-square-foot converter facility, and the $239 million purchase of converter equipment, according to EGDE documents.
The local converter station would be part of a overall project by Plains and Eastern Clean Line to purchase wind energy from Oklahoma, and run it along a 700-mile, 600-kilovolt electric transmission line to tie in to the Tennessee Valley Authority electricity grid.
The project would create 16 new jobs with an average salary of $56,875, according to EDGE.
The facility would deliver more than 3,500 megawatts of electricity.
The company's application says they are looking at the Shelby County site as well as a site in Tipton County.
The 11-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal would abate 41 percent of the taxes on the facility, according to EDGE. The site now brings $2,975 in annual property taxes for the county. If approved, the new project would yield about $36.2 million in new tax revenue for Shelby County during the 11-year term of the deal.
If approved by federal regulators the project is expected to begin construction in 2016 and
take two years to complete.
Public art could dot the South Main district this fall if funds are approved for the project next week.
The Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) will ask for no more than $50,000 from the Center City Development Corp. (CCDC) next Wednesday to begin a search for local artists to produce 10 pieces of public art for the district.
The art would be placed in 10 locations throughout the South Main district. The DMC will work with area property owners to identify those sites.
The installations could be a blend of sculpture, murals, lighting exhibits, window displays, and more, according to a DMC document. Each installation would be up for one year and cost no more than $5,000.
Together, the displays would create an art walk through the district meant to "bring more foot traffic to the area," the DMC document says.
The request will come before the CCDC in their monthly meeting next week.