SOUNDOFF: What do you think were the biggest stories in Catoosa County in 2005?
Editors note: These stories do not appear in any particular order and do not include crime stories.
Ringgolds first city councilwoman dies
Ringgold Councilwoman Martha Denton, 70, died Nov. 22 in a Chattanooga hospital of what family members described as a massive brain aneurysm.
The sudden loss to the community of someone who dedicated much of her life to teaching the youth of Catoosa to swim and helping others brought a huge outpouring of comments and memories from the public.
She became the citys first and only woman in 152 years to win a seat on the Ringgold City Council in 1999, taking office in January 2000. She was serving her second term in office.
Denton was interred at Anderson Cemetery in Ringgold.
Ringgold City Council appointed Vice Mayor O.C. Adcock, who lost his November bid for re-election, to serve her term beginning Jan. 1 until a special election set for March 21 and the new councilperson is sworn in.
Confederate battle flag raises emotions
With the completion of renovations of the historic Ringgold Depot, Ringgold raised the Confederate battle and the 1863 Union flags in 2005 as part of a Civil War memorial in front of the Depot.
The memorial includes approximately 900 names of Civil War soldiers who enlisted in Catoosa County as well as the regiments of both sides who were involved in engagements in the Ringgold area.
After the passing of several weeks and some quiet attempts requesting removal of the Confederate battle flag, several members of the African-American community and a smaller number of whites spoke out against its display in the public forum of the Ringgold City Council meetings beginning in February, describing it as a symbol of hatred.
Sons of Confederate Veterans members, and others, spoke in favor of the battle flag remaining in place, declaring the flag not as a symbol of hate but as a symbol reflecting the bravery and sacrifice of area families and their ancestors along with its importance to Civil War history the major tourism draw in Catoosa.
Ringgold City Council voted 3-2 March 28 to remove the battle flag and replace it with the Hardee/Cleburne flag, the regimental flag of General Patrick Cleburne, who defended Ringgold Gap against Northern forces in 1863.
Additional efforts by flag supporters to lobby the City Council to raise one of the alternate national flags of the Confederacy yielded no success.
Interestingly, the council voted 3-2 to raise the Confederate battle flag once again for Confederate History Month throughout April. Once again members of the African American community turned out to share their outrage that the council went back on their vote from March. The council took no additional action, saying the flag would come down at the end of the month and making no decision whether an annual display will occur during Confederate History Month.
Supporters of the flag returned to the City Council in May informing the city that it was in violation of a state law protecting monuments that honor and recount military service when it removed the two flags from the Civil War memorial. District Attorney Herbert Buzz Franklin said at that time he found no grounds for criminal prosecution under the state law but he said that individual citizens could bring civil action in Superior Court against the city, asking for a ruling on the issues in question.
The city hoisted the Hardee/Cleburne flag and rehoisted the 1863 Union flag in late summer after receiving the new flag by special order. The two flags continue to fly with apparently no additional challenges planned.
Catoosas air under fire by EPA
Catoosa officials working with federal and state officials continued to lobby to get Catoosa County off U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists classifying the county as having air pollution problems.
Catoosa appeared on two separate lists in 2004 one for ozone non-attainment in April and one for PM 2.5 non-attainment in December.
As of yet, county, state and federal elected officials have not achieved their goals.
Vehicles, power plants, factories, other facilities, and construction equipment emit nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds that combine in sunlight to form ozone, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Ozone can damage trees or oxidize things prematurely, such as rubber, according to the EPA.
According to the EPA, PM 2.5 refers to particles in the air approximately 1/30th the size of an average human hair. The particles can aggravate heart and lung diseases and have been associated with a variety of serious health problems, including heart attacks, chronic bronchitis and asthma attacks.
Catoosa Board of Commissioners hired an air quality specialist, Dr. Craig Smith, of Smith-Aldridge, Inc. of Atlanta, to assist in appealing the government ruling.
A large part of the countys appeal included new information about out-of-state wildfires from Arkansas, Kansas, Canada and Alaska that caused spikes in the monitor data used in the rulings.
The EPA did not change the status of Catoosa County back in April relating to PM 2.5 so the county lobbied the state of Georgia and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division filed an appeal to try and reverse Catoosa Countys air pollution designation.
The county also hired the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan of Atlanta to file the appeal in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. in June.
The EPD and court appeal are pending awaiting a decision expected in January that county officials hope will clear the air and allow the county to move forward without having to comply with a long list of federal restrictions.
Catoosa County completed its efforts to study impact fees all that waits is a final decision.
Impact fees are charged to commercial and residential developers and builders to offset the costs of infrastructure (roads, sewers, and water) required by the development.
Commissioners hired Ross and Associates, a consulting firm, to conduct a $118,000 study on the feasibility of impact fees in Nov. 2004.
A Catoosa County Impact Fee Advisory Committee was formed, which is required under state law, including a builder, developer and real estate agent, while residents fill the remaining positions. Members are Don Hutelin, Committee chairman, Jerry Hawthorne, Eddie Floyd, Sherman Smith, Ron McKelvy, Emory White and Marilyn Helms.
A methodology report was completed providing maximum impact fees that the county could charge for various buildings.
A maximum possible fee for a single family detached house could be $1,347. In addition to the library portion this fee includes $272.81 for parks and recreation; $119.82 for the jail; $89.45 for the sheriffs office; $585.55 for roads and 95 cents for 911 communications. There is also a $38.79 fee for administration and $15.06 fee to recoup the cost of preparing the capital improvements element of the report. The fees for apartments and condominiums vary, being slightly lower at $1,164 per apartment and $1,114 per condominium.
If sewerage is included then an additional amount for new users with the average household meter size being ¾ inch with 275 gallons of wastewater usage per day the maximum impact fees the county could charge could be: West Chickamauga basin $748.58; in the Peavine basin $220; in Ringgold basin $917.10 and Fort Oglethorpe basin $19.13, according to the report.
Commercial developers could take the hardest hit if the county implements the maximum fees. For instance, if a new fast food restaurant is built, that developer could pay a $18,395.63 impact fee per 1,000 square feet; a convenience store with gasoline could pay a $21,973.43 impact fee per 1,000 square feet; a home improvement superstore such as Home Depot could pay $1,793.56 per 1,000 square feet; a drive-in bank could pay $10,800.94 per 1,000 square feet.
As impact fees moved into the final public hearing phase in November and December, the issue met stiff resistance as the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce and the Catoosa County Economic Development Authority both came out against the measure.
At the second public hearing a larger number of residents in favor of the effort also spoke out.
Commissioners are expected to decide whether the county will implement impact fees in Jan. 2006.
The annexation battle
Ringgold began an effort to move its city limits west along Battlefield Parkway in late 2004.
On Dec. 13, following approval by Catoosa County Board of Commissioners, Ringgold City Council unanimously voted to annex a tenth-acre tract on Battlefield Parkway into the city.
Ringgold purchased the tract adjacent to Hutcheson on the Parkway from Goosepond Properties, Inc. for $20,661 prior to the annexation. The tract lies about two miles from Ringgolds city limits and approximately a mile from Fort Oglethorpes city limits near Dietz Road.
Fort Oglethorpe City Council decided to fight the issue anticipating Ringgolds plan to annex into an area that Fort Oglethorpe envisioned as its growth area. A lawsuit against Ringgold was filed in January to reverse what Fort Oglethorpe denoted as island annexation on Battlefield Parkway.
Judge Jon Bo Wood of the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court ruled in April that Ringgolds island annexation of a tenth-acre tract off Battlefield Parkway in December was illegal.
After the loss in court Ringgold bolstered its effort to move down Battlefield Parkway from its current city limits. Ringgolds annexation march down Battlefield began at Schoolzin Schoolzout Christian Learning Center in August and reached Old Mill Road, a distance of 2.5 miles, by December, which included 63 properties annexed into the city of Ringgold.
City officials previously slated Ringgolds annexation goal to reach beyond Hutcheson on the Parkway to Pine Grove Road, a short distance from Fort Oglethorpes city limits near Dietz Road. Ringgold anticipates reaching its goal in early 2006.
County takes steps on methane gas problem
Catoosa County paid to install 16 methane extraction wells at Catoosa County Landfill Site 1 in August.
Methane gas is a by-product of rotting garbage.
SCS Field Services of Reston, Va. did the installation at a cost of $423,585, subject to the approval of U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy, who reviews the countys federal probation status.
The county is in a five-year probationary period that began August 20, 2002 after being convicted in U.S. District Court by Judge Murphy on the felony of unlawful discharge of pollutants in the waters of the United States from a point source without a permit. The guilty plea originally stems from the Environmental Protection Agency alleging that the county discharged leachate at the Catoosa County Landfill in 1999. Leachate basically garbage juice is the liquid that runs off from decaying materials deposited in the landfill.
The issues with methane gas migration rose to public light in 2002 as Margaret Chalmers, her brother, Pete Bowman, and sister, Talitha Wallace, who all own property abutting the landfill, provided the county evidence that methane gas migrated onto the properties that was once the Bowman family farm.
Catoosa County Solid Waste Management Authority and Catoosa County Board of Commissioners originally approved a methane gas burn-off system in 2002 at an estimated cost of $200,000. The system consists of numerous extraction wells dug into pockets of suspected methane gas around the landfill, then piped to a motorized vacuum that feeds a flare to safely burn off the gas. But the gas is still traveling underground through the soil, cracks, and fissures in the rock and exiting on nearby residents land, according to environmental tests.
Operation began in the summer of 2003, but after the system proved inadequate, the county began operating the system constantly rather than only part-time.
Catoosa County leaders banked briefly in April 2005 that an agreement with Cogeneration Technologies, Inc., of Ooltewah, Tenn. to install 16 extraction wells and turn methane gas into energy could be a solution to the problem saving the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. The boardwas informed in June by County attorney Clifton Skip Patty that Cogeneration could not perform the job due to financing issues.
The county went on line with the 16 new gas wells three months ago and is operating the burn off flare 24 hours per day, according to James Flowers, Catoosa County Inert Landfill manager.
The county is monitoring the perimeter wells and recording some changes but it could be six to nine months before the county can determine if the new wells have made a difference in methane migration.
Changes at Hutcheson Medical Center
Hutcheson Medical center began the year in the midst rumors of potential layoffs. Its CEO Dr. Ralph Nipp had already announced his retirement in December.
Hutcheson Medical Center, a 179-bed-capacity hospital that serves Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties, employs about 1,400 workers.
The hospital began layoffs in February with two top-level administrators and demoted another, which included the vice president of facilities management, administrator of physician relations, and vice president of marketing and public relations, on the same day David Snyder became Hutchesons interim CEO replacing Dr. Nipp.
Officials at Hutcheson Medical Center on April 4 announced changes affecting 42 employees including the elimination of 25 positions and reduced hours for 17 employees.
Cambio Health Solutions, a consulting firm hired by the hospital in October 2004, assumed the responsibility for identifying opportunities to improve the financial situation at the Fort Oglethorpe facility which was in the red. Hutchesons story is not unique. Many other hospitals in Georgia and nationwide are facing similar problems. Reasons for the losses include more uninsured patients who cant pay their bills, regional competition, and a faltering economy.
Charles Stewart, 52, became Hutcheson Medical Centers president and chief executive officer, in September.
Stewart brings 15 years of experience as a chief executive officer in hospital administration. The last nine years were with DCH Health System, a 1,000-bed non-profit, integrated health system comprised of four hospitals with gross revenues of $1 billion,
We want to become the hospital of choice in North Georgia and the Chattanooga area for patients who receive care, for physicians to practice medicine, and for employees to work, he said in November. If our goal is to be the best then that sets a great challenge for us, particularly with the reputation and strength of many of the hospitals in the Chattanooga area.
While some may wonder how such a goal can be reached, Stewart has no doubt it is through the personal touch.
We have to do it one patient at a time, he said.
Catoosa County Schools change hands
Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Beth Kellerhals retired at the end of September turning over the reins to Graysville Elementary School Principal Denia Reese.
Kellerhals worked as a teacher, guidance counselor and assistant principal before becoming principal of Graysville in 1984. Ten years later, she left that position to become principal of Catoosa Crossroads Academy, serving four years before becoming superintendent of Catoosa schools in July 1998. She was named Georgia School Superintendent of the Year in 2001.
In October Reese took over 16 schools in a system with well over 10,000 students and ever-expanding needs for additional classrooms and more schools looming
Reese taught at Graysville Elementary from 1984 to 1988. It was during this period that she came under the leadership of Kellerhals for whom she credits her current career path. Reese became assistant principal and then principal at Graysville before being chosen from a field of candidates by the Catoosa County Board of Education to become superintendent.
Fort Oglethorpe approves liquor
Despite a light turnout at the polls a majority of Fort Oglethorpe voters approved the sale of liquor by the drink in the citys March 15 special election.
In election results, which include 303 early votes and 16 absentee ballots, only 935, or 20 percent, of the citys 4,667 registered voters cast ballots in the referendum, which was approved by the City Council in January.
To pass the measure, 511 voters, or 55 percent, cast ballots in favor of liquor by the drink, while 424, or 45 percent, voted against. State law requires a majority of the public vote to approve the sale of liquor.
Residents voted down the citys last liquor-by-the-drink referendum in Nov. 2000. In that referendum 858 voters, or 59 percent, opposed liquor sales, while 597 voters supported the measure.
City officials say that permitting the sale of liquor by the drink will draw upscale restaurants and hotels into the city thereby stimulating the local economy.
Since the council voted unanimously in March 2002 to amend the citys malt beverage ordinance to permit the sale of beer and wine in restaurants, OCharleys and Logans Roadhouse have opened locations along Battlefield Parkway.
New Councilmen take seats in both cities
Three city council seats in Fort Oglethorpe and two in Ringgold were up for grabs last November.
Seven candidates participated in Fort Oglethorpes race while three ran in Ringgold.
Fort Oglethorpe voters chose to oust two of three incumbents during the city election.
Louis Hamm defeated Councilman Alan Marshall in the Ward 3 race.
The Ward 5 seat went to Steve Brandon who defeated Councilman Ronnie Cobb.
Councilman Harold Silcox retained the Ward 2 seat over challengers Steve Lanier and Fred Loyd.
Twenty three percent (893) out of 3,911 registered voters cast ballots and 242 of those were absentee or advance votes.
By a slim margin, Ringgold voters selected challenger Tom Clark and incumbent Councilman G. Larry Black to represent them on the City Council.
Clark, Black and Vice Mayor O.C. Adcock were in contention for two at-large seats.
Staff writers Tim Carlfeldt, Jeff OBryant, and Chris Reeves contributed to this
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