parks

TDEC adds 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park

News release from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

MARION COUNTY, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Open Space Institute (OSI), today announced the addition of 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park in Marion County. The acquisition connects more than 7,000 acres of protected public land, conserves forestland and cove habitat from future development, and protects scenic views on the Fiery Gizzard trail.  Continue reading

A Senate step forward for more National Park sites in TN — including Polk home

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander:

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 30, 2017 – A Senate committee today approved legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to take the next step in including former President James K. Polk’s home in Columbia, Tenn., in the National Park System. The committee also approved legislation to expand the boundaries of Shiloh National Military Park to include three Civil War battlefields in Tennessee and Mississippi and designate Parker’s Crossroads as an affiliated area of the National Park System. Alexander sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.

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Bill to block state park privatization moving in House & Senate

Republican-controlled committees of both the House and Senate have approved a Democrat-sponsored bill that would block new privatization efforts at Tennessee state parks.

Key sentence in the bill (SB1110/HB1208), sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis:

“The management, operation, and preservation of state parks, including the management, operation, and preservation of any buildings, facilities, structures, or improvements upon state park property must not be the subject of any private contract or otherwise outsourced to any private company or individual.”

It doesn’t apply to contracts in place before July 1, 2017. But Fitzhugh says that existing contracts coming up for renewal after that date could be subject to the prohibition when they expire and come up for renewal.

In the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Kyle’s bill was approved quickly Monday without discussion  – Chairman Steve Southerland seconded the motion for passage — on a vote of 7-0-1. Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, abstained.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill on voice vote with no apparent opposition after a short discussion, including Fitzhugh declaring privatization of parks “is something the people do not want” and there is a danger of “overpricing” park visits under current plans so that average Tennesseans cannot afford them “when we try to make a profit out of state parks.”

At Fall Creek Falls State Park, current plans call for demolishing the present Inn, building a new one at a state cost of $22 million, then turning operations over to a private company with anticipation that the average cost of a room would be $151 per night, compared to $75 at the existing Inn.

Near unanimous Republican support for a Democrat-sponsored bill even remotely controversial is an oddity. But it remains to be seen whether the committee votes are a symbolic gesture that will be scuttled later in the process, a genuine defiance of the governor’s plans or something in between.

Note: See also Sam Stockard’s report following Senate committee approval, but prior to the House sub’s vote. The article notes that current Haslam administration plans call for getting a contract signed for the Fall Creek Falls private operations in May, which could mean the deal gets included in the grandfather clause for contracts in place by July 1.

Opposition develops to demolishing Henry Horton State Park Inn

Marshall County residents are rallying to preserve the inn at Henry Horton State Park, which is scheduled to be demolished under the governor’s budget proposal for the coming year and two legislators representing the county are trying to help, reports the Marshall County Tribune.

As it stands, Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for 2017-18 includes $10.05 million for capital projects at the park, but is missing the approximately $6.7 million that TDEC asked for to renovate the inn at the park.

The budget request includes, among other projects, funding to build a new restaurant and visitor center at the park, but, as it is currently written, would demolish the 60-room inn, without replacement. The request would leave the 12-room motel facility at the park as well as the five cabins that the park offers.

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Fall Creek Falls Park privitization to proceed with revised oversight

The State Building Commission will now have firmer control over building-related aspects of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for outsourcing Fall Creek Falls State Park’s operations under amended rules for bidders approved on Thursday, reports the Times-Free Press.

But Treasurer David Lillard, a commission member, made it clear during the commission’s executive subcommittee meeting that the panel’s oversight jurisdiction does not extend to the request for proposals’ other major area: The outsourcing of hospitality functions at the popular Upper Cumberland Plateau park in Van Buren and Bledsoe counties.

Statutorily, those are “not within the Building Commission’s purview,” Lillard said, noting the excluded list includes current workers’ continued employment, pay and benefits in operational areas ranging from the park inn, restaurant and convention center to the golf course and gift shop.

But the SBC will retain strict oversight within provisions of the request for proposals over the park’s chosen vendor, who will be called upon to spend $22 million in taxpayer money to tear down the existing inn and rebuild it.

Members unanimously approved the tighter oversight in efforts to resolve a revolt by professional Tennessee-based architects and engineers.

…Critics see the revised request for proposals as the template for renewed administration efforts. Haslam’s proposed budget calls for new capital expenditures at several other parks.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, an outsourcing critic, said the amended request for proposals provides “more legislative oversight” over the park’s demolition and construction.

Note: The TDEC press release is below.

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AG opines that Fall Creek Falls privatization is legal

Attorney General Herbert Slatery has opined that Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to privatize operations of Fall Creek Falls State Park are legal, reports the Times-Free Press.

In response to a question about whether department officials violated a statute that governs the Department of Conservation and Environment’s outsourcing of services, Slatery said that statute “is not applicable to the proposed transaction.”

Rather, Slatery said, another statute “provides specific and separate authority for the Tennessee Department of General Services to enter into an agreement for the private redevelopment, construction, and operation of the facilities at Fall Creek Falls State Park.”

Because General Services is involved, Slatery said, that authorizes the outsourcing proposal. (Note: Full opinion HERE.)

… Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps, whose group opposes park outsourcing over fears about employees’ jobs, sought to downplay Slatery’s legal opinion.

“I think what it points out is that they did not follow strictly existing laws,” said Stamps, an attorney himself. “The attorney general’s opinion had to point out a new statutory construction, to pick the law that they [the administration] wanted to work to make this legal.”

“Right now the RFP is postponed,” Stamps said, but he said he hopes for more changes from the State Building Commission. “We feel like with the facts that have stepped forward, there’s a real chance they’re going to step back. At least that’s what we hope.”

McNally: Administration revising Fall Creek Falls privatization plan

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is revising its plans to privatize Fall Creek Falls State Park and will change provisions seen as bypassing the State Building Commission, reports the Times-Free Press.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, shed additional light on the controversy that forced Department of Environment and Conservation officials to abruptly drop a request for proposals from companies interested in operating the 26,000-acre park in rural Van Buren and Bledsoe counties.

The plan includes giving whomever is eventually picked as the concessionaire some $22 million appropriated in this year’s budget to tear down and build a new park inn and convention center.

“Well, the administration has backed it up, and I think they’re going to go back through the Building Commission process, which is what we wanted,” McNally said. “They’ll have to have the plan approved there, and then the Building Commission will also have to approve the design.” 

McNally described the controversy as “somewhere between a bump in the road and a roadblock. It’s not a roadblock, but it’s not as insignificant as a bump in the road.”  Continue reading

Fall Creek Falls privatization postponed; Democrats declare victory

The Haslam administration has abruptly abandoned the Thursday deadline originally set for companies interested in taking over operation of Fall Creek Falls State Park to file bids with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, reports the Times-Free Press.

Eric Ward (TDEC spokesman)…  said today in response to a Times Free Press (inquiry) that “the RFP has been postponed to incorporate amended process language which will be made available soon.”

It was not known how long the proposal would be postponed or what the specific issues leading to it are.

There was no immediate elaboration but the administration’s process has been under fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association as well as several lawmakers who have raised questions not only on that issue but the effort to privatize hospitality services at the park, which straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe counties in a remote area of the Upper Cumberland Plateau.

 

Democrats opposing privatization opponents promptly sent a statement declaring victory. It’s  below.

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Architects, engineers object to Haslam’s park privatization plans

Tennessee architects and engineers say Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to privatize operations at Fall Creek Falls State Park would largely bypass the State Building Commission, which normally oversees all state property projects, reports the Times-Free Press.

That brings them into “the political battle between the administration on one side and, on the other, state employees and Van Buren County who oppose outsourcing hospitality services at the remote Cumberland Plateau park considered the “jewel” of Tennessee’s park system.”

The administration has set aside $22 million to tear down the park’s inn and build a new one. The proposal would allow vendors to select their own architects, engineers and construction teams. But William Blankenship, a Knoxville architect and president of the American Institute of Architects- Tennessee, said the RFP “circumvents” the State Building Commission.

When “the state of Tennessee hires me as the designer and I sign a contract with the state, I serve the state and I serve the state’s best interest,” Blankenship said.

“When somebody’s working for a concessionaire out of New York City, they’re going to sign a contract with that concessionaire. Do you really think he’s going to work in the state’s best interest? He’s going to move across the table to the concessionaire. And they’re going to work together either for or against the state of Tennessee.”

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Haslam budget laying groundwork for state park privatization beyond Fall Creek Falls?

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2017-18 budget includes an unprecedented $58.8 million in capital spending at state parks across Tennessee, leading to speculation that the administration has plans for privatization at three state park that get most of the money, reports the Times-Free Press.

That would follow the pattern set earlier when the 2016-2017  Haslam budget included major funding for Fall Creek Falls state park. Only months after the budget was adopted did the administration announce that the park’s operations would be privatized after the state spends money building a new park inn and other improvements.

“At this time, there are no active plans in place” in regards to further privatization efforts at those three parks, Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing and Henry Horton, said a Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson in an email Friday.

Elected leaders from those park areas polled this week — all in Middle or West Tennessee — also said they have not been told if the state plans to pursue privatization at their parks. But each were familiar with the concept after a 2015 attempt to outsource hospitality operations at 11 state parks that failed because of the facilities’ poor conditions.

…(State Sen. John) Stevens’ district includes Henry County’s Paris Landing State Park, which is set to receive $23.07 million for the demolition of its inn and construction of a new inn that would include conference space and a restaurant.

He said he supports rebuilding the inn and is thankful for the administration’s proposed investment, adding that locals are interested in having input in the facility’s design.

“I have spoken to our local chamber and there is support in the community for the new building coupled with concern, privatization being one,” Stevens said.

…Marshall County’s Henry Horton State Park would receive $10.05 million under the proposed budget for the demolition of the inn, visitor center, and restaurant there. The money would also pay for the construction of a new visitor center and restaurant, but not another inn.

…An inn would remain part of Pickwick Landing State Park in Hardin County under the proposed budget. Nearly $12 million would be spent to renovate the current facility, which includes a conference center and restaurant.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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