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VOL. 130 | NO. 89 | Thursday, May 7, 2015

Daily Digest

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Council Approves Graceland Campus Tourism Surcharge

Memphis City Council members approved on third and final reading a 5 percent Graceland tourism surcharge on all items bought on the 120-acre Graceland campus.

The revenue stream will go toward financing the three-phase Graceland expansion project including the construction of a $90 million, 450-room hotel north of the mansion.

Meanwhile, Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden told council members the two jets once owned by Elvis Presley and available for tours for more than 30 years aren’t likely to move as Graceland closes on a deal to buy them.

“Chances are they will sit there for another 33 years,” he said in response to a question from the council.

“And everything else has been a lot of smoke and a period of time when we couldn’t come to terms,” he added of the contract negotiations with OKC Partners, the company that owned the planes and had a contract with Graceland to include the display as part of certain Graceland tour packages.

And the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. delayed a vote Tuesday on $241,571 in funding for a water detention basin on the campus of Memphis Catholic High School in Midtown. Several council members questioned the project’s priority ahead of projects to ease flooding in Frayser and Whitehaven, two areas the city engineer’s office and public works division are studying for future measures.

In council committee session Tuesday, council members recommended the city’s $1.5 million purchase of the Donnelly J. Hill State Office Building.

The committee action sets the stage for a vote by the full council in two weeks on the deal that Wharton’s administration is proposing. The voice vote to recommend came after much council debate and discussion.

– Bill Dries

EPA: Le Bonheur Asthma Program Among Tops in US

Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital’s CHAMPS Program has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency as a leading national model for asthma care.

The program focuses on high-risk children with asthma served through TennCare. The CHAMPS program – which stands for Changing High-Risk Asthma in Memphis through Partnership – has developed a high-risk asthma registry and also uses a team of community health workers, respiratory therapists, physicians and social workers to provide asthma education.

The program’s recognition comes during Asthma Awareness Month, with the Le Bonheur program being honored with the 2015 National Environmental Leadership Award from the EPA.

It was recognized along with the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative in Baltimore as “as the two leading asthma management programs for comprehensive, in-home interventions and innovative asthma education to improve the lives of people with asthma in underserved communities,” according to a statement.

– Andy Meek

Two People Emerge for Airport Chairman Post

A three-member committee of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority is recommending two candidates to replace outgoing chairman Jack Sammons.

Sammons, who joined the airport authority board in 2010, is leaving the chairman’s role to serve as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s chief administrative officer beginning May 8.

The airport authority’s nominating committee – Jim Keras, Darrell K. Thomas and Pamela Z. Clary – recommended the board choose between Pace Cooper and J.W. Gibson II, the only two board members who have expressed interest in the post.

The full airport authority board will vote on the matter May 21.

Keras nominated Cooper, chief executive of the Cooper Cos. hotel group, while Thomas nominated Gibson, chief executive of the Gibson Cos. Clary declined to have the final say on the recommendation, leaving the full board to choose between Gibson and Cooper.

Keras said he recommended Cooper because he is currently the board’s second-longest serving member behind Keras himself. Cooper is 2 1/2 years into his seven-year board term.

“I think it’s about experience,” said Keras. “To me, it makes logical sense for (Cooper) to step up and be chairman.”

Thomas said he nominated Gibson because Gibson had expressed an interest in the post and he wanted the board to have a robust discussion about who would serve as the next chairman, just the fourth in the board’s history.

“However this comes out, I’m fine with it,” said Thomas.

But it’s not that simple. Board members can nominate and vote for anyone they want, including themselves. And with Sammons’ departure the board will be down to six members instead of seven, meaning there could be a tie, at which point Cooper, now serving as vice chairman of the board, would effectively serve as chairman.

The new chairman will serve until December 2016, when the current chairman’s term ends. Four of the board’s current six members have 12 months or less experience serving on the body.

The new chairman will be selected as Memphis International Airport seeks to rebuild service following the loss of the former Delta Air Lines Inc. hub and pursues a multi-phase, $114 million concourse modernization plan.

– Amos Maki

Cirrus Aircraft to Build New Center at East Tennessee Airport

Cirrus Aircraft is building a new center in East Tennessee that will create 170 new jobs.

Media reports say the center will become the flagship location for all sales, marketing and customer experience operations for the Minnesota-based manufacturer of small airplanes.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined local officials and company executives at McGhee Tyson Airport Wednesday to announce the center, which will be built next door. Officials say the new center represents a $15 million investment.

– The Associated Press

Report: State Water Pollution Enforcement Way Down

State regulators issued 77 percent fewer enforcement orders against water polluters in 2014 than they did in 2008, according to the nonprofit Tennessee Clean Water Network.

The network has been tracking actions the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation takes against polluters since 2007, when the agency issued 219 enforcement orders. In 2008, that number rose to 231. But enforcement orders plummeted beginning in 2009, reaching just 53 in 2012; 50 in 2013; and 53 last year, according to a Tennessee Clean Water Network report released Wednesday, May 6.

Four of those 53 orders were issued in direct response to actions by the Clean Water Network, either formal complaints or threatened lawsuits, according to the report.

More than a quarter of enforcement orders in both 2013 and 2014 were not for pollution but for paperwork problems, such as failing to submit a complete permit application, according to the report.

The permits issued by the state agency allow businesses and individuals to pollute Tennessee waterways within certain limits. There are more than 17,000 active water permits statewide. More than half of those are for construction sites.

It is not clear why enforcement order volume has declined. The numbers already were going down when Gov. Bill Haslam took office in 2011, but they dropped steeply in 2012 and have stayed low.

In an emailed statement, spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said the agency works to achieve compliance with the law through various means including “inspections; clear communications; and outreach, where possible and appropriate.”

Brockman said TDEC’s Division of Water Resources completed 2,122 inspections in the second half of 2014 and found an 86 percent compliance rate. In many cases, polluters came back into compliance after receiving a notice of violation. When that doesn’t happen, she said, “we may opt to proceed with more formal enforcement.”

Tennessee Clean Water Network attorney Stephanie Durman said she does not want to speculate on why TDEC is issuing less than a quarter of the enforcement orders that it did seven years ago, but she does not think the drop means there have been fewer violations.

– The Associated Press

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