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VOL. 132 | NO. 79 | Thursday, April 20, 2017

Memphis Gets Nod for New Hotel Tax, Nashville Having Pipeline Problems

By Sam Stockard

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The state Senate approved legislation enabling the Memphis City Council to consider an ordinance to create a new hotel/motel tax of no more than an aggregate of 5 percent to go toward the city-owned Memphis Cook Convention Center.

The General Assembly has approved legislation enabling Memphis to create a new hotel/motel tax for convention center upgrades. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

Bill sponsor Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said the city needs a method for paying off debt to maintain the convention center in addition to an existing hotel/motel tax of 3.5 percent that goes toward debt on the FedExForum, home of the Memphis Grizzlies.

The bill, which passed by a 26-0 vote, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis. It passed in the lower chamber 95-0.

Meanwhile, legislation putting a damper on Metro Nashville’s efforts to stop natural gas pipeline compressor projects in Cane Ridge and Joelton is on its way to the governor’s desk.

The House approved a bill 69-23 Monday night prohibiting Metro Nashville from including land use and zoning requirements in its air pollution control regulations through an exemption certificate it holds with the State Air Pollution Control Board. The Senate previously passed the legislation 23-6.

State Rep. Kelly Keisling, a Byrdstown Republican, sponsored the bill at the request of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, telling House members Metro’s attempt to tie zoning to an attempt to obtain an air pollution control permit “contaminates” the process.

“Metro tried to stop this and overreached (in) their attempt to use zoning regulation to restrict this project,” Keisling said.

The legislation doesn’t preempt zoning requirements, but it would not allow zoning to intermingle with air pollution control standards and permitting by the state board, Keisling said.

His legislation drew opposition from Davidson County legislators, two of whom called it “one of the worst” bills they’ve seen.

Rep. Bill Beck, a Nashville Democrat, tried to remove Davidson County from the bill, but his amendment was tabled, a procedural move that killed it.

Beck pointed out 100 people a day are moving to Davidson County, and Metro is simply trying to keep its air quality higher than that of the surrounding areas to preserve the quality of life.

“I believe this bill was a bill that was crafted against Davidson County in order to allow the pipelines that were installed under the new deal with Federal Energy Regulation Commission to carry extra compression and endanger the air quality in Middle Tennessee, and it was just overreach by the state again on our county and our city,” Beck said after the vote.

Rep. Jason Powell, a Davidson County Democrat who represents the Cane Ridge area, called the legislation a “push” to prevent local governments from having zoning laws that would keep projects such as compressor stations out of certain parts of the city.

“I don’t think people realize the economic consequences of this legislation, because you’ve got a lot of people who are gonna be affected, who live around where they’re talking about building these stations,” Powell said. “There’s no other way to put it. This is another example of taking away local control from, once again, Nashville and taking away our ability to protect ourselves.”

Rep. Bo Mitchell asked Keisling if he intended to “supersede or interfere” with litigation involving the gas pipeline compressor projects. Keisling responded he wasn’t aware they were involved in a legal fight.

Mitchell, a Nashville Democrat, said Metro is trying to protect a park, a community center and a school in its efforts to stop the compressor projects. On the other hand, the natural gas company is pumping the fuel from the West Coast to the East Coast to be sent to Europe, he said.

“This could be one of the worst bills I’ve seen on the House floor,” Mitchell said.

Keisling, however, contended the bill simply restates rules of the state Air Pollution Control Board to clarify that local zoning rules can’t be included in Metro’s air pollution control plan. Davidson, Shelby, Hamilton and Knox counties all operate under a certificate of exemption enabling them to set up their own rules.

Metro City Council wanted the zoning ordinance to be made part of its plan with the Air Pollution Control Board, a move that would have to be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to reports.

Kinder Morgan and TransCanada/Columbia Pipeline Group say federal entities will make the ultimate decision. They argue neighborhoods have grown up around the areas where they need to install compressors.

Mayor Megan Barry has been opposed to the pipeline compressor projects. She could not be reached immediately for comment.

Tennessee Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bradley Jackson said the organization initiated the legislation because of the confusion created by Nashville’s move to combine land use zoning with its air pollution program, something no other local government has done before.

“We don’t think it will hurt Nashville at all,” Jackson said.

He pointed out the EPA and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission both opposed Metro Nashville’s action and further contends a natural gas compression is consider a “minor emitter” in terms of pollution control.

Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne, who represents the Cane Ridge area and sponsored the measure dealing with zoning and air pollution control, was disappointed with the outcome.

“It is unfortunate that they decided to vote against the wishes of the whole Davidson County delegation and fail to understand that zoning is the tool we use to deal with quality of life issues,” Bedne said. “People that suffer allergies or asthma understand perfectly well that not everybody reacts the same way to pollutants or environmental agents.

“In our form of government, the zoning process is the way we have to empower residents to have a voice on shaping the built environment. Furthermore, we already use zoning to regulate industrial uses. What is next? Build a toxic dump in Forest Hills?”

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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