A woman who lives across the road from where the $55 million Toyota Boshoku plant construction is ongoing believes she, as well as her neighbors, failed to get proper prior notification of what was being built on the site.
Kathy Coffey spoke at a special-called Athens City Council meeting Tuesday about the plant located on West Sanderfer Road. She said she represented her family and neighbors, and told council members their lives had been turned upside down by the project.
Coffey asked why residents weren’t properly informed about the project. She said she first learned of the facility when it was announced by Gov. Kay Ivey on April 10 at City Hall.
District 3 Councilman Frank Travis apologized to Coffey for not informing residents near the project. He said he was under the impression residents had been informed.
Coffey accepted Travis’ apology, but it’s our opinion no apology was necessary. These residents had several opportunities to learn about the project and voice their opinion.
At no fewer than three public meetings, two City Council and at least one Athens Planning Commission meetings, officials said they were on the verge of landing a large industrial project. Officials, including Mayor Ronnie Marks and Public Works Director James Rich, also repeatedly referenced the proposed area where the plant is being built.
Prior to the April 10 announcement, there were two mentions of Jimmy Gill Park being moved to make room for a potential development. The park is located across the street from Coffey and her neighbors’ homes.
These meetings were all held during evening hours to accommodate residents. Still, no one was there to get information about the development or oppose the project.
In some circumstances, the city’s planning department will erect a sign informing residents that property is being considered for rezoning. This didn’t happen in the case of the Toyota Boshoku property because it was zoned for industrial use in 1986.
Is it wise to think a 42-acre lot zoned as industrial will stay empty forever? Probably not.
Athens and Limestone County are booming industrially, thanks to the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM) plant under construction south of Athens. The plant will require several suppliers, and virtually all of them want to be close enough to easily ship their components to the MTM operation.
That means any supplier not setting up shop at the MTM campus will likely have Athens on its possible site location list, like Toyota Boshoku.
It seems somewhat short-sighted for any Athens-Limestone residents who live near a large tract of open land to believe it will stay that way forever, especially now.
Additionally, reports from each of these public meetings were published in The News Courier. Each report made reference to the rumored project and its possible location.
In addressing Coffey’s comments, Council President Harold Wales referenced the stories, meeting notices and legal notices regarding the project that were published in the newspaper. Coffey explained she didn’t know anyone who read The News Courier.
Coffey’s comments about The News Courier echo an alarming trend nationally concerning where many consumers get their news today – social media outlets, including some where information may not be vetted for accuracy.
Although there are a number of credible social media posts, including ones from this newspaper and other responsible news outlets, many so-called news practitioners care less about facts and more about clicks and how to monetize their content.
This increased consumption of truly “fake news” only leads to lives being impacted by real issues, which sounds like what happened to Coffey and her neighbors.
The News Courier’s staff takes great pride in covering public meetings to inform Athens and Limestone County residents. Those meetings include the City Council, Limestone County Commission, Athens Planning Commission, Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority, both the Athens City and Limestone County school boards and others. Typically, these meetings are sparsely attended by community members.
The exception has been any City Council meeting where matters concerning Canebrake Club have been addressed. That’s a constituency truly invested in decisions affecting its community.
We understand there are those who do not turn to our multiple platforms, both print and digital, to get information. We also know there are thousands who read our print edition five days a week and thousands more who read our information online daily.
We are strong supporters that all residents have a right to voice their opinion, but we also believe before a resident(s) attends a public meeting to berate decision makers and claim no one had been notified about a significant economic development in our growing community, they might want to do advanced research.
We know there are several responsible news and information options, and we are not always the first choice. However, we encourage residents to stay informed – no matter what credible source they use. After all, an informed electorate makes a better community and keeps our public officials, who make decisions impacting taxpayers, accountable.
Additionally, for your information, here is a snapshot of specific area governmental bodies meet:
• The Athens City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. the second and fourth Monday of each month unless there is a holiday or scheduling conflict. Meeting dates and times can be confirmed on the city of Athens’ website. Meetings are held at City Hall.
• The Limestone County Commission meets at 10 a.m. the first and third Monday of each month at the Clinton Street annex, unless there is a holiday or scheduling conflict. The commission holds a 10 a.m. work session the Wednesday prior to the Monday meeting to discuss items on the regular meeting agenda. Work sessions are held at the Washington Street annex.
• Limestone County Schools holds a work session the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m., unless there’s a holiday or scheduling conflict. The school board holds its regular meeting at 6 p.m. the second Tuesday of each month, unless there’s a holiday or scheduling conflict. The school board is now holding meets at different county schools, and the location of the meeting can be found online at https://bit.ly/2x7ewNm.
• Athens City Schools meets at the central office building on U.S. 31 at 6:30 p.m. on certain Thursdays, though some meetings are held at 7:30 a.m. Specific dates and times can be found at https://bit.ly/2KsadFe. The board’s next meeting is Thursday, July 18.
• The Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority meets at 3:30 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month at 17218 U.S. 72, Athens.
• The Athens Planning Commission meets the third Tuesday of each month at Athens City Hall. Meetings begin at 5:45 p.m., while work sessions start at 5 p.m.