Editor’s note: Mayor Ronnie Marks asked Holly Hollman to remind us of the year we had, and, most importantly, how we worked together to face our challenges. Thank you, Holly!
After a weather-weary year in 2011, Athens and Limestone County were in need of a reprieve from Mother Nature. The reprieve lasted until March when four tornadoes hit the county, including an EF3 in Athens. When the anniversary of the deadly April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak arrived, it was man – not Mother Nature – who put first responders to work. An arsonist set the railroad trestle behind The Boat House on fire. Thankfully, no one was injured.
Athens remained a city undaunted and continued making progress. Demolition work was completed on the old City Hall, and city leaders approved architectural designs for a new structure that will blend with the Greek revival architecture of Athens. Gov. Robert Bentley toured Carpenter’s Athens North and Athens South plants. Carpenter is investing more than $500-million to build a new steel manufacturing plant and renovate one of the Delphi buildings. The site will hold the world’s largest radial forge.
“City, county and state leaders worked together to make this project happen, and we will see benefits from this for years to come,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “As we look forward to 2013, let us take the time to look back at 2012 to see the obstacles we’ve overcome, challenges we’ve faced and advancements we’ve made.” In addition, Steelcase celebrated 100 years of operation, and now has a record 1100 employees.
- Jan. 23 – Early morning hours had storms but no tornadoes. No major damage.
- Feb. 13 – Capt. Floyd Johnson is named police chief.
- March 2 – An EF3 hit Athens at 9:10 a.m. and went northeast to East Limestone and into Madison County. Its path length was 34.4 miles; peak wind was 140 mph; and peak width was 250 yards. It first hit in the area of East Strain Road at Lindsay Lane. An EF1 tornado hit the Thach community at 3:39 p.m. Its path length was 2.6 miles; peak wind was 100 mph; and peak width was 150 yards. Both caused power outages. There also was an EFO in the Crosskey Community and an EFO in the Elkmont area.
All city departments worked well together, and there were many positive comments from the community.
“You have been AWESOME at getting information to us! Thank you! I can’t think of anything you guys could have done better to help us out!” From Maxie Justice Gardner, Supervising Director, WHNT NEWS 19.
Fire and Rescue did a house to house search. Station 2 captured the tornado on video and photo, which was used by weather officials and national media. Athens Police did round the clock vigils of damaged areas. Police also compiled a list of damaged structures. That list indicated 60 structures in the city had some type of damage. After the morning tornado, 13,653 utility customers were without power. All who could safely receive power had it by Sunday evening. Utility crews worked 16 hours straight. Athens Gas shut off natural gas so that the Electric Department and first responders could work safely in damaged areas. City information was not only shared locally by the mayor’s office, but also on the Weather Channel, CNN and ABC World News.
- March – Demolition work on old City Hall began. The old City Hall was built in 1955, and some citizens thought a time capsule had been buried on site, but workers did not find one.
- March 8 – A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Collins Supply on U.S. 72 for a new “Welcome to Athens” sign. This is part of the city’s way-finding program, funded by $23,407 in state grants.
- April 27 – On this anniversary of the deadly tornado outbreak, an arsonist sets the CSX train trestle behind The Boat House on fire. Police make an arrest, and firefighters battle the smoldering wood for hours. Train traffic is delayed until the trestle is deemed safe for use.
- May – The City of Athens Relay for Life Team is recognized at the Limestone County Relay for Life event for raising the most money of any team in Limestone County. Amount raised was $10,351.
- Last week of May – The city kicks off its compressed natural gas program by showcasing a natural-gas powered Honda Civic the Gas Department bought. Plans are announced for the city to buy a CNG garbage truck and more CNG vehicles as older vehicles are replaced, and for a public fast-fill station to be located by the Sportsplex on U.S. 31. This station will make Athens the mid-way stop between Birmingham and Nashville, which also have CNG stations.
- May 31 – Gov. Robert Bentley announces that Athens will be among communities awarded ATRIP money for road projects. Athens gets $777,874 to resurface Lucas Ferry and Sanderfer roads. Athensmust put $194,468 toward the project.
- June 5 – The movie “Hell and Mr. Fudge” is screened at Cinemagic Theater. The movie tells the story of Athens native Edward Fudge and his controversial book about hell. The movie’s directors attend. There is such interest from movie goers that two screenings are not enough to meet the demand and a third screening is added.
- June 22 – Steelcase celebrates 100 years by holding a local reception and luncheon in Limestone County. The Athens facility is the largest Steelcase plant in North America.
- June – Oppressive heat hits the area, and temps hover at 100 degrees. The county is placed under fire weather warnings.
- June –The city got SouthernLINCS to help improve communications during disasters/emergencies. The SouthernLINCS are push-to-talk devices the city’s first responders, utilities and administrative staff can use if phone lines and cellphone towers are down.
- July – Fire Prevention Chief Tony Kirk is named fire chief.
- July 23 – Paving started on the $1,034,101 Nuclear Plant Road project. The city and county received a $1.1 million industrial access grant to improve Nuclear Plant Road. The Athens City Council and Limestone County Commission agreed to pay up to $250,000 each to cover costs beyond what the grant covers. The road, which is the main route to and from Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, had not been paved since the 1970s and was full of potholes and ruts.
- July – Sen. Arthur Orr notifies city officials that thanks to Mayor Ronnie Marks, Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee, Public Works Director James Rich and County Engineer Richard Sanders and articles by former Decatur Daily reporter Holly Hollman, the state had approved bidding out and starting work on a continuous turn lane for U.S. 72 west from the city limits to the Limestone-Lauderdale county line. 34 people have died on this 12-mile stretch since 1994.
- July 18 – Storms hit Athens. More than 3,000 customers are left without power. Athens Bible sustains minor structural damage.
- Aug. 21 – The Athens-Limestone Public Library held a wall breaking ceremony at the former Kroger building that will house the new library. The library’s foundation continues raising money for its match to the $1-million Dekko Foundation grant.
- Aug. 28 – City elections are held. Mayor Ronnie Marks, Councilman Jimmy Gill and Councilman Harold Wales are re-elected. Three new councilmen are elected: Chris Seibert, Wayne Harper and Joseph Cannon.The new council will take office in November.
- Sept. 19 – Gov. Robert Bentley tours Athens Plant North and Athens Plant South of the Carpenter Technology facility. City and county officials are shown the hole dug to hold the world’s largest radial forge. Athens Utilities helped lure the project here by offering to supply natural gas and working with Carpenter on a financial agreement to build an electrical substation.
- Sept. 24 – The Athens Gas Department receives a $50,000 grant to expand its training facility, Leak City, which is used to train natural gas pipeline operators and firemen from across the nation.
- Sept. 29 – Spirit of Athens holds its first annual Athens Grease Festival. About 4,500 attend the hastily organized event. It made $10,000 profit and drew media attention from around the state and Southeast.
- Sept. 29 – Keep Athens-Limestone Beautiful and City of Athens Water/Wastewater Department kicks off FOG, a grease recycling program to keep fats, oils and grease out of city water pipes. Farmers buy the recycled grease for use as bio-fuel on their farms.
- Oct. 15 – Way-finding directional signs are added on local streets. This is another phase of a project to improve signage in the city.
- Oct. 22– The Council votes 4-1 on passing a 1-percent sales tax increase. The tax goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. Consumers will be pay 9 cents in sales tax on every dollar spent in the city. The increase is expected to generate approximately $4.4 million annually. The additional revenue will be split in the following manner: 30 percent for infrastructure needs; 30 percent for public safety and quality of life (such as adding police officers and firefighters); 20 percent for Athens City School’s building fund; and 20 percent in reserve (such as paying off debt early, having funds to match grants, etc.)
- Nov. 5 – Those newly-elected and re-elected to the Athens City Council and Mayor Ronnie Marks are sworn in for four years of office.
- Nov. 9 – The Limestone County Tornado Memorial is revealed and a dedication held. The memorial is located just east of the Athens city limits in the Bethel Cemetery on U.S. 72. The memorial holds the names of all known victims killed in Limestone County tornadoes.
- Dec. 3 – A groundbreaking ceremony is held for the new City Hall. Construction of the $2.2-million facility is expected to take between 18 and 24 months.
By: Holly Hollman