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This item appeared in The Times & Free Press on Thursday, February 10, 2000.

[Times & Free Press: Bend Plan Put on Hold]

Bend Plan Put on Hold

Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Plans to turn much of the Moccasin Bend area into an historic site under the National Park Service have been temporarily shelved by Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.

The 3rd District congressman said he is fearful the plan might undermine local efforts to keep Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute open.

Rep. Wamp had planned to introduce a bill to put Moccasin Bend under the Park Service in the House today. He said his decision to put the legislation on hold was made after a long-running controversy between the community and state officials over the hospital's continued existence resurfaced this week.

"The community has been patient for 100 years," said Jay Mills, vice president of the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park, which is eager to establish a separate unit of the National Park Service on the Bend. "It really is in Congrssman Wamp's hands now."

The group does not want to compromise the state-funded mental health facility, Mr. Mills said.

Rep. Wamp's proposed bill would exempt the mental hospital from being transferred to the Park Service. However, Rep. Wamp said he was still concerned the issues might get entangled.

The delay comes "because the perceptions might be that these two issues have something to do with each other," Rep. Wamp said. "Clearly, we must stand united in Chattanooga against taking our mental health services outside of our community."

For nearly a decade Tennessee officials have had a plan to consolidate all in-patient mental health hospital services in East Tennessee, where such facilities currently exist in Chattanooga and Knoxville. All indications from the state are that Moccasin Bend would be shut down. Local officials have resisted it.

The issue flared up again this week in light of Gov. Don Sundquist's latest budget proposal which calls for closing the Winston Building, the Moccasin Bend unit for the severely and persistently mentally ill.

Rep. Wamp said he held conversations with Hamilton County Executive Claude Ramsey and Chattanooga Mayor Jon Kinsey last summer that if the Park Service proposal "in any way contributed to or precipitated any discussion about closing the mental health institute, I had to back away."

Mr. Ramsey said he will raise the issue of Moccasin Bend when he travels to Nashville on Friday. He said will ask the county's legislative delegation for help.

"We have a full hospital over there, and the medical community and this community tell me those services are still needed," Mr. Ramsey said Wednesday. "They've been reducing costs by reducing the numbers of staff members. But that facility is full. We can't turn those people out on the street."

Rep. Wamp's proposal would put 800 acres of Moccasin Bend under the Park Service. It would take a large part of the 334 acres the state owns, but leave the mental health institute's buildings and immediate surroundings under state control for perpetuity.

Moccasin Bend Golf Course also would be excluded from the 800 acres.

Rep. Wamp got all eight of his Tennessee House colleagues and Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., to sign on as co-sponsors of the measure.

"If there is an agenda to take the mental health services out of Hamilton County for our population, it must be opposed and in my opinion it must be stopped," he said.

Rep. Wamp said if the state offered to build a new mental health facility in the Chattanooga area, he would not object to incorporating the actual Moccasin Bend hospital's buildings into the plan. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
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