Chattanooga's Rock City wins tourism award and other business news

Visitors to Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights atop Lookout Mountain enjoy the colorful display of Christmas lights at Candyland.

Rock City attraction wins tourism award

Rock City's Enchanted Garden of Lights has won a Shining Example Award in the event of the year category from the Southeast Tourism Society.

STS recognizes tourism destinations across 13 southern states and chose the Enchanted Garden of Lights from the Top 20 seasonal event nominees.

Rock City President and CEO Susan Harris accepted the award on behalf of the people who work to put on Enchanted Garden of Lights.

"They are creative, talented and committed to our mission and most importantly to each other. Our people are why our organization continues to be successful, and we are delighted to welcome guests this holiday season," she said.

Rock City Gardens is to open its 27th season of Enchanted Garden of Lights on Nov. 19 with over a million sparkling LED lights and 30 scenes. The event opens nightly at 5 p.m. and continues through Jan. 2. (closed Christmas Eve). Tickets are only available online at

Mortgage rates fall after weeks of gains

The average long-term mortgage rate in the U.S. ticked back down this week following several weeks of increases.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate for a 30-year mortgage fell to 3.09% from 3.14% last week. Last year at this time the long-term rate stood at 2.78%.

The rate for a 15-year loan, a popular option for homeowners refinancing their mortgages, fell to 2.35% from 2.37% last week.

Rates remain historically low, though limited inventory and rising prices are leaving many potential homebuyers on the sidelines.

Last week, the government reported that the median price of a new home rose to a record $408,800 in September, up 9.5% from a year ago. The median price for an existing home jumped to $352,800, a 13.3% increase from September last year, according to the National Association of Realtors.

"While mortgage rates fell after several weeks on the rise, we expect future upticks due to stronger economic data and as the Federal Reserve pulls back on its stimulus," said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac's chief economist.

OPEC sticks with modest increases

Officials from OPEC, Russia and other oil-producing nations shook off pressure from the Biden administration and decided Thursday to stick with their previous plan to raise oil production by a modest 400,000 barrels a day next month.

President Joe Biden and other world leaders have called on countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to increase production because oil prices, which collapsed during last year's pandemic lockdowns, have now reached their highest levels in seven years. Gasoline prices, too, have jumped in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

The jump in prices, Biden said Tuesday, "is a consequence of, thus far, the refusal of Russia or the OPEC nations to pump more oil."

But on Thursday, there was no change of heart at the monthly meeting of the OPEC+ alliance, the group of 23 oil-producing nations led by Saudi Arabia and Russia. The group said it was committed to ensuring "a stable and balanced oil market," and officials stressed that they have been responsible stewards of the oil market, carefully matching output to rising demand.

California utility pays $125 million settlement

Pacific Gas & Electric has reached a $125 million settlement agreement with California regulators over the destructive Kincade fire, which was ignited in 2019 by the utility's equipment in a remote area of Sonoma County.

PG&E shareholders would pay a $40 million fine to the state general fund and spend another $85 million in the removal of abandoned transmission equipment throughout the utility's territory as part of the agreement expected to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission at its Dec. 2 meeting, the Press Democrat reported Wednesday.

The agreement was reached after the commission's Safety and Enforcement Division found fault with the maintenance and condition of a high-voltage PG&E transmission tower that remained energized for years even though it had served a Calpine power plant that no longer was active.

Though the tower was disconnected from the facility in 2006, the 230,000-volt transmission equipment not only remained energized but was also left with jumper cables suspended and unsecured. One of them broke and arced against the tower during extreme winds on the night of Oct. 23, 2019, igniting vegetation on the ground, the report said.

The Kincade fire would go on to torch nearly 122 square miles (316 square kilometers), destroying 174 homes and about 200 other structures, and injuring four people. An estimated 190,000 residents, almost two-fifths of Sonoma County's population, were ordered to evacuate.

"PG&E left abandoned equipment energized for thirteen years even though that equipment provided no benefit or convenience to the public," the enforcement division report said.

- Compiled by Dave Flessner