An environmental downside to West Tennessee megasite development

The state’s $150 million effort to attract an auto plant to West Tennessee is drawing questions from environmentalists, who fear the effort could harm one of the Southeast’s least spoiled rivers, reports Chas Sisk.

Tennessee and local officials support a plan to dump as much as a billion gallons of wastewater a year — laced perhaps with heavy metals such as lead and zinc — into the Hatchie River, right on the edge of a national wildlife refuge.

Despite broad assurances from elected officials and others that the risk to the river has been minimized, the proposal has drawn scrutiny from federal and state wildlife officials, as well as The Nature Conservancy, the national nonprofit that specializes in protecting endangered habitats.

They note that the scenic, slow-moving river is the only feeder of the Lower Mississippi to run along the same banks Chickasaw Indians saw when they gave the Hatchie its name. The river’s muddy waters still teem with species of catfish, crayfish and freshwater mussels — at least one of them endangered.

The waste would come from the Memphis Regional Megasite, a 3,840-acre industrial park under construction next to Interstate 40 between Jackson and Memphis. Local and state officials believe this site could eventually attract an American or international automaker looking to expand in the South, much as Volkswagen chose to build on a similar site outside Chattanooga six years ago.