By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee on Monday gave the green light to economic development officials to start buying up property rights to build a 35-mile wastewater line to the Mississippi River from the Memphis Regional Megasite, an industrial park still in search of major tenants.
The move follows an earlier decision amid a public outcry to abandon plans to dump treated wastewater form the site into the nearby Hatchie River, which runs 23 miles through the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge in Haywood County.
“At one time we were thinking of putting it in the Hatchie River, but we determined it was far better to take it to the Mississippi,” Randy Boyd, the commissioner of economic and community development, said after the meeting.
The executive subcommittee of the State Building Commission voted 3-0 to approve the plans for buying the easements for the $41 million wastewater main project. The Department of Economic and Community Development said it would begin negotiating with about 210 property owners between the site and the Mississippi River.
A wastewater treatment plant will later be built on the 6.5-square-mile megasite located about 40 miles east of downtown Memphis. The site has yet to land companies, and the state in recent years has refocused efforts on trying to land multiple tenants instead of a single huge one.
Economic development officials have noted that the megasite’s 4,100 acres would be enough to include the combined footprints of several of the state’s largest plants, including the 715-acre Nissan complex in Smyrna, the 352-acre Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga and the 469-acre Hankook Tire plant in Clarksville.
“If you’re going to have an industrial park, you’re going to have to have wastewater treatment,” said. Boyd. “And if you’re going to have wastewater treatment you’ve got to take it somewhere.”
Treasurer David Lillard said the wastewater planning is key to landing potential tenants at the site.
“You’ve got to prepare the site to attract the industries you want,” he said. “The main thing is you’ve got to treat sewage.”
Lillard said it was important to approve the wastewater main because it will likely take considerable time for the state to negotiate the property rights between the megasite and the Mississippi.
“It will probably take them longer to acquire the easements than it will to build the treatment plant,” he said.
Nicholas Thornton Crafton, whose family farm is in nearby Stanton, said the state should conduct an environmental impact study on the entire megasite before proceeding with wastewater plans. He also questioned why the state has taken it upon itself to provide the sewage.
“Normally it’s a city or a local publicly-owned treatment works that does that kind of thing, so I’m a little surprised the department’s going to take that up,” he said.
Boyd wouldn’t say whether the site is any closer to landing key tenants at the megasite.
“I can’t comment on active projects, but I can say there’s lots of active projects,” he said. “I’m very optimistic.”