Community speaks out against megasite

8:14 PM, Feb 7, 2013   |    comments
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A mega vote on the megasite in Jefferson County has been set for Monday, and just in time, a group against the development is gaining traction.

Save our Farms and Homes has been growing in numbers. The group met Wednesday night and has scheduled a public discussion for Saturday.

"These people are farmers and they're also Americans. Americans happen to ban together when they feel threatened. And that's what these farmers have done. I've met more of my neighbors through this controversy than I have in quite some time," said Dr. Bruce Bell, a local dentist and member of the group.

The megasite would require Jefferson County to purchase 1,800 acres of land. While politicians, the Chamber of Commerce, business owners, and many community members are in favor of the plan, the group is rallying behind the property owners who would lose their land.

"The group is growing. The concern I have is that this controversy is pitting neighbor against neighbor in the county. Brothers against brothers in the county. It's a divisive issue," said Bell.

From bumper stickers to banners to yard signs, 'No Eminent Domain for Private Gain' and 'Stop the Megasite' slogans are popping up along the valley roads.

"One thing that the people of Chattanooga did was, they took a munitions plant and they successfully got a Volkswagen plant in there. Well that was good use of existing land. In this case, we have good farm land," argued Bell. "We would like for them to pause and listen to the people they represent."

Many farmers agreed, and have hired attorneys at The Hurley Law Firm, P.C. to represent those who do not want to move if commissioners approve the megasite funding.

"Politicians can't understand it. They think we're going to break," said Leroy Malone, who owns property on the site. "We plan on dying here. I'm 74, my wife's 73. We are not interested in moving."

Malone and group members said they want to make it clear that they do not oppose a megasite, or the jobs and economic impact it would have. But, they do oppose the proposed megasite, located near the I-40/I-81 intersection.

"Financial suicide? we're heading there," said Malone. "That's all it's about. A quick buck for somebody. But please don't use our good food producing land to make quick bucks."

Bell said the plan is not fiscally responsible. He said the county has already invested millions in school and other improvements that will accrue millions of dollars in interest over time.

"Our county has been strapped for funds for quite some time. We need to look at alternate sites before more money is spent," said Bell.

Bell and Malone suggested land off I-81, near exit 8, that is already equipped with an ample power supply. Malone said Hamblen County purchased the property, and few businesses have opened up shop.

"It's already there ready. Why in the world are we arguing about coming and taking good farm land to waste more taxpayers' money?" asked Malone.

Group members said they are concerned with the number of vacant sites across the country.

"Over this nation, there are at least 177 vacant megasites. Well, when there's vacant megasites, that means many communities have been competing to attract a company," said Bell.

"Do we really want to be number 178? I can tell you the 100 people I know say no," said Malone.

The Jefferson County Commission is set to vote Monday evening on whether it will pursue acquiring the land, as well as funding for the certification process. That is estimated at nearly half a million dollars.

"We have to look up to our community leaders. And so, I'm going to trust in them that they'll do the right thing," said Bell.

Save our Farms and Homes will meet Saturday at the Best Western Hotel at Exit 8 off I-81. Organizers said they expect as many as 200 people in attendance, and local and state politicians were invited. This is will be the last pubic discussion of the megasite in advance of the commission's vote on Monday.

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