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Plans for Jefferson County megasite are off

6:37 AM, Apr 5, 2013   |    comments
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Plans for a proposed megasite that supporters said could have brought hundreds of jobs to Jefferson County are off because not enough land owners were willing to sell their property.

The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce estimated a megasite would attract 4,900 jobs and a $2.7 billion economic investment in the region.

But according to the Jefferson County Economic Development Oversight Committee (EDOC), they will no longer be pursuing options on the land for the site. 

The EDOC did not want to use eminent domain to obtain the property needed for the proposed megasite. That meant that every owner within the 1,800 acre footprint had to be willing to sell.

In the end, Jefferson County Director of Economic Development, Garrett Wagley says they were only able to negotiate options for about 500 acres.

Charlotte Kenley was one of the farmers who refused to sell.

"Some things can't be bought with money," said Kenley.

She and her husband have owned their home since 1960 and worked for decades to keep their cattle farm going.

Much of the land slated for the development is rural farmland and Kenley says that's no place for an industrial development.

"I think it was too big for this county. I don't think this county could afford it," said Kenley.

Plans for the East Tennessee Regional Megasite were announced in January. Officials hoped to lure a major company to locate on the site, near the I-40 and I-81 interchange.

Wagley says many people have to leave the county to find work. He had hoped the megasite would keep employees closer to home and make it possible for future generations to survive in Jefferson County.

"We said from the beginning that we were going to have to have cooperation from property owners," said Wagley. "I think it was a huge opportunity for Jefferson County. And Jefferson County citizens want jobs."

The Jefferson County Commission had appropriated $442,311 to the IDB for the megasite.  The EDOC has recommended that the IDB return that money to the county.

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