Wetlands, archeological study delay marketing of 100 acres at Phipps Bend

Jeff Bobo • Nov 25, 2019 at 2:20 PM

ROGERSVILLE — It may take a little longer than originally anticipated to get Northeast Tennessee’s biggest factory-ready piece of vacant property on the market due to potential issues with wetlands and sorting through a 40-year-old archeological study.

For the past year, the Hawkins County Industrial Development Board has been working toward getting a 100-acre area at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park ready to start marketing for new industrial development.

The latest hurdle was the completion of a due diligence study on that tract by the engineering firm of Mattern and Craig.

The purpose of the study is to identify potential hindrances to development such as archaeological discoveries, endangered species, or environmental issues. That study must be completed before the IDB can apply for grants to complete needed site preparation work.

IDB Chairman Larry Elkins told the board Thursday that one issue identified by Mattern and Craig was that some areas of that 100 acres may be potential Native American archaeological sites that would be protected.

An archeological study was completed on the entire Phipps Bend area in the 1970s in preparation for the nuclear power plant project which was started there and then canceled.

Elkins noted that the TVA has made its 1970s archeological study available for review, but it will take about 45 days to sort through that paperwork.

“There’s a mountain of information,” Elkins told the IDB. “If you can image, when TVA was going to build a nuclear plant there at Phipps Bend, they did extensive research, archeological and otherwise. All that data is out there. It’s just a matter of putting it together, analyzing it, and going through it.”

Last week the Phipps Bend Joint Venture Committee authorized $3,500 to pay for a group to sift through the TVA data, determine what pertains to this 100 acres, and compile that into a specific archeological study for that section.

A second issue identified in the study is potential wetlands that were discovered in a trench that is slated to be filled in.

When the nuclear plant was being constructed, a trench was dug to allow water from the reactor to be drained into a storage pond in case of emergency.

In order to make the 100 acres completely usable for industrial construction, that tench needs to be eliminated, but after sitting there for 40 years it has become swampy in some areas.

“If you have designated wetlands, that’s a real issue,” Elkins said. “From our understanding, the Corps of Engineers have determined there are some wetlands.”

Elkins noted that some of the wetlands are in the perimeter areas of the 100 acres, and they may be able to deal with them by redrawing the property boundaries.

However, some of them are in the trench.

“Some of that area, because of the natural drainage, we’ve got some cattails,” Elkins said. “Those areas will probably have to be mitigated, which means you designate another area (for wetlands), and you offset that wetlands (to be eliminated) with wetlands you’ve produced.”

The due diligence report also addresses what work is needed at the site to make it ready to market.

For example, there’s a sewer line that runs underground through the middle of the property that needs to be relocated to the road. The study estimates the cost of relocating that sewer line at $748,000.

The study also identified four different avenues to run rail into that property from Norfolk Southern, if the future developer needs rail service.

The study also provided an estimated cost of almost $1 million to remove the old cooling tower structure, which is adjacent to the 100-acre lot and would increase the available land by 40 acres.

Elkins told the Times News that the plan at this time is to begin marketing the property as soon as possible, and then seek grant funding for site preparation work after a potential buyer is identified.