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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007

Hartselle industrial park good for region?
Mayor says property will bring jobs to area

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Who’s right?

The Nashville company that recommended Hartselle use land north of Thompson Road and Interstate 65 for medium residential development? Or the Morgan County Economic Development Association, which proposes using part of the property as Phase I of a new industrial park?

Regardless of what ends up on the property, Hartselle will benefit.

As to who is right, Hartselle Mayor Dwight Tankersley points to the EDA board because industrial development benefits the entire region.

“This is not just a park for Hartselle,” he said. “It’s going to bring jobs to the region, and that’s good for all of Morgan County.”

Still, Hartselle would be the most significant beneficiary. As was the case with Mallard Fox Creek Industrial Park in Decatur, spinoff businesses, including restaurants, would probably follow the industrial park.

An EDA-commissioned study found that at the end of 2006, there were 1,630 direct employees and 2,240 indirect employees of Mallard Fox Creek tenants.

First-class park

EDA President Jeremy Nails said the proposed park would be “first class” but different from Mallard Fox Creek, primarily because it wouldn’t have rail and barge services.

He expects tenants to be light industrial and hopefully automotive suppliers and manufacturers of products developed at Huntsville’s Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, scheduled to open this year.

About eight months ago, a company Hartselle Utilities General Manager Ferrell Vest called a parts manufacturer, expressed interest in the site north of Thompson Road.

The company talked about 300 jobs and a $20 million investment.

“It was high-dollar jobs and would have been a good prospect for the area,” Vest said.

But, he said, a flag went up when the company talked about discharging as much as 250,000 gallons of water per day into HU’s sewer system.

“Our waste-water treatment plant could handle one industry like this, but four or five would be a problem,” Vest said.

The 75-acre tract EDA is looking at as Phase I has no sewer infrastructure. HU would serve the park.

Vest said HU’s nearest sewer line is about one-half mile away on U.S. 31. He estimates it would cost about $1 million to get sewer to the property.

“We have already done the engineering,” Vest said. “We have not done easements, but right now we’re talking with property owners. If somebody wants to come there, we’ll be in a position to get sewer there.”

As for getting sewer east of I-65, Vest said, HU has an encasement under the interstate for the line but no immediate plans or money to install it.

Including sewer, a number of things must happen before the EDA board talks about acquiring property for an industrial park.

Sponsoring legislation

First, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, have to get legislation passed to expand the authority of the Decatur-Morgan County Port Authority.

Orr and Grantland have introduced legislation to expand the authority’s power beyond the three-mile limit from the Tennessee River allowed under current law.

The bill also allows the port authority to develop auditoriums, motels, restaurants, coffee shops, stores, warehouses, factories, manufacturing plants, office space and other commercial buildings, including industrial parks.

After that, the municipalities of Morgan County must agree to continue to use part of its Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax money to fund the industrial park.

Need for another park

During a series of meetings in 2005, the mayors agreed that another industrial park was needed and most indicated it should probably be near I-65. But they never discussed funding.

Assuming municipalities agree to use TVA money, land acquisition may be more complex than with Mallard Fox Creek.

According to a map in the revenue commissioner’s office, there are almost 300 property owners in the proposed 1,800-acre site.

Tankersley said Hartselle has made some contact with property owners in the area and they appear to be on board with the project.

“We know there is going to be a lot of complexity to getting this many people together,” he said. “But this is something we can work to overcome if the entire county is working together.”

Topography is also an issue. The property between Hartselle and Falkville is some of the rockiest in Morgan County, making installing infrastructure more expensive.

“That’s why EDA has an environmental land assessment study under way,” Tankersley said.

“We expect it to be positive. There are going to be challenges no matter where you go.”

The $9.8 million bond Decatur issued for Mallard Fox Creek in 1987 was paid off in November.

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