Railroad spur key to Lockheed expansion
By Kristen Bishop
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COURTLAND — State Rep. Jody Letson said Monday that a railroad spur connecting a main line to Lockheed Martin Corp. in Courtland would help the company with current operations and allow for future expansions.
Lockheed began construction of a $27.62 million expansion in December, and Letson, D-Hillsboro, said the company has discussed another possible expansion in 2009.
The construction of six new ordnance-processing buildings are in support of the U.S. Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency's Targets and Countermeasures program.
The project for assembling and testing missile systems could be completed by October.
Letson said Lockheed's expansion proposal was "on the condition that we get their tax abatements and the rail spur."
Local officials did not enter into a formal contract requiring them to meet either demand, but they verbally agreed to the conditions, said Letson.
The Industrial Development Board approved the tax abatements in November, and Letson is now trying to get funding for the rail spur.
"We need to do it because this could bring jobs, possibly 125 in a few years (as part of the current expansion), and they're talking about expanding even more," he said. "The rail spur would allow for that and possibly create even more."
The rail spur would extend about 6,725 feet from the Norfolk Southern Railroad to Lockheed's Missile Transfer Facility.
The federal government has agreed to cover the cost of constructing the 3,475 feet of track that would fall on Lockheed's property.
The total cost for that portion is an estimated $643,125.
The county is expected to pay for the remaining 3,250 feet, which would be on public property, at a total estimated cost of $968,850, said Letson.
So far, local officials haven't been able to come up with that kind of money, but Letson said he's hopeful the county will receive federal grants to cover its portion.
"(Industrial Development Board Director) Evon Zills has already applied for some, and we're waiting to find out," he said. "Once that amount is determined, we'll know what to go after through the state."
Letson said if all else fails, he may be able to obtain funding through a new Economic Development Commission.
The commission would be established if the state approves Letson's proposed bill to reroute a 2006 increase in Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax money from the county to an economic development fund.
Letson has said the commission, made up of members appointed by the legislative delegation, would distribute the funds to attract businesses to the county and boost the area's economy.
The 3 percent increase in TVA payments amounted to about $85,000 for Lawrence County in 2006. That amount will likely rise annually.
County commissioners and area mayors have called the proposal "backdoor robbery" and "another pork barrel" because it takes money from the county, municipalities and the school board and puts it into a fund controlled by a non-elected commission.
Commissioner Bradley Cross said the legislative delegation would "run around here giving (the money) to different organizations to buy votes."
Letson has repeatedly defended the bill, saying a special fund for economic development is necessary if the county wants to bring attract industry.
He said helping pay for a railroad spur to Lockheed is one example of how the money could be used to further growth in Lawrence County.
Letson's statement coincides with a resolution he signed this month urging the state and the nation to support rail services.
Letson said companies can lower fuel costs and keep large trucks off busy highways by transporting more cargo via railroads.
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