Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2001

Tennessee plant transfer offers lessons for Sunflower

October 25, 2001

(Editor's note: This is the first of two stories examining the transfer of surplus Army ammunition plants. Next week's story will look at the Badger Army Ammunition Plant in southwest Wisconsin.)

As he casts about for models Johnson County could use to redevelop the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, Blaine Hastings recommends one used in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The plan used at the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant has an obvious appeal to the General Services Administration official, who is heading the federal government's efforts to transfer the closed Sunflower plant from federal ownership.

"They paid for the land up front," he said.

Making use of early transfer legislation Congress passed for the disposal of closed ammunition plants, the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tenn., purchased 940 acres of the closed 6,200-acre Volunteer plant in Oct. 2000. The property, which fronts an interstate highway, railroads and the barge-accessible Tennessee River, is being developed as an industrial park, said Steven Leach, director of administration for the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency.

In return for the purchase, the Army has made cleaning up the 940 acres a priority.

"That's going to be critical," Leach said. "They're fighting a war right now. They're going to have other thing to think about."

The federal government has also agreed to turn over 3,000 acres for future parkland.

As that land is sold, the city and county plan to acquire an additional 2,260 acres of industrial property, Leach said. Volunteer shares the same historical timeline as Sunflower. It was opened in 1941 to manufacturer TNT for the war effort. After the war, booms during the Korean and Vietnam wars interrupted periods of inactivity.Whereas Sunflower is surrounded on three sides by rural land uses, development in Hamilton County, Tenn., has left Volunteer "the hole in the donut," Leach said.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that Hamilton County residents reached a consensus on the future land uses at the plant, Leach said. It will eventually provide the county will 3,000 acres of industrial property and a 3,000 urban wildlife area.

"There was very little industrial ground available in the county," Leach said. "There was a to get the land woven back into the community and back into productive use.

"The other thing that came through loud and clear at every public forum was a call for an urban wildlife area."

The Army is committed to Volunteer's environmental remediation, Leach said. It will, however, be cleaned only to industrial standards.

Johnson County officials are concerned Sunflower's cleanup to industrial standards would hinder future development at the plant because deed transfers would come with covenants banning future land uses. Those restriction would rule out the Community in a Park future land use plan that the county has approved for Sunflower that calls for commercial, retail and residential areas, surrounded by a 3,000-acre park.

There will be land use restrictions on the parkland transfer at Volunteer, Leach said.

"We won't be able to dig any wells," he said. "You would always prefer not to have any restrictions, but we weren't looking at ball fields or those kinds of uses. There is a lot of interest in walking trails, horse trails and bike paths. We have to be very creative in having an urban wilderness area."

Chattanooga and county opted against any residential uses, which would require a higher standard of clean up, Leach said.

Volunteer has an interstate highway at its doorstep. Leach said Chattanooga and the county were successful in getting the state of Tennessee to build an intersection into the plant to serve new industrial clients, he said.

But, like Sunflower, all infrastructure on Volunteer was in terrible condition. Leach said the railroad critical to a successful industrial park had to be rebuilt and much of it abandoned.

One critical piece of infrastructure that served Volunteer during its heyday will be salvaged. Leach said Its history is much like the Sunflower water treatment plant that the city of De Soto has been operating for the past three years and hopes to acquire from the federal government. It had enormous capacity served by wells and surface water along the Tennessee River. It was built in 1941 and renovated around 1970.

"Our utility people said, 'We want that.' They were very excited about it," Leach said.

The city and county plan to use revenue from the lease or sale property in the industrial park to purchase additional property, Leach said.

It's not all rosy. The Army and the Environmental Protection Agency are squabbling over the Army's remediation plan, and the chemical company has requested use of one of Volunteer's old chemical plants, to the chagrin of neighbors.

The Volunteer transfer is 41 months into the process, Leach said. He advice to local officials is to develop a reasonable plan for Sunflower's development it can present to the GSA.

"Make a commitment and work as closely with GSA," he said. "I can't say enough about the GSA. They've been above board and honest with us. It is in the best interest of everybody to put this back into productive use."

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