Committee votes to advance funding request from CCT for environmental study

Published 9:08 am Thursday, January 5, 2017

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Carter County Tomorrow is in the process of securing funding to conduct a Phase II environmental study on the Matheson Property in hopes of attracting a new industry to the location.

Star Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Carter County Tomorrow is in the process of securing funding to conduct a Phase II environmental study on the Matheson Property in hopes of attracting a new industry to the location.

Members of Carter County’s Financial Management Committee voted Wednesday morning to refer a request from Carter County Tomorrow to assist with funding for an environmental study on a local property to the county’s budget committee for consideration.
CCT currently has an option on the Matheson Property located on Highway 19E that was once home to Alcoa but has set vacant for several years. The property was one of nine submitted to the State of Tennessee for the Property Evaluation Program (PEP). Of those nine, the state agreed to work with local city and county officials to review four properties, including the Matheson property. None of the selected sites was granted readiness certification by the state, but according to both city and county officials, the Matheson property showed the most potential.
Following the PEP evaluation, Carter County Tomorrow optioned the property and conducted a Phase I site evaluation. That study has been completed and now CCT is hoping to advance with a Phase II environmental study of the property.
Elizabethton Planning and Economic Director Jon Hartman, who works with the CCT agency, approached members of the Financial Management Committee during the meeting on Wednesday with a request that the county share the cost of conducting the study on the property. Hartman said the study would help get the property to a state where CCT can fully market the property to potential businesses and industries.
By not having a Phase II environmental study completed, Hartman said in his opinion that makes the property less marketable as site selectors may simply pass the property by without considering it because it represents an unknown.
During the meeting Wednesday, Hartman presented the committee with an estimate for the study, which came in around $12,400. Hartman said CCT is asking the City of Elizabethton and Carter County to considering providing $2,500 each in funding for the cost of the study. He said CCT is also asking the property owners, the Matheson Family, to contribute $2,500 to the cost of the study with CCT picking up the remaining tab.
Hartman further told the committee that the City of Elizabethton is considering allocating funding per the request. “Right now we are looking at anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000,” Hartman said.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, who is a member of the Financial Management Committee, spoke out against providing any funding for the environmental study.
“This is a piece of property that is owned by a private individual. At no point in time should we pay to market this piece of property,” Humphrey said. “At no point in all my years in real estate have I ever seen a government pay to market a privately owned property.”
County Commissioner Charles VonCannon also voiced his opposition to the measure, citing his own experience in trying to market industrial property. VonCannon owns the old Bemberg factory property and said at no time had the local government offered to help him with improvements to the property to market it.
“This is a study, an environmental assessment. It does not pay for remediation,” Hartman said. “That would fall to the property owners.”
Hartman said he agreed that local government should not pay to make physical improvements to the property but he did believe they should help out by doing what they can, such as sharing the cost of the environmental study.
“The property owner will receive a benefit, but it is a benefit that will very easily extend over to the City and County once an industry is located there,” Hartman said.
VonCannon questioned who would be responsible for cleaning up the property once two underground storage tanks — which he said he knew for a fact were on the property — were uncovered. Hartman said that issue would fall to the property owner or a potential buyer, should they decide to purchase the property, and not on local government.
Director of Schools Carter County Dr. Kevin Ward voiced his support for funding the study.
“That is one location some of us drive by every day and have seen it sitting vacant for years,” Ward said. “I would love to see something go in there and bring jobs.”
Humphrey contended the project was undertaken by CCT and not the county and said CCT had “plenty of money” to pay for the study on its own.
“Why would Carter County government take on a private piece of property,” Humphrey said. “It’s not right folks, I don’t care how you stack it.”
“They started it, let them finish it,” he added, referring to CCT.
Humphrey made a motion to not refer the matter on to the Carter County Budget Committee for discussion. VonCannon provided the second for Humphrey’s motion.
The motion failed on a vote with Humphrey and VonCannon voting in favor of the motion and committee members Commissioner Danny Ward, Dr. Kevin Ward, Commissioner Bobbie Gouge-Dietz, and Carter County Road Superintendent Roger Colbaugh voting against the motion.
After Humphrey’s motion failed, Dr. Kevin Ward made a motion to refer the funding request from CCT for the study to the county’s Budget Committee. The motion was seconded by Gouge-Dietz and passed by a margin of 4-2 with Humphrey and VonCannon providing the dissenting votes.
The Carter County Budget Committee is slated to next meet on Monday, Jan. 9, at 6 p.m. at the Carter County Courthouse.

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