A view of the megasite looking north from I-40.
State officials said they’ve picked a new site to pump wastewater from the Memphis Regional Megasite into the Mississippi River and a lawmaker asked them how long it would take to “scare” property owners along the pipeline into giving them their land.
In November, some state lawmakers asked for a delay in the permitting process for a 35-mile wastewater pipeline to carry industrial waste and treated sewer water from the megasite to the river at a site just north of Randolph. The process gave citizens there another 30 days to make their case against the site.
Justin Fox Burks
The original site of the outflow of the megasite's proposed wastewater pipeline.
That site, they said, would pump 3.5 million gallons of waste water into a spot on the river that gets shallow or dries up completely in summer months. Pumping it there, they said, would leave the wastewater to gather in large, dirty pools instead of mixing with the massive volumes of Mississippi River water.
Some 500,000 gallons of the daily wastewater carried by the new pipeline would sanitary wastewater from the city of Stanton, Tenn. This part of the plan led many on Facebook to call the project the "poopline."
Their case seemed to find the right ears. During a hearing on the megasite in Nashville Tuesday, Economic and Community Development Commissioner (TNECD) Bob Rolfe told lawmakers his office gathered more than 400 public comments on the project and worked with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to move the pipeline’s location on the river.
“We came up with a solution to move the outflow pipe a couple of miles south into what we’ll call the real deep channel flow of the Mississippi,” Rolfe said, during a meeting of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. “(The current outflow) may not be the most perfect location in the summertime when the river is way down and those sandbars do expose themselves.”
Rolfe said the state has permission from about 75 percent of the property owners along the pipeline route to build the line on or across their land. However, a “handful” of owners have said “there’s not a price (they could be paid) where they’d grant the easement.”
Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (R-Jackson) ask Rolfe, “How long is the process of eminent domain to scare the other 24 percent-25 percent of the other properties?”
Rolfe said it could be a six-to-nine-month process, “but I can assure you the (Tennessee Attorney General’s) office has a good strategy to pursue those avenues.”
Rolfe, who has helmed the TECD office for just over 10 months, said the wastewater portion of the Memphis-area megasite project has easily been its biggest snag.
So far, Tennessee taxpayers have paid $140 million for improvements on the site overall. Rolfe told lawmakers that it needs another $80 million to get it “shovel-ready.” It’s an Obama-era term from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that means a site has infrastructure built in and would need little investment from a company to build a new facility on a site.
Not being shovel-ready, Rolfe said, has cost the Memphis-area megasite several tenants, including Toyota/Mazda. That joint venture picked a site in Alabama last year over the megasite because it was, indeed, shovel-ready.
But Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said if $220 million were to be spent the project, it would take about 20 years for the site to yield any benefits back to Tennessee taxpayers.
“I’m excited about the potential but looking at the opportunity cost of $140 million, it’s money that could’ve been spent somewhere else if this is never going to work, right?” Green asked. “This people who elected me are asking these questions.”