Tonight, a meeting is scheduled at the Walters State Community College Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in Eastern Jefferson County, Tennessee for public comment on a proposed industrial megasite in Jefferson County near the junction of Interstate 40 and Interstate 81. According to both Sunday’s Knoxville News Sentinel and a number of citizens in the area, The Examiner has been able to glean that many citizens have received notices that have asked them to sell their homes. Many have no desire to sell their property.
What seems most interesting about this entire affair is that the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce threw a big party last Thursday afternoon at Angelos at The Point to celebrate a megasite that isn’t built or certified on land that has not been legally or rightfully purchased, and to toast jobs that have not been produced by companies that have not agreed to come to the un-built industrial megasite that isn’t certified on the land that belongs to dozens of private citizens, many of which are local farmers.
The Jefferson Chamber and their apparent allies in the Mayor’s office appear to be engaging in a public relations operation that they can only hope is as slick as they are trying to frame it. A series of public meetings are being held, the most important of which will apparently be at the Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center at 5:00pm tonight. The great problem with the plans for the megasite is that the area is occupied by dozens of private property owners, some sources say over a hundred. Further, the Chamber and their allies are saying that they “hope” eminent domain will not be used to seize private property, but they also aren’t ruling the notion out. If eminent domain were to be used to seize private property for the benefit of private corporations (as opposed to the building of a public road or a public school), it would be an open and intolerable abuse of the constitutional doctrine of eminent domain.
The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce and the county government are both saying that they are committed to an open and transparent process in the debate over the megasite, but some officials have said that they weren’t told about the plans for the megasite until shortly before the public unveiling. “Other commissioners were told about these plans months before I was,” Commissioner Robert Blevins of Strawberry Plains told The Examiner, “Commissioner Anna Niceley Barreiro also wasn’t told in a timely fashion. They didn’t tell people they knew would ask questions and talk to farmers first.” State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), in whose district much proposed megasite would likely be built, said eminent domain would not be used to seize private property for a megasite in his district so long as he had anything to say about it. “I will not tolerate abuse of eminent domain, and this would be a seizure of private property for the sake of private profit. Jobs we want, but to get them by taking someone’s legitimate property and livelihood isn’t right. Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) and I are on the same page here. If this is going to be done, the property owners had better part with their land willingly and without force or coercion.”