The Jefferson County Commission Budget Committee met last night as planned to discuss and ultimately approve $422,000 to study plans for a proposed industrial megasite at the junction of Interstates 40 and 81 in Eastern Jefferson County in a close 5-4 vote. The appropriation will now move on to a vote of the full Commission. Commissioner Dennis Cureton was absent when the final vote was taken.
Even among those who support the megasite project in its present form, the promise is circulating that they are opposed to the use of eminent domain to effectively confiscate land for the megasite, and Commissioner Bob Beeler of Jefferson City, one of the megasite’s staunchest supporters on the Jefferson County Commission, has said that he wouldn’t support eminent domain abuse in order for the proposed industrial site to be built. Whether that holds true in the end, however, may show in the results of a vote on a motion by Commissioner Anna Niceley Barreiro, who sat in for Strawberry Plains seatmate Robert Blevins, to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used on any project where land was taken by eminent domain, or where the property owners had not announced the land was for sale. Beeler, who has said he is opposed to the use of eminent domain in this case, voted against the Barreiro motion, which failed 5-4, which was the same margin that the approval of funds passed by. Commissioner Rita Musick of White Pine said that she could not support the proposal because she strongly believed that her predecessor and late husband Tommy Musick would have been opposed to the plan, and so was she.
“Everyone says ‘I’m against the use of eminent domain for the megasite,’ but they aren’t saying how they intend to build this site when they know that dozens of property owners on the very ground where the site is supposed to be located are publicly refusing to sell,” Commissioner Robert Blevins of Strawberry Plains told The Examiner. “If the owners won’t sell, that should mean the proposal is dead, but no one is acting like this is dead. We’ve told the people of Jefferson County that we can’t afford a new high school or new elementary schools because of budget constraints and the need to balance the books, but we can afford this proposal, with no guarantee of long-term success?” Blevins said bluntly that there is no way the project could happen without the use-or abuse-of eminent domain “anyone who thinks that this megasite can be built without eminent domain being used is deluding themselves and everyone else.”
State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) have both said that no State support will be forthcoming to a project which might use eminent domain in this way, with Faison going so far as to say he would “do everything in my power to stop it.”