published Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Bradley County commits to Spring Branch Industrial Park project

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County has committed to partly fund the purchase of 330 acres of property for an industrial park development located near Interstate 75's exit 20.

County commissioners voted 11-2 Monday to fund $2 million of the $6 million start-up cost for the Spring Branch Industrial Park project, matching funding commitments by Cleveland and Cleveland Utilities. Commissioner Adam Lowe was absent from the proceedings.

"I have some concerns with government being in industrial development business," said Commissioner Connie Wilson, who opposed the agreement along with Commissioner Mel Griffith.

Wilson also said she was worried that commissioners would be obligating a future county commission to funding development costs within the next four years.

Another $6 million likely will be needed to install park infrastructure necessities, including water lines, sewer service and an access road, according to project documents.

Commissioner Ed Elkins, who recently voiced his own concerns with the project, gave vocal support for the agreement, citing his review of the 880-page project study and conversations with Doug Berry, Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce's economic development vice president.

"After reading the report and having a lengthy conversation with Mr. Berry, all of my concerns have been answered," he said.

Elkins also addressed audience concerns about the park's ability to draw industrial and commercial tenants. He countered that Bradley and Hamilton counties have done exceptionally well with bringing in new businesses compared to national trends.

"Are we going to invest in future industry here and have growth so we don't have to increase taxes, or are we going to tell industry we're not interested in you coming here?" Commissioner Jeff Morelock asked. "This is an investment in the future."

The county's agreement came with a number of stipulations intended to protect the McDonald community, which is near the proposed industrial park.

Buffers are to be placed around building sites within the park, and the site will access an existing sewer line near APD-40. Spring Branch Road is to be closed, and the local road network is to have a three-axle limit on vehicles and a truck turnaround. Environmental oversight is to be maintained through Jonathan Jobe, the city's director of development and engineering.

In other business, the commission has proposed a plan to pay $1.422 million in disputed sales tax revenues to Cleveland.

In a 13-0 vote, commissioners recommended a 30-month payment plan be initiated by Bradley County Schools no later than July 2013, at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The measure is intended to end recent litigation between the city and county about the allocation of sales tax revenues generated through separate increases enacted independently by Cleveland and Bradley County in 2009.

The Bradley County Board of Education will hold a special meeting on the issue at 5:30 p.m. today at the county schools' administrative office.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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