Hamilton County leaders consider 16-county initiative

Hamilton County leaders consider 16-county initiative

September 17th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Chamber President Tom Edd Wilson

Chamber President Tom Edd Wilson

The Hamilton County Commission is expected to vote Wednesday whether to enter a partnership agreement needed for a final federal grant application supporting a new tri-state, 16-county growth initiative.

The goal of the project is to create a 40-year plan to manage the region's growth in response to Volkswagen, Amazon, Alstom, Wacker and others, said Dan Saieed, the county's director of development. In addition to $3 million in local public and private funding, the Southeast Tennessee Development District has applied for about $2.5 million in a federal challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said.

"These funds are in the federal budget, so we're applying for money that's already there," Saieed said. "We submitted a pre-application, and ... we were asked to do a final application."

That process requires a formal partnership agreement. The application is due by the end of this month, he said.

Hamilton County and Chattanooga each have committed $500,000 over three years for the project. Area foundations plan to kick in $1 million, and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce is raising its $1 million match, said Tom Edd Wilson, the Chamber's president and CEO. The project will begin in 2012.

"The money that we're raising here will be used whether we get the [federal] money at all," Wilson said. "Our initiative does not depend on that."

The funds will be used to hire contractors to do a study and engage the public in planning how to best use the region's resources, Wilson said.

"While we're positioned for a lot of growth, I think there was a desire to preserve our identity and quality of life," Saieed said. "What we were moving toward was some implementation strategies for future growth, to develop a plan where we would have adequate roads, water and sewer systems."

The study will look at those issues and transportation, housing, schools and natural resources, Saieed said.

The Chamber's J.Ed Marston

The Chamber's J.Ed Marston

"It's a truly comprehensive plan that includes land use and all of those things, as well as fiscal planning," said J. Ed Marston, the Chamber's vice president for marketing and communications.

The initiative will include nine Tennessee counties: Bledsoe, Bradley, Hamilton, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie. Also involved are Alabama's Jackson and DeKalb counties, and Georgia's Catoosa, Dade, Murray, Walker and Whitfield counties.

The study will include three metropolitan statistical areas, four metropolitan planning organizations and three watersheds, Wilson said.

"That's a fairly complex group to work with right there," Wilson said. "Regional planning is something that's never been done here on that scale."

The County Commission will meet Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. to consider whether to authorize Mayor Jim Coppinger to enter into the agreement.

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