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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 5/9/17. Bridgett Massengill, president of Thrive 2055 Regional Partnership, speaks to a large crowd at the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 before unveiling a map detailing information about the region's vision for natural resource preservation.
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Tools created to protect region's 'natural treasures'

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With the Chattanooga area projected to grow by 400,000 people by 2055, a joint effort is needed to protect its "natural treasures" and avoid the sprawl of cities like Atlanta, officials said Tuesday.

"Great things don't sustain themselves by chance," said Bridgett Massengill, who directs the Thrive Regional Partnership.

The Partnership, an outgrowth of the Thrive 2055 regional planning initiative, joined with other entities Tuesday to release so-called "tools" aimed at protecting the region's watershed and other resources while the area grows.

Anna George, the Tennessee Aquarium's vice president of conservation, science and education, said planning is essential.

"You can't plan by yourself," she said. "We work together. Atlanta doesn't plan so much."

Thrive Regional Partnership and the Southeast Tennessee Development District partnered with the Aquarium's Conservation Institute to unveil the tools, which include maps of the 16-county area's natural treasures and potential future features which may need protection.

Graduate students in the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville developed a 200-page resource guide that suggests ways developers can preserve water quality and natural features while stimulating responsible growth.

For example, one strategy calls for invigorating underutilized land by reclaiming brownfields, exchanging development rights and using stormwater district managment.

Both projects were funded by the Lyndhurst Foundation. Benic Clark of Lyndhurst termed the release of the tools "a milestone event," adding the region needs "a coordinated effort" to protect its natural treasures.

Beth Jones, who heads the Development District, said the resource guide offers "best practices."

"It's one of the keys to implementing water protection," she said.

Connie Vaughan, Thrive's chairman and a longtime McKee Foods Corp. employee, said companies such as the Collegedale-based snack-food maker want the Chattanooga area to be "healthy and attractive."

"We want employees to live here, stay here," she said.

Daniel Carter, who headed the Thrive 2055 natural treasures panel, said efforts to protect the resources aren't about conservation versus development.

"In Chattanooga, you've got a supportive business community," he said, adding that the area is "a model of how we go about this tricky thing of regionalism."

Chuck Hammonds, the Development District's assistant executive director, said the UT students spent more than a year talking with business people and others to come up with the resource dubbed Hydro LIT.

"The students wanted to understand water quality and business," he said, adding it's a tool for government, developers and economic development officials.

Thrive 2055 began about three years ago to craft a 40-year growth plan for the 16-county region around Chattanooga, boring in on economic development, education, transportation and the area's natural treasures.

"Together, today and beyond, we thrive," Massengill said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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