Hamilton County ethanol facility planner puzzled, waiting

Hamilton County ethanol facility planner puzzled, waiting

September 6th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Mike Price, with M.A.P. Engineers

Mike Price, with M.A.P. Engineers

Kevin Condra planned to open a business and establish a corporate headquarters in the town he calls home.

He set his sights on the last piece of property to be developed in a Hamilton County industrial and office park. Condra and other silent investors chartered Englewood Enterprises last year and announced plans to build an ethanol facility in March.

Back then, he said, he thought the project, which could create at least 10 jobs in the Bonny Oaks Industrial and Office Park, would be warmly received.

Now it's September and he has spent the long Labor Day weekend wondering whether the Hamilton County Commission will support his project Wednesday or kill it.

"We can't really find a negative in it," Condra said of the project, which he said would increase competition between railroads transporting ethanol to Chattanooga. "We are trying to go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure everyone is happy."

County Commissioner Tim Boyd pointedly criticized the project Thursday, saying he was misinformed about it by Englewood Enterprises and that the details of it have changed so much it's now a "moving target."

Condra said it isn't uncommon for a business to change its plan to follow governmental processes and meet officials' and residents' concerns. But he said the basic premise all along was to pump ethanol through a pipeline from rail cars to fuel distribution centers on Jersey Pike.

"We've had to evolve our plan," Condra said. "The plan has changed from a simple hand sketch."

The Chattanooga City Council has deferred more than once a necessary rezoning of the site -- which is within city limits, but in a county industrial park -- from light manufacturing to either heavy manufacturing or a special-use permit.

City Council members Carol Berz and Pam Ladd have said that the city will not act on zoning until the County Commission approves the project.

On June 14, site manager Mike Price asked the City Council for a deferral so Englewood Enterprises could hold neighborhood forums to answer residents' concerns. In the meeting, council minutes show that Price addressed plans for Norfolk Southern railroad to build a competing facility near the site.

District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd asks questions at a Hamilton County Commission meeting recently.

District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd asks questions...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

According to the meeting minutes, Price told council members he wasn't certain the rail company could build the facility but that "if they can he understands the 'game is off' and they probably cannot do this facility and will withdraw it."

Norfolk Southern confirmed last week that it is building a facility about a quarter of a mile from the proposed Englewood Enterprises site.

Condra said he didn't know about Norfolk Southern's proposed facility when he began working on his business model last year and that it wouldn't stop his project now -- if he can convince the county to approve it.

Condra has a letter from CSX Rail saying the company would look favorably on building a rail spur to his facility if he can get it approved.

Berz said she doesn't see a compelling reason to change the zoning or issue a special-use permit.

The city couldn't stop Norfolk Southern from building a similar facility because federal law wouldn't allow it, Berz said, citing a city attorney opinion.

Ladd said she tends to support the project.

"I would think this is a positive that could bring additional jobs here to Chattanooga and reduce the large truck traffic hauling ethanol in and out of the facility out of there," Ladd said. "What you're going to have is just a little competition between companies."

Contact staff writer Ansley Haman at ahaman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6481.

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