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Fred Skillern

The corn is on the boil for the "moonshine" pipeline after a divided Hamilton County Commission struck a match Wednesday.

The project would pump ethanol, billed as not much more than "moonshine" by its proponents, from rail cars in the Bonny Oaks industrial park to nearby fuel distribution centers. There it would be mixed with gasoline and sent to gas pumps.

Commissioners voted 5-4 to approve the first major step by selling the property to the project's developer, Englewood Enterprises, LLC for $399,500.

The commission's approval for the sale was required because of restrictions and property covenants placed on the property in the 1980s. The rules also require that the property meet Chattanooga's zoning code, which would require either a special-use permit or a zoning bump from light to heavy industrial.

Commissioner Fred Skillern made clear his support for the project before the vote Wednesday.

"My understanding is that light industry has always been warehouses, storage areas, not heavy manufacturing," Skillern said. "A warehouse is storage; this is storage."

Commissioner Greg Beck opposed the sale.

"Based on my experience up here, I've seen these kinds of projects and changes and dancing around different things to make things go the way people want them to go," he said. "Has the community said 'yes' to all these changes?"

Sue Powell, a resident of nearby Lake Hills, addressed the commission.

"You can call it what you want, but you're spot-zoning that area," Powell said. "It is not a warehouse. It is nothing more than offloading and running 3,000 feet of pipe underground [to carry] a very corrosive material."

Commissioners asked Assistant County Attorney David Norton for his opinion.

"If the commission wants to go forward with the development, then the project can go forward," Norton said. "It can't go forward without changes to the restrictions and covenants, which the commission has authority to make."

Commissioners Beck, Larry Henry, Tim Boyd and Chester Bankston voted against the sale.

"When you look at what our attorney said, it is in violation of the covenants," Henry said after the meeting.

In addition to Skillern, Commissioners Mitch McClure, Jim Fields, Joe Graham and Warren Mackey also gave the sale a thumbs-up.

The project will be heading to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission, which has been asked by the City Council to create a special permit option. Then the planning commission must consider Englewood Enterprise's application for that special permit.

The City Council must then approve the zoning.

Finally, the pipeline would have to run through a short section of county land, which will require a second round of commission approval.

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