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Beth Jones, Southeast Tennessee Development District executive director

JASPER, Tenn. -- The plan to annex land between U.S. Highway 41 and Interstate 24's exit 158 here is moving forward.

The Jasper Board of Mayor and Alderman voted unanimously to approve an annexation study and timeline.

"We definitely need to act on this pretty quick," Aldermen Steve Looney said. "We have a plan, and we can hurry on through this. We definitely don't need to let our feet drag on it."

Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, said Jasper's planning commission has examined the proposed idea and recommended the board follow through with the study.

"This annexation proposal is based on an opportunity that we hope is going to come to the exit," Jones said.

Officials said Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores seriously is considering building a travel stop at the exit, which would mean an estimated $7 million to $8 million investment by the company and up to 30 jobs.

"[The plaza] cannot come to fruition without a sewer line extension," Jones said. "So the plan that has been developed is the most conservative, cost-effective plan we can have."

According to the plan, Jasper would annex about 35 parcels of land from the exit to U.S. Highway 41 and build the needed sewer line.

To complete the requirements for construction to begin, the property owners and Love's have agreed to invest $250,000 each of the estimated $1.3 million needed, officials said.

The development district has asked the state for $500,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission grant funding, which puts the town within about $300,000 of the total, Jones said.

"That makes it very close to being doable," she said.

The development district has created a timeline so the town can proceed with the required public hearings on the matter and be ready to pass an ordinance when everything is in place.

"[Jasper] needs to be prepared to do this if they don't want to render some of those revenues to the county," Jones said. "We know for a fact that, without the sanitary sewer connection out there, the site is not viable and will not be considered."

Mayor Billy Simpson said there are still a lot of unknowns, including the needed grant funding.

"We don't know yet what the county is going to come to the table with," he said. "The only thing we're sure about right now is the $500,000 committed by the property owners and Love's."

Jones said as soon as any kind of feedback is received from the state on the grant, the development district will "move forward to talk with the county and then come back and talk with [Jasper's board]."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at