The big headline on the Chattanooga Times Free Press front page Thursday was clear: "Scenic City lands $4.9M in EPA money."
Below it, the secondary headline equivocated: "Some funding may go toward Lookouts site."
"May go" to the Lookouts site?
The story's first paragraph kept up the guessing game: "Some" of the money "may go to help clean up the U.S. Pipe/Wheland Foundry site where a new minor league baseball stadium is proposed."
Seriously, gentlefolk and readers — just look at the accompanying pictures of a group of EPA and Chattanooga officials announcing the grant.
Where are the gathered? Why — among the still-standing ruins of the U.S. Pipe plant "where a new minor league baseball stadium is proposed."
Do we think EPA's deputy administrator Janet McCabe and the city's economic development officer Jermaine Freeman would have staged such a set-up — complete with folding chairs, a giant poster check and a 7- or 8-foot tall EPA banner leaned against one of the remaining U.S. Pipe walls — if "some" of the money wasn't already sliding into the piggy bank to do brownfield environmental remediation on the increasingly controversial proposal to build a new minor league baseball stadium for the Chattanooga Lookouts with $80 million of our taxpayer dollars? Spoiler alert, the EPA money atop that also is our money.
We already were suspicious of the timing of the EPA announcement. The news that Chattanooga was winning the $4.9 million funded by President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to clean up brownfields came right on the heels of the city and county announcement of the stadium plan one week before.
The location of the EPA funding announcement — on exactly the same spot on the U.S. Pipe site as the stadium announcement, right down to the same set-up of folding chairs — gave us the smoking gun.
Chattanooga and Tennessee taxpayers, your politicians can blow the smoke of their backroom deals in your face from now through the August elections and right on through the time the winning new county mayor and winning new commissioners take office, but you can rest assured this stadium plan is a done deal.
And you can say bye-bye to your tax dollars — $80 million of them — for arguably one of the biggest, single-interest public expenditures our county commission, city council and industrial development boards have ever considered here.
In 2018, our county commission did issue $110 million in bonds, but it was to pay for several school construction projects, including two new schools and a new $20 million county jail.
We didn't spend anywhere near this much on the park around the Tennessee Aquarium. Or the Riverwalk. Or a new wastewater treatment plant. We didn't spend this much on the Volkswagen/Enterprise South industrial site preparation. Or even on the McDonald Farm — another potential industrial site.
But we'll do it for a minor league baseball stadium when the Lookouts won't put their own money on the line?
And we'll do it to build this stadium as a catalyst site on eight donated acres so the private developers who own the former foundry site can earn a lot of money selling and developing the remaining 112 acres there?
This just sits wrong, and it should concern you. And if you don't think it's already a done deal — and a rushed done deal at that — just look at the EPA cleanup money announcement setup that was reported on the front page of your Thursday newspaper.