Momentum is building for a redesign of the Memphis Megasite wastewater line that would allow for an economic development corridor all the way from the 4,100-acre site in Haywood County to eastern Shelby County, a state senator said.
The West Tennessee legislative delegation is working with House and Senate leadership to move the plan forward, said state Sen. Paul Rose, a Covington Republican.
“Even if we’re years getting an (original equipment manufacturer), auto manufacturer or major manufacturer, this plan which we can get done inside the moneys that have already been appropriated will benefit a corridor all the way from the mega-site into Bartlett,” Rose told the Tennessee Lookout.
The plan, which is similar to one produced two years ago, has been “tweaked,” according to Rose, to handle commercial and residential development on either side of the wastewater line, which is to run about 35 miles from the Haywood County site to the Mississippi River.
Lawmakers raised concerns two years ago that Lee had put the mega-site project on hold. Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe did not put new money in the state budget for mega-site development in fiscal 2019-20 or 2020-21.
However, Rolfe said in early 2019 the state has enough resources to land a major project at the mega-site, which is about 45 northeast of Memphis.
The Legislature okayed $30 million more for the site in fiscal 2019, bringing the total investment to $174 million. But by late 2018, the state had spent only about $88 million.
Before that money was allotted, Rolfe said the industrial site needed about $72 million more to be “shovel-ready,” including work on the wastewater line and funds for electrical, water, gas and railroad line improvements.
Even if it takes the state five to 10 years to attract a large manufacturer to the site, the state would be able to start getting a return on its investment, which would benefit taxpayers, Rose said.
“I think with Gov. Lee and his pledge to accelerate the growth of West Tennessee, this is a great vehicle to make that happen,” Rose added.
The initial wastewater line plan would have benefited only the mega-site. The new plan has been redesigned using the same rights of way but allowing commercial and residential development to tie on, according to Rose.
The redesigned pipeline, which has been priced by three different companies in the last six months, falls within the funds allocated for the project, Rose said.
“I don’t get to make the final decision, but we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from leadership and I’m hopeful that we’ll actually be doing construction inside six months,” he added.
Tipton County Mayor Jeff Huffman backed up Rose’s assessment of the modified sewer line, saying it updates the plan within the state appropriations to provide opportunities for growth in rural areas across the region.
“You would want to get as much benefit economically as possible from that plan, and this does that,” Huffman said.
The sewer pipeline would create an infrastructure “backbone” on the east side of Highway 14 in Tipton County, where none exists, and allow for commercial and residential development, Huffman said. He noted it could do the same in Fayette County, as well.
The Department of Economic and Community Development would not confirm the modified sewer pipeline plan. A spokeswoman said twice there is no change in the design.
But Rose said ECD officials, including Commissioner Rolfe, have seen the plan and like it.
The Memphis Mega-site missed on a $500 million plant by Chinese Sentury Tire Americas and a $1.6 billion Toyota plant in 2016 and 2017.
Mark Herbison, a former Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce vice president, is a key player in the redesign, according to Rose. Herbison could not be reached for comment.