Gov. Bill Lee has put $15 million in his fiscal 2021-22 spending plan for construction of a wastewater utility line from the Memphis Mega-site in West Tennessee to the Mississippi River.

If approved by the state Legislature, the funds would bring Tennessee’s total investment to $189 million in the 4,100-acre mega-site in Haywood County, some 45 miles northeast of Memphis. By late 2018, though, the state had spent only about $88 million of the money allocated, raising concerns about whether state leaders wanted to continue emphasizing the site as the home of a major manufacturing concern.

At one point, legislators questioned the state’s strategy to wait for a large client to select the site before finishing utility work or putting more money into it.

“I think it absolutely bodes well for the project,” said state Sen. Paul Rose, a Covington Republican who is pushing for more emphasis on the mega-site in an effort to draw economic development in the region.

Covington (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Sen. Paul Rose, R-Covington (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Rose said he spoke with Gov. Lee in early 2020 about a redesign of the 35- to 40-mile wastewater line, which is supposed to serve a major manufacturer or numerous companies the state wants to attract to the property located just off Interstate 40.

The “tweaked” design for the sewer pipe would enable residential and commercial economic development in Fayette, Haywood, Tipton and Shelby counties, affecting the area all the way to Bartlett and allowing sewage infrastructure to be constructed east of Highway 14 in Tipton County.

Asked if he is aware of the wastewater line redesign, Gov. Lee said, “There are a lot of proposals for the Memphis mega-site. We look at all of those. We have continuous input from folks in the region, legislators in the region, so we’ll continue to look at the mega-site as an opportunity and a spot for economic development in this state.”

Lawmakers raised concerns two years ago that Lee had placed 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.

The proposed infusion could show renewed emphasis by Gov. Lee to make something happen at the mega-site. The site missed on a $500 million plant by Chinese Sentury Tire Americas and a $1.6 billion Toyota plant in 2016 and 2017, mainly because the property wasn’t prepared to handle such large investments.

“I think it absolutely indicates that this is a viable project, that hopefully it’s just a matter of getting our I’s dotted and T-s crossed and move on,” Rose said.