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Elizabethton City Council may pull plug on TWRA's proposed fish hatchery

John Thompson • May 8, 2018 at 11:15 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Elizabethton City Council might be giving up on the possibility of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency building a state-of-the-art fish hatchery in the city.

One of the items to be considered by City Council Thursday night is a proposal to build a sports complex on the 15-acre lot at the end of Cherokee Park Drive. That land is currently owned by the TWRA.

“Realistically, it doesn’t look like the state is ever going to build that fish hatchery,” said Mayor Curt Alexander. He said instead of having the land continue to lie unused that the city should buy it back from the state.

“The state might sell it to us at a discount, or even give it back to us if they have no more need of it,” Alexander said.

In a memorandum to City Council, interim City Manager Jon Hartman said the city may be able to acquire the state property if a plan showing what the city plans to use the property for can be presented.

In order to make that presentation to the state, the City Council will be asked to fund a $16,900 feasibility and conceptual development plan.

The city would like to use the 15-acre lot to place three or four softball and baseball field and two rectangular fields with appropriate supporting amenities.

The property was acquired by the state when the TWRA came to the City Council in the early 2000s with the idea of building a state-of-the-art fish hatchery on the property.

The TWRA representatives at the meeting described their plan as not only developing a fish hatchery, but also an education center that would attract tourists and schoolchildren from around the region. The concept was based on a successful hatchery in Texas.

After the city sold the property to the TWRA, the land sat idle through a recession that limited state funds for such a property. After waiting several years, City Council began making inquiries about whether the wildlife agency was still interested in the property.

In response to those queries, the TWRA began moving forward on the project and put money in its budget for development. That was a time of controversy because of the election of Elizabethton State Representative Kent Williams as speaker of the House over the plans of the Republican Party. The controversy converted the multimillion hatchery into a political football that the Republican representatives rejected at that time.

After that controversy died down, the TWRA no longer appeared to be interested in pursuing the project and the new Elizabethton state representative, John Holsclaw, found the high price tag for the hatchery and aquatic education center to be too costly to win majority acceptance.

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