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Unicoi County Commission delays action on CSX land purchase

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 24, 2018 at 9:58 PM

ERWIN —The Unicoi County Commission on Monday sent its consideration of the county’s first option to purchase 8 acres of CSX property up for sale to a logging company back to committee for a recommendation on a pending survey and environmental study of the property.

The commission initiated the discussion last month in attempt to avoid the cost of relocating the county’s Hoover solid waste collection site, which occupies about a half-acre of the 8-acre tract on South Industrial Drive near the Unicoi County Animal Shelter and Kiwanis Park.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley has also expressed interest in securing the property for development of town-owned dog park recently funded by a $25,000 grant from the Boyd Foundation. Hensley has objected to the logging operation, which has a pending purchase agreement with CSX, because of its potential odor and proximity to a new shopping center development.

Lee Brown Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County chairman, on Monday encouraged the commission to act on its option to buy in order to add to the county’s limited supply of flat land suitable for development.

Brown noted that the town expended $450,000 for the purchase of the former Morgan industrial site as well as grant match funding to prepare that property for marketing to a large manufacturer.

When the Morgan site is occupied, Brown said, the only other land the JEDB will have to market for industrial or commercial development will be a 30-acre tract on Dry Creek Road in Unicoi on which the JEDB recently renewed its option to purchase.

Brown said the CSX property’s selling points include its flat topography, which is rare in Unicoi County, and its classification as a “brownfield site” for which grants are available to clean up contaminants.

With a survey of the land and environmental study on the commission’s agenda, Commissioner Kenneth Garland made a motion to buy the property on the condition the railroad pays for the remediation of contamination known to be on the site.

Gene Wilson, chairman of the commission’s Buildings and Land Committee, seconded the motion but later withdrew it after County Attorney Doug Shults advised the commissioners CSX has stated it is selling the property as is and will not remediate the contamination.

When Garland suggested the county use a portion the remaining $330,000 it received from the sale of Unicoi County Hospital to purchase the $225,000 property, Wilson responded the county could not use those restricted funds to buy a trash dump.

Commissioner John Mosely suggested the county explore Erwin’s willingness to divide the cost of the property with the county.

Commissioner Todd Wilcox made a motion to move forward with the environmental study.

Garland said portions of the property are chained off because of contamination by oil from the railroad. Jamie Rice, a commission primary winner who is without opposition in the general election, said there are test wells all over the property. And Wilson said, “I have walked it. We know it’s contaminated.”

Commission Chairwoman Marie Rice sent the matter back to the Building and Grounds Committee for a recommendation, saying the commission could consider the contract again during in a called meeting on the budget anticipated in early to mid August.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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