Gov. Bill Haslam is asking state lawmakers for another $30 million for the Memphis Regional Megasite — a little less than half of what top officials say is needed to complete the sprawling industrial park along Interstate 40 in West Tennessee.
But officials say that could be enough to clear away the biggest stumbling block that's been holding up the project.
The Haslam administration is including the sum in a budget request that it'll present next week to state lawmakers. It comes after the Department of Economic and Community Development told the governor that they need about $80 million more to attract the major manufacturer long envisioned for the 6-square-mile site near Brownsville, Tenn.
The additional money would cover needs such as a rail spur and high-voltage power lines, infrastructure that's long been envisioned for the site. ECD Commissioner Bob Rolfe says it would also pay for wastewater treatment, the item that's caused several potential occupants, including a Toyota-Mazda joint venture, to reject the site.
"We tell them, we're working on it, but we don't have a definitive date," Rolfe said in an interview this week. "And then they ask, 'Well when will you have your easements for land rights?' And we say, 'That's in process.'
"So what we're spending our energy trying to do is eliminate all of those hurdles."
Since it was proposed a decade ago, the West Tennessee megasite has been rumored to be in the running for a number of high-profile investments, in sectors such as solar energy, tire-making and auto-manufacturing. Each time, those deals have gone to other locations — often elsewhere in Tennessee or in neighboring states.
That's made the megasite a political issue. Although the project began under his predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, Haslam been criticized for failing to close the deal on an occupant. It's even emerged as an issue in this year's governor's race.
No matter what kind of plant is built, it'll produce a lot of wastewater, which the state plans to treat it on site. But it's struggled to figure out what to do with it afterward.
Local residents and environmentalists have already rejected two plans to dump it in the nearby Hatchie and Forked Deer rivers. So state officials are now trying to get permission from regulators to pump it 40 miles away, to the deep channel of the Mississippi River.
The request for $30 million would allow them to acquire land easements and build the pipeline itself. It would also allow construction to begin, at least, on the wastewater treatment plant.
It would not be enough for the other infrastructure improvements. But Rolfe says those can wait until a company has agreed to locate on the site.