County Approves Megasite Development For Little Canoe Creek

It’s official. The Little Canoe Creek property eventually will be designated as a megasite development for Etowah County.

The County Commission voted Tuesday to approve a designation as a megasite of the property between Interstate 59 and U.S. Highway 11, about 4 miles from the Steele exit on Interstate 59. The site will be accessible from Steele Station Road, U.S. Highway 11 and by rail.

The commission voted in 2008 to purchase the first piece of land — about a 200-acre tract — and gradually increased the acreage to the current level of almost 900 acres, making it the largest site of its type in Northeast Alabama.

The commission has spent about $2.6 million for the purchase of land, according to Kevin Dollar, chief financial officer.

About 100 more acres is needed before it can be named considered as a megasite for the state development projects.

A development of that nature was the original intent, but in recent months the commission talked about other options, including a mega sports complex and a small industrial park.

“I still think we need to keep moving forward with a megasite,” Commissioner Joey Statum said.
A small industrial park that would produce a few hundred jobs is not feasible, Commissioner Jeff Overstreet said.

“We want something that will have a large contingent of employees, and that’s not going to happen with an industrial site,” Overstreet said.

Commission President Larry Payne said he believes a megasite is the best option.  I don’t want us to close our eyes to another opportunity if it were to come along,” he said.

The amount of acreage already qualifies it as an advantage site. Both advantage site and megasite designations increase the options available for state assistance.

At a meeting in May, the commission heard from Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah County Industrial Development Authority. The commission has a contract with the IDA to market the Little Canoe Creek Industrial Park property.

McCain said it will cost about $21 million to have the property designated as a megasite and market or sell the property for development.

It is projected that about half that cost could be reimbursed or paid through state development funding.  The difference in a megasite and an advantage site is the number of improvements that must be in place for the designation.

McCain’s figures show an estimate of about $2.26 million in up-front costs to market the site and $21 million in development costs to sell the site.  He has said it will cost about $450,000 to purchase the remaining land needed to be designated as a megasite.

The bid is expected to be opened next week to pay for an access road to be built to the property. It is estimated it will cost about $1.4 million to build a road to grade level. That includes necessary drainage, but would not include any pavement. It merely would give access to the property from U.S. Highway 11 to the railroad track.

The railroad is a big asset and something only a few industrial sites have.

The overall costs for the project include four-laning U.S. Highway 11 from the new access to I-59 in Steele at about $8.5 million.

Water and sewer line extensions would be costly, at about $10 million, but the actual costs would be unknown until an agreement is reached with the water and sewer providers and their distance from the site is considered.

Some of those costs can be reimbursed.

Choate has said he hopes to establish a line item in next year’s budget for travel for economic development.
He said it could be necessary to travel more to market the property to find a potential megasite opportunity.
“Our vision is to bring good-paying jobs,” he said recently. “We’ve got (plenty of) minimum-wage jobs.”

Times Staff Writer