WJTV News Channel 12 - Eliz fish hatchery or ETSU football stadium; can both be funded

Elizabethton fish hatchery or ETSU football stadium; can the state fund both?

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A fish hatchery or an ETSU football stadium  -- or both? Both local projects need state funding next year, but is that likely?  An email circulated among the governor's top advisors got us wondering. A fish hatchery or an ETSU football stadium -- or both? Both local projects need state funding next year, but is that likely? An email circulated among the governor's top advisors got us wondering.
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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) -

The Watauga River, a natural resource that already sends people flocking to Carter County, is now part of a major redevelopment plan.

Local leaders are hoping to bring new life to the old industrial section of W. Elk Avenue in Elizabethton. One of the major pieces is a proposed tourist destination complete with a riverfront park, shops, restaurants and a major sporting goods store.

"We want more folks living here, we want more folks shopping here, we want more people working here," Carter County Tomorrow President Tom Anderson said.

The key for the riverfront project is a fish hatchery plan that has still yet to become a reality, despite almost four years and a lot of money invested already by the state. Blame it on politics or a lack of funding, the project just hasn't been able to get above water.

"This is the most exciting project we have had for Elizabethton in a long time," Sen. Rusty Crowe (R), Johnson City said. "We've already invested close to a $1 million in this. It's not smart to say we're not going to do this. We are going to do it."

The question though is when. Sen. Crowe is behind the latest push to make it happen. He and economic leaders are hoping to meet with the governor in the coming weeks to make a new case for the fish hatchery and riverfront development that will border it.

"I'm going to tell (the governor) that from Carter County's perspective, it's been way too long," Sen. Crowe said of his intentions. "We need some boost. We need a catalyst to start bringing all of that back to Elizabethton."

If you listen to Sen. Crowe, it sounds promising. However, the clock is ticking. Without a significant financial commitment from the State of Tennessee in next year's budget, economic development leaders say the project is at risk of taking a major step backwards.

"It would be nice to see that state put in upward of $15 million," Anderson said. "It's getting the governor to put the lion's share in his budget."

If that happens, they say the other local, state and federal agencies involved could probably come up with the rest of the cash needed to start and finish the project. Sen. Crowe thinks it's doable.

"I think we can do it," Sen. Crowe said.

The second in command in the state has a different opinion. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R)-Blountville says it's doubtful this project will see any funding next year, a potentially big blow to Carter County.

"It probably won't be in next year's budget," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said.

According to Lt. Gov. Ramsey, there are still too many unanswered questions about the hatchery; a project he says got off on the wrong foot many years ago. Plus he says leaders are still trying to find other ways to come up with money from other sources before moving forward.

"You're not going to see $15 million in next year's budget," Lt. Gov. Ramsey said. "Everything is critical and it has to get done this year until it doesn't get done this year and next year it becomes the critical year."

One thing he is certain of is that another major project for our area will get funded. He feels certain ETSU's football stadium will get the money it needs next year.

"I would make that prediction," Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said. "Usually politicians like us don't like to make predictions like that, because we never say never on anything, because anything can change, but I feel very confident that it will be funded this year."

He says football and the fish hatchery are not at odds with each other. Instead, the projects, which both need significant state funding next year to move forward, would be funded out of two different pots of money.

That said, for now, the fish hatchery appears to be the odd one out. After all, funding for the football stadium doesn't seem to be in doubt.

"I feel pretty confident about ETSU football, the fish hatchery on down the road," Ramsey said. "I think there is a better than even chance (the fish hatchery) will happen, but there's so many moving parts, there's four or five different entities putting money in this and I don't wan to predict."

Still, Sen. Crowe remains optimistic about both projects getting at least some funding next year.

"Both of these are exciting," he said. "We've got to make them both work. We just have to wait and see. We've got to get with the governor and the lieutenant governor and see what we can work out. I think we can do it. If we really do our jobs and work it hard, we can do both. We can at least contribute to both. We're not going to finish them both, but we're at least going to get them going."


See also our previous story:

 

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