Oak Ridge's space project: selling WMA land
January 21, 2001By Bob Hodge News-Sentinel outdoor editor OAK RIDGE -- I have decided I want a little land in the Oak Ridge Wildlife Management Area. Not much, mind you, but just enough to do a little deer hunting and maybe call a turkey or two.
It doesn't have to be 200 or 300 acres, 50 would be fine. I don't need utilities, so the Oak Ridge City Council won't have to meet for any special zoning. I think I'll drive out there this afternoon and pick a place.
A pipe dream you say? Not a bit. If you hadn't noticed, land around Oak Ridge is on the market. I've simply decided to throw my wallet in the ring with all the developers. Sure, the land might be public land, but that hasn't seemed to slow developers.
The Department of Energy is considering leasing 450 acres of the WMA for private industrial development. The land, near the old K-25 plant, is open for hunting, but that'll change. Deer and turkeys that have avoided muzzleloaders and shotguns won't be able to outfox the track hoes and bulldozers.
Where's an animal-rights group when you need one?
At the Web site of the Tennessee Conservation League - www.conservetn.com - you can find part of DOE's notice about a Jan. 30 public meeting. It says: Stakeholders will have an opportunity to offer comments on the types of activities they would like to see on the reservation and to understand how their comments will be used in the land-use planning process."
Also at the TCL Web site is information about a DOE proposal to sell 182 acres of land in the Clinch River floodplain. According to TCL, the 182 acres, which include 69 acres of wetlands, will be turned into a "major residential/commercial/industrial development."
I can't make the meeting, but being a bona fide stakeholder here's my public comment: Leave it alone! Is it just me, or does it seem like we're hell-bent on turning East Tennessee into one big mall?
Sure I would like to own a little piece of the Oak Ridge woods. Sell me a few acres of that floodplain near the river and I'll build a little cabin where my family can hunt and fish and play with the Geiger counter.
But since it would be self-serving for me to take public land and turn it into Camp Hodge, explain to me why developers who get the land and turn it into millions of dollars of profits are doing the public good? I want a place to hunt and fish. They want a fatter wallet. Somehow they're working in the public interest.
I just hope the public is interested enough to say something before it's too late.
Granted, DOE land around Oak Ridge has never been a national park. Heck, it's never really been open to the public. But the trees and fields and ponds and puddles are owned by all of us and make for better scenery than a "major residential/commercial/industrial development."
In the early 1940s, the land that makes up the Oak Ridge Reservation was mostly private. In the name of a good cause - winning World War II - the land was bought up, the people moved out and the Manhattan Project was born. If anybody has a claim to the DOE Reservation it's the farmers and their descendants who are the original owners.
But for nearly 60 years the U.S. has been well-served by that land staying in public hands. Why not keep it that way?