Council sells TWRA land for trout hatchery plan

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Elizabethton City Council opted to sell the last remaining property in the city's Cherokee Industrial Park for a development capitalizing on tourism and the Watauga River's reputation as a fisherman's dream.
  Council members voted 6-0 on Thursday night approving a purchase agreement totaling $198,000 with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) for three parcels totaling roughly 20 acres in the park. The agency plans to develop a fish hatchery to stock rivers in Northeast Tennessee including the Watauga.
  "This would be tremendous for the city of Elizabethon and this county if it were to take place," City Manager Charles Stahl told council members.
  The purchase includes the city's former water treatment plant located in the cul-de-sac of Cherokee Drive. The fish hatchery would be used to stock trout in waterways across the state. Locating the new hatchery in East Tennessee would reduce fish transportation costs, according to a TWRA evaluation study on the project. The hatchery's actual operation would not like begin for up to 10 years.
  The Watauga River is designated as a trophy trout stream and draws anglers from around the Southeast.
  "This is the first step of a journey of 1,000 miles," Mayor Sam LaPorte said. "It has to work out in terms of funding for them and water quality."
  The development also comes with questions regarding future easement considerations for the city's Linear Path walking trail and an access bridge possibly extending from the northern connector highway project path over the Watauga River and into the industrial park.
  City officials met with members of the TWRA in January to discuss the project and the city's possible compensation for selling the park land.
  The city has petitioned the Tennessee Department of Transportation to extend a bridge from the connector into the park. The city's linear path extends through the industrial park where it will eventually connect with Sycamore Shoals State Park.
  Stahl said he was unaware whether TDOT had made a decision about the bridge. He said the TWRA development represented the best use of parcels available in the park.
  "We've made every effort to market the property to businesses," Stahl said.
  Councilman Richard Sammons moved to approve the purchase agreement with Councilwoman Nancy Alsup giving the motion a second. Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers was absent from the meeting.
  TWRA established a quality trout zone in the Watauga in 1988 to provide guidelines to anglers fishing for trout in this section of the river. In April 2003, the TWRA Commission reversed an earlier decision to extend the quality trout boundaries on the Watauga River after a public outcry from Carter County residents. The commission maintained the former upstream boundary at Smalling Bridge while setting the downstream quality trout zone boundary at the CSX railroad bridge.
  The original quality zone boundary stretched from Smalling Bridge downstream to U.S. Highway 400 at the city of Watauga. The TWRA Commission, which makes the agency's regulations, changed the quality zone from the downstream tip of the island below an access point at Blevins Road downstream to the CSX railroad bridge.
  The council also voted 6-0 to observe the Halloween holiday on Saturday, Oct. 30 across the city. Merchants in downtown Elizabethton will be providing goodies for trick or treaters on Oct. 30.
  In other business, council members also approved selling over 30 confiscated vehicles and after market police cars at a public auction later this year. The city holds an annual auction of government-owned equipment each year. This year's auction items include a 1979 model fire pumping truck, 10 computers from the public library, and other office equipment.
  City officials expect to hold the auction later this year.