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LocoDocs gets mixed reception on proposed move to Rockwood

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By Cindy Simpson

LocoDocs, a train engine  service company interested in purchasing several acres in Rockwood, has chugged by the first barrier in a process that may culminate in the  purchase of several acres nearby to the Mike “Brillo” Miller Sports Complex.

However, it has been met with opposition.

Rockwood Planning Commission had unanimously approved rezoning the slender lot that runs along a rail line from commercial to light industrial.

Rockwood City Council approved the rezoning ordinance in first reading at a special-called meeting last Thursday. The second reading will be Monday, Aug. 22, at 7 p.m.

The council will also be considering whether to sell its portion of the property and set the terms and conditions of any sale.

The company’s recent  presentation to the council included the potential to add 75 jobs in four years.

Officials said the average salaries would be between $30,000 and $50,000.

“They are hoping very much to grow,” said Frankie Hawn, the real estate agent working on the project.

Councilman Jason Jolly voted in favor of the ordinance with Council members Mike Freeman, Bill Thompson and Vice Mayor Peggy Evans.

Jolly, however, said he wants more information about company finances and its plans in the future.

City Recorder Jim Hines said the company will be getting some preliminary site plans to the city soon.

One group of interested residents cheered when the planning commission approved the rezoning several days before, but a mixed crowd of support and disapproval were at Thursday’s meeting.

Evans said she had more than 300 signatures of residents advocating the Illinois-based company’s move to Rockwood.

Some residents of Chamberlain Avenue, however, expressed concern about potential noise and truck traffic. They took issue with the proposed location of the industry.

Rusty Bowlin, a South Chamberlain resident, was among them.

“I worked 24 years as a pipefitter-welder. I worked on nuclear powerhouses. I worked on papermills. I’ve been around the block a few times,” Bowlin said. “You don’t work on these type of equipment with Craftsman tools. You bring a big industry in here like that, you are talking about hydraulic jackhammers, impact wrenches. You are talking about cut torches going on all day, and I don’t care how careful you try to be you are going to have oil spills and diesel spills.”

He also was among residents who questioned LocoDocs’ choice of location.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing an industrial park up there, and  we start comprising and start putting industry in residential areas where the public has to put up with it and the aggravation of it, then why did we build an industrial park?” Bowlin asked.

Bowlin also said Chamberlain cannot handle the truck traffic he believes will be going through.

Hawn said the industrial park tracks do not provide adequate railroad footage.  

Noise will not be a big concern, according to Hawn, who said the company will be operating from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
She added that the area is not in a residential category, but has been zoned for some time as commercial.
Part of the property under consideration is the old Mac Material property.

Hawn said the environmental issues at the old Roane Electric site are why they aren’t interested in that property.

“I am totally for this. My husband has been traveling back and forth to Knoxville for 10 years. There is a possibility he could get a job here,” said Fran Martin, who operates a business downtown.

Tommy Long, a longtime resident, agreed.

“I’ve watched this town go downhill. We got this property down there adjacent to the railroad track. That is where this company is wanting to build and they didn’t want to have to build another track to get to somewhere else,” Long said.

Baseball enthusiasts were also afraid of its proximity to the sports complex and its impact on the potential of expansion of the fields.