Campbell County, Tennessee, is a rural population with just over 40,000 citizens, located in the Tennessee coalfields of the eastern third of the state. Coal-mining has historically made up a massive amount of the county’s economy, but today their coal industry faces challenges with the decline and depletion of resources, as well as its environmental impact on citizens’ health. Three of the major communities impacted by this decline include LaFollette, Jacksboro, and Caryville. The cities are connected by a ten mile stretch of US Highway 25 West, which is characterized by vacant and underutilized former industrial properties, many previously associated with the coal mining industry.
PM Environmental, Inc. (PM) was retained to assist in preparing an EPA Assessment Grant application, which was awarded for $400,000 on the first attempt in 2014. It was the only EPA grant awarded in the state of Tennessee that year. A total of nineteen sites were assessed with the awarded funds. Five required Phase II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), and two needed cleanup, which were also contracted to PM.
The county has stepped up to the need for economic diversity through the cultivation of an ecotourism industry, a decision partly based on the fact that 50% of the county includes public lands with a variety of trails and outdoor recreation options. Emphasis was placed on properties to expand the eco-tourism vision. Sites that received grant funds included a trailhead in the Ivydell community with historic beehive coke ovens, a post office on the Historic Register in downtown LaFollette, mine scarred lands owned by a non-profit land trust, and old industrial properties owned by communities from tax foreclosure.
An empty industrial facility in Caryville was assessed as part of a sale to a company interested in moving operations into the county. Using the assessment from this grant, the new company purchased the property and leveraged $14 million in private funding to upgrade the building. They also brought around 100 jobs into the county.
Campbell County will be reapplying for additional funding for economic development projects, as well as for assistance with properties damaged or destroyed by controlled substances manufacturing. County staff managed the grant activities, with PM’s assistance and coaching.