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Bad reaction: Hawkins cracking down on trespassing at old nuclear plant site

Jeff Bobo • Mar 30, 2017 at 7:06 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Four juveniles were arrested for trespassing recently at the old abandoned nuclear reactor structure at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park, but apparently people still aren’t getting the message to stay out.

On Wednesday, three more young people came to the east side of the reactor, where the only ground-level access to the structure is located.

Hawkins County Industrial Board member Kerry Jackson happened to be at the site checking on the construction of a garage door there intended to keep people from accessing that large bay entrance.

That’s the same place where a dog was trapped in a deep well inside the reactor building in October, resulting in a massive rescue operation.

The dog had accessed a hole that was cut in the security fence. At the time of the rescue, the walls in that area of the reactor building were covered with graffiti, and broken beer bottles and other evidence of trespassing were scattered all over the site.

Jackson told the IDB Tuesday that although the fence was fixed after the dog rescue, two more holes had been cut in it.

The three young people who showed up at the reactor building Wednesday didn’t appear to realize they weren’t supposed to be there.

“They pulled in at the old truck driving lot, hiked across the field over in the direction of the cooling tower, and while this work was going on they walked right back over to where the hole had been cut in the fence,” Jackson said. “I greeted them and told them welcome, but don’t come inside the fence because we’ll contact law enforcement about them trespassing.

“They looked liked they were maybe in their late teens or early 20s, and they said their mother had told them about coming over here years ago. Evidently with social media and word of mouth, people feel like they’re just free to come and go wherever, and that’s really the only place we don’t want them.”

IDB Chairman Larry Elkins told the board Thursday he has informed the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office to arrest and prosecute trespassers.

“We’re getting way too much activity around the park, from coon hunters, to horseback riders, to walkers, and people out riding around seeing what they can get into,” Elkins said. “We don’t want to cut out the walkers or the horseback riders. But we do want to limit their access to certain areas.”

The only locations at Phipps Bend where the public is prohibited from going during the daytime are the reactor building, the cooling tower and private property. Public areas of the industrial park are also closed at night, from 30 minutes before sundown to 30 minutes before sunrise.

Elkins said signs, fences and gates will be installed to keep people out of the prohibited areas.

“We’re going to put a stop to a lot of it, and we’ve already informed the sheriff to arrest them and prosecute them,” Elkins told the IDB. “But we need to put some more signs up before we get carried away.”

Jackson noted that even the sheriff’s office’s empty storage building at Phipps Bend was burgled by someone who broke the lock.

“They (the HCSO) are aware that we’ve got some of the wrong type of traffic,” Jackson added.

The people who cut hay at Phipps Bend recently told Jackson they’ve seen as many as 15 people in the reactor structure at the same time.

It’s an extremely dangerous place. There are deep, wide holes in unexpected places, and it’s dark and hard to see hazards, even in the daytime.

“(Trespassers) had taken some old bent up scaffolding and some lumber and made what this (hay cutter) called a chicken ladder so they could climb up on the high elevation and look down where the reactor had been,” Jackson said. “We do have rules and we’re in the process of reposting those. Something happened to our sign.

“I hope our judge will fine them (trespassers) a reasonable amount and maybe give them some community service to send a message,” Jackson added.

In other business Thursday, the IDB:

— Heard a report from IDB Executive Coordinator Rebecca Baker that she is currently assisting three existing Hawkins County Industries with expansion projects that will bring hundreds of new jobs to the county. Baker said there is a fourth industry expanding as well, but in just the past month she had meetings with the other three.

Elkins said he wouldn’t release the names of the expanding companies publicly at this time because the companies want to make their own announcements.

Baker also reported there there been a substantial increase in the amount of interest from new prospective industries looking to locate at Phipps Bend.

In all of 2016, Phipps Bend received a total of 17 inquiries from new industrial prospects. In the first three months of 2017, however, officials have already had 14 active prospective industrial projects at Phipps Bend.

— Heard a report from Elkins that an emergency exit route for vehicular traffic should be available at Phipps Bend by the time the board meets next month.

Several months ago the IDB began looking for an alternative route out of the park in case an accident blocked Phipps Bend Road, which is the only access to the industrial park.

The route chosen passes through private property and will be gated. It would be opened only in case of an emergency.

“We met yesterday (Wednesday) with (the property owner) and his wife on River Road, and we met (Highway Superintendent) Lowell Bean, who is going to be instrumental in getting this thing opened up,” Elkins said. “We met with Sharp Fence Co. about putting electronic fences up, so there will be an (alternative) exit out of the park in case we have a catastrophe. They’re going to order the materials today, but we’re going to need some signage.”                                                   

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