Rocky Top development ‘dream’ receives pushback

In early 2018, Rocky Top officials and a number of investors were working up a way to bring the Rocky Top dream back to life.

The original scheme that resulted in the town’s name change was a flop.

But, according to some, that didn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea. Anderson County Commissioner Tim Isbel, Rocky Top Mayor Michael Lovely, Rocky Top City Manager Michael Foster and Campbell County Mayor E.L. Morton have remained supportive of the concept and have been working for years behind the scenes to help development move forward in the town.

The revamped concept would be on the Campbell County side instead of Anderson County, and it would be a convention center, resort, indoor/outdoor water park and golf course near the Norris Dam marina.

But for the past year, the dream has been silent, at least when it comes to communication with the media.

Locals, however, have since organized, and are opposed to the development for one reason: the developers have stated they want it to be on TVA-owned and state park-leased land.

Specifically, a section of land near Norris Dam Marina.

The stated motives for the involved commissioners and city officials are fairly simple and include increased tax revenue and money for the schools. That’s something Foster was most excited about when he was interviewed for the LaFollette Press back in 2018. Morton, too, expressed hope for the economic opportunities.

But locals question why it has to be done on state park land. They spoke up on July 8 during the Anderson County Intergovernmental Committee meeting in hopes that that committee would pass a resolution opposing any commercial development on state park land.

Bill Minser, communications director for Friends of Norris Dam State Park, wrote a letter to the committee expressing his concern and read it aloud during Monday night’s meeting.

“Norris Dam State Park is a public trust resource, not a business opportunity,” read Minser. “That is our state park and it is owned by the public and held in trust for the people for uses stipulated in the State Park Act of 1937 for this and future generations.

“We respectfully request that this committee and this Commission pass a resolution opposing this development.”

Many others spoke up as well, including Norris resident James Wilson, who said the public hasn’t been given enough information to even know what questions to ask.

“There have been no public meetings with the developers. Who are they?” he asked.

“Are they from Tennessee? Have they done these types of projects before? Do they have the financial backing?

“Why do developers feel entitled to use that land?”

Retired Public Health Officer for Anderson and Campbell Counties Tupper Morgan stated that the park is there for the people, not to make more money. He questioned whether any of the commissioners had a financial stake in the project.

“We need to know that,” he said.

Committee chair Catherine Denenburg said that she and the committee are on an information gathering mission, and that some of the information was new to them.

“We are here to listen to you and to start a process of getting answers for the citizens of Anderson County, even though it was my understanding that this project was pretty well targeted for Campbell County. But it all spills over into the Norris Lake area and obviously into Anderson County by osmosis,” she said.

At the very end of the meeting, Minser said he had just received an emailed response from TDEC Commissioner David Salyers stating that Salyers was opposed to the development. That received a huge round of applause from those in attendance, but whether it means the deal is dead remains to be seen.