Elizabethtown planner Ed Poppe drives into one of many subdivisions underway in this community just 45 miles south of Louisville.
“2007 was the highest dollar volume construction year we had had. For a city of our size we were over70 million dollars in construction. We’re over 50 million in construction this year,” says Poppe.
Poppe says that’s because nearby Fort Knox is about to swell with newcomers. It’s part of the U.S. Army’s Base Realignment and Closure project, or BRAC as the locals call it here. And Elizabethtown—the region’s shopping center and Fort Knox neighbor—could be the popular choice for the thousands of military and civilians who choose to relocate from Washington D.C., St. Louis, and Indianapolis. The influx is expected to be so great that the Department of Defense has set up a new organization called One Knox to help the communities prepare for growth. The organization’s Web site reads like a travel brochure for the area but also lists updates about BRAC activities at the base. One Knox head Brad Richardson says the anticipated 14,000 new arrivals may not sound like much.
“But if you compare it on a percentage basis with Jefferson County, it would mean that you would be getting between 100 and 120,000 new people in the next two and half years. So if you think about what that will do to road systems, water, sewer, there’s the impact,” Richardson says.
Richardson says the region needs a huge chunk of state money to absorb that impact.
“Luckily, even in a deficit budget situation, we got $100 million dollars appropriated. $50 million for transportation, $50 million for infrastructure development, which will probably include education,” says Richardson.
That means new and expanded schools for the anticipated thousands of children moving in. It’s not certain yet exactly how many people will decide to relocate, but water district manager James Jeffries says they know for sure that drinking water resources will be squeezed. He says they can only pull so much from the Nolin River. And they’ve had to look northward for help.
“We’ve chosen Louisville water as that source. They have excess capacity. They’re growing to the south. So that looks like it is the logical source,” Jeffries says.
Jeffries says that while he’s confident they’ve got a handle on meeting drinking water needs, the county isn’t so prepared when it comes to handling sewage. Septic tanks are the treatment method of choice outside city boundaries. And Jeffries says the lines between a home and its tank can sometimes rupture. And if that happens, groundwater and ultimately drinking water could be harmed.
“The county will see the need to get into the sewer collection business as part of the continued development of the county. We can’t continue to have one acre lots with .2 acres taken up in lateral lines time and time again. I think we’ll have to be smarter than that,” says Jeffries.
There could be other threats to water quality with so many more paved surfaces—which increase storm water run-off into rivers and streams. But Elizabethtown residents are more excited than concerned about so much growth. Joanie and Johnny Melloan run a local real estate company. They were among several sponsors of a weekend tour for military members thinking of relocating. They’re hoping that eventually that Elizabethtown will charm some of the visitors into buying one of their homes for sale. But Johnny Melloan says the economic boost these newcomers bring won’t be limited to real estate. Their salaries will pump money into local businesses. Their children will bring new resources for schools.
“So this is a very big deal for this community. The impact will be felt throughout the region,” say Melloan.
If that impact will be felt in a bustling economy, it will also be felt on busier roads. On once wooded lands converted to condos. And on the Dixie Highway, where the growing string of shopping malls connects Radcliff and Elizabethtown.