Dispute threatens to delay NTRC expansion

By Hugh G. Willett-knoxnews.com
A dispute over how to bring power to a Hardin Valley industrial park could delay completion of the expansion of the National Transportation Research Center.

The NTRC, a joint effort between Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee Center for Transportation Research, is on Cherahala Boulevard just off Hardin Valley Road. The site expansion owned by Pellissippi Investors Group and leased by ORNL is almost complete but requires additional electricity for a new building, according to an ORNL spokesperson.

The dispute centers on whether Lenoir City Utilities Board, which supplies a large part of West Knox County with electricity, agreed to bring power to the NTRC site.

"Essentially, there was never an agreement with LCUB to bring power to the ORNL site," said Shannon Littleton, general manager of LCUB.

LCUB did, however, agree to provide electricity to the entire development, he said.

According to Littleton, the true dispute boils down to the cost of overhead service versus underground service. Overhead service is about one-tenth the cost compared to underground, but unacceptable according to industrial park rules, he said.

Currently, LCUB is working with ORNL representatives to determine if a cheaper route is possible. LCUB may bear some cost but would need to have board approval to enter into a cost-sharing agreement, he said.

"It is my opinion that so much time has elapsed from the beginning stages of development and LCUB was left out of the loop. This has led to electrical service expectations that were never clarified with LCUB," Littleton said

Herb Debban, ORNL director of facilities and operations, said the parties involved are working toward a solution.

"We are investigating options on bringing power to the new facility at the National Transportation Center. We intend to work with Pellissippi Investors the building's owner and LCUB toward a solution," Debban said.

Representatives of Pellissippi Investors did not respond to calls for comment.

The National Transportation Research Center was developed to work with industry and government agencies in researching issues related to expanding and maintaining transportation systems that move people and products safely, efficiently, and reliably.

About 160 researchers and support staff from UT and ORNL work at the research center, which also is home to NTRCI, a not-for-profit organization that provides coordination and project management for complex collaborative projects, and facilitates technology deployment.