Milan Would Be Devastated

Vintage Photo of Downtown Milan

Milan, TN is a small town roughly 20 miles north of Jackson. It has a Wal-Mart and various fast food restaurants and a small strip mall that houses a Dollar Tree, a shoe store and a Rave21. Each fall, purple signs line the main highway  and backstreets supporting the high school’s football team, the Milan Bulldogs, who’ve taken home more state championships than I can count. A Perkins Restaurant opened last month and the news of the chain restaurant made the newspaper and the parking lot remains packed with waiting for a seat understood and they are proud of it. The newspaper office sits across the street from the small movie theater. For many years, when you would visit the editor, his dog would be lying patiently at his feet as his human prepared the weekly paper.

Small towns have their own rhythm and their own vibe.  Milan is no different. It is unique in its own way, proudly and painstakingly caught up in traditions and social mores created over multiple generations.  I find urban dwellers see rural towns in the light of seeing “the forest for the trees” but each tree has its own exquisite and individual qualities that make them special.

Milan is a town that has faced some adversity recently. Straight line winds sent a rain of trees to the north side of Milan back in May just one week after floods and tornados swept through the entire state. To drive through the area it appears that the community was rained on by 100-year-old Oak trees.

The community is facing another attack though not by mother nature but by the possible loss of the Milan Arsenal. I don’t know how long the munitions plant has been there other than my grandmother worked there at one time during WWII. The Arsenal, throughout the years, has been mysterious for those of us traveling through Milan and the only thing anyone really knows about it is that there are grenades and mortar shells made in the distance from the road in a building hidden behind trees in the distance. Gates keep people and vehicles out and keep the work they do in.  Old-timers used to call it BulletTown although I haven’t heard that term since my grandfather passed away in 1981.

The town of roughly 7,500 people was the first southern town to have little league baseball. True story.

Signs now line the road in red with white lettering in capital letters begging to save the Milan Arsenal. If the plant were to close, there would be a loss of 500 jobs. With only 3,000 families as a whole living in the town, no one would go unharmed with the loss. To make matters worse, there has been quite a bit of discussion on using the Arsenal as a nuclear waste facility. Legislators Sen. Lowe Finney and Rep. John Tanner have been fighting the proposal and Gov. Phil Bredesen is also intervening and offering assistance.

From a detailed editorial this morning in the Jackson Sun:

State Sen. Lowe Finney and U.S. Rep. John Tanner have led the way in fighting for the arsenal jobs. Other state lawmakers who represent the area also have joined the fight. Adding Bredesen to the mix ensures their requests will be taken seriously and that state lawmakers and the Milan-Gibson County communities are not going to sit by while 500 jobs disappear.

The initial report provided by American Ordnance to the Army indicated the proposed changes would have little impact. But lawmakers argued that the report lacked details. For a rural community the size of Milan, the loss of 500 jobs cannot be taken lightly. It would be disastrous to the local economy.

Another part of the arsenal proposal is that future use of the facility would be for storage of depleted uranium. Turning the arsenal into a dumping ground for radioactive waste is a poor tradeoff for losing 500 manufacturing jobs. The arsenal already has spent years fighting for remediation of ground water contamination and other environmental hazards from many earlier munitions operations at the facility dating back to World War II. The idea that it would now be used to store radioactive waste is unacceptable.

Let’s also take into consideration which is mentioned in the news editorial that the workers are specific to their skill set. It would not be easy to go and find another job easily. Where do you transfer to exactly when you make weapons?

And nuclear waste? It’s good to see legislators coming together to try to save Milan but it’s also indicative of how small towns are forgotten sometimes.  How it had to get to this point for a small town to keep what they have had for decades.

The story has been brewing for weeks and the signs have multiplied.  The fear of job loss and the community being used as a uranium landfill is very real.

In May, we shouted from the rooftops “We Are Nashville” and now it might be a good time to use that voice again citing “We Are Tennessee!” and we don’t want this anywhere in our state.

9 comments for “Milan Would Be Devastated

  1. Vvixen
    June 24, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I’ve seen first hand just how devastating these kind of closings can be. Several years ago the “Base Reallignment Committee” closed much of the massive Ft. McClelland Base near Anniston, Alabama. What used to be home to as many as 20,000 personnel is now a ghost town. It’s really strange to see it now. It looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. The buildings are all still there, in various states of decay. The Army spent millions on the base over the years…now it’s all gone to waste.

  2. Susan
    June 24, 2010 at 10:26 am

    What a well-focused and well-written article. I agree, the plant should remain open. Ammunitions aren’t something that are going away anytime soon. And the thought of having nuclear waste parked in one’s backyard is simply horrifying. One more reason not to support Obama’s plan for the creation of more nuclear power facilities. The toxic byproducts, which have a very long half-life have to go somewhere. I agree with the folks in Milan. Don’t plan on using our community as a dumping ground.

    Praying that the arsenal remains open and the people of Milan are spared the disastrous effects all the way around.

  3. June 24, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Bristol has 25,000 or so population. Losing 700 jobs at Exide devastated some businesses. Took about 3% of my clientele.

    A loss of 500 in a community like Milan would close some businesses completely.

  4. saraclark
    June 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I remember the community response and outrage back in the early 90’s when for some reason Sen/VP Al Gore was just determined to store large amounts of nuclear waste in Oak Ridge on a huge scale. The folks in OR are an educated group that already knew about nuclear contamination and had their own storage issues. The unconscionable attempts of Mr. Gore and the government to strong-arm them into accepting more was shocking. Don’t let it happen to Milan.

    I would also focus on what the transportation plan and alternatives are for bringing the materials into Milan. Railroad? Truck? There are a lot of very specific nuclear transportation regulations that have to be met in order to deliver those materials and it is very likely that Milan does not have the required infrastructure to meet those regulations. Look into it. Unless they are prepared to build, that may exempt or help exempt them right there.

  5. June 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I grew up listening to stories about barrels of DuPont waste buried all around the Wildersville/Parsons area. The stories always included whispered medical diagnosis. If you call cancer by its’ name, a whisper is supposed to soften the blow. Small towns and rural areas were once easy targets for abuse and neglect, but they have a voice now. A very loud chorus of voices who don’t want garbage in their backyards.

  6. June 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Been seeing the same houses sitting empty and for sale for literally years now in Paris. While the town’s still breathing, it is bigger than most of the rest – but the closing of two of its longtime plants a few years ago definitely did some damage.

    As for Gibson County and Milan – it would affect far more than just Milan folks. My mother grew up in nearby Dyer, and we lived in Trenton for a couple of years when I was a young teenager (as well as my Dad having lived there with his second wife the last several years of his life).

    Other than some professionals like the doctors, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, etc. – pretty much everyone I ever knew’s mom/dad/brother/sister/grandparent either worked at Brown Shoe or the Milan Arsenal. Definitely an overwhelming majority. Wasn’t much different when my mother was growing up in Dyer – if you weren’t a farmer, you worked at Brown Shoe (where most of my non-farming family worked, including my grandmother) or the Arsenal.

    It would be devastating.

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