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.
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.