A dirt hauling operation will soon get underway to turn a 22-acre tract of land in Jonathan Creek into a shovel-ready site to lure new industry.

The county will have spent $1.75 million on the site by the time the work is done, including the purchase of the land 12 years ago.

Dirt will be hauled in, spread and compacted over the site to elevate it out of the flood plain. While the project is a gamble — there’s no telling if a taker for the site will ever materialize — without prepping the site first the chances were almost nil.

“It is just raw land right now, but if you invest in the property and make it site ready, you have increased it’s potential use and marketability,”said David Francis, the county’s special project coordinator. “So it is a strategic move to increase available building sites for economic development.”

Francis, who doubles as the county’s economic development liaison, said the Jonathan Creek site is already being shown to interested parties who wanted to know how soon it would be ready.

The dirt hauling will likely get underway by the end of summer.

The county put the work out to bid, and got four bids back ranging from less than $500,000 to more than $1 million. The bids were opened last week and are now being reviewed and vetted.

Separate costs associated with the dirt project include soil testing, the purchase of the dirt itself and engineering.

“The engineers created the diagram or blueprint essentially and whoever hauls it and spreads it will have to follow their design,” County Manager Bryant Morehead said.

Once the contract is approved, they have 30 days to commence the dirt hauling.

About 28,000 cubic yards of dirt will be hauled and spread. The county negotiated to buy the dirt directly at a cost of $25,000.

Early in the project’s conception, Publix had offered to give the county a cut rate on dirt that had to be excavated from its new grocery store site — essentially costing the county nothing except hauling costs.

But the county called off the Publix deal after discovering the dirt Publix was offering was a soupy clay unsuitable for compaction.

The Jonathan Creek site wasn’t always intended as an economic development asset.

The land was initially purchased for a recreation complex in 2007. Commissioners at the time got sucked into a bidding war for the property, eventually topping out at $1.1 million.

Their plan at the time was to build a baseball and softball complex. It failed to launch due to the high cost, however, and was sidelined indefinitely.

Last year, commissioners formally pulled the plug on the recreation complex idea and instead chose to use the tract for some sort of economic development.

“I would love to have some kind of clean manufacturing that creates some jobs and adds to the tax base,” said Morehead said.

The county could feasibly get some of its $1.75 million investment in the tract back.

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