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Business boon from Iron Mountain Road could take time

Iron Road Two

This image from nearly two years ago shows the basic placement of the intersection of Iron Mountain Road and Alabama 21 in a view that looks south back onto McClellan.

Bryan Feazell’s office looks out directly onto the new intersection between Iron Mountain Road and Alabama 21, but so far the new traffic hasn’t increased his business.

“I’ve noticed traffic picking up a little, but it hasn’t changed anything for me,” said Feazell, owner of Smith Sales, which sells small trailers — the kind you use to tow a zero-turn lawn mower — on Alabama 21.

Like many local drivers, Feazell spent years literally watching the new intersection take shape, as road workers paved a path to connect Alabama 21 to Veterans Memorial Parkway by extending Iron Mountain Road to the “midway” area between Anniston and Jacksonville. Among other things, the road promised to be a new pathway into McClellan, the former Army base that local authorities have been trying to develop for 20 years.

Completing the project took longer than expected, largely because crews had to work around historic World War I training trenches they discovered while building the road. The road had been first approved by the McClellan Development Authority in 2012. It opened earlier this month.

Public officials at the road opening this month praised the new extension for providing new access to the industrial sites on McClellan.

But it’s unlikely the road will cause new roadside retail businesses to sprout any time soon, at least not in the areas closest to Alabama 21. According to Jason Odom, attorney for the McClellan Development Authority, the road’s path takes it between two landfills, both of which accepted construction and demolition debris, as well as some household refuse from the former base.

“They’re legacy landfills,” Odom said last week. “We took on responsibility for them once the base closed.”

Despite the former base’s history as a chemical weapons school, Odom said there’s no evidence of anything hazardous in those landfills except tricholoethylene, a solvent that was often used on military bases. Odom said monitoring wells around the landfills allows MDA’s environmental staff to check for leaks into the groundwater — but there’s nothing there that should worry drivers, he said.

“Driving through the area on that road is not going to hurt anybody,” he said.

Odom noted that there is a plot of land at the intersection of Alabama 21 and Iron Mountain that could be developed — a 13-acre lot that the MDA has transferred to the city. Attempts to reach city economic development director Toby Bennington for more details on on plan for the site were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis was bullish on the Iron Mountain project while it was under construction, and he remains so — even though he says he hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in traffic through his town since it opened.

“What I’m looking for is five or ten years down the road,” Willis said.

Willis said he does expect the road to spur development at McClellan’s industrial park in coming years. When more people from Alexandria and other communities begin coming regularly to the base, he said, they’ll soon realize that the shortest path is through Weaver.

“Right now it’s still a barren road,” he said. “But it won’t stay that way.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.