They want to keep their farm, but one utility district wants to condemn the land. Here's why.

Posted at 11:56 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 19:41:58-04

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lined with opposition signs, one Williamson County farm is at a crossroads with a utility company about condemning the land.

Andrew and Marianne Menefee Byrd possess one of the last remaining farms in Brentwood. With it's rolling hills and expansive property, passersby can see the landscape as they travel Holly Tree Gap Road. But now the Milcrofton Utility District board has warned the Byrds the government entity wants to use the land to blast into a hillside and place two large 2 million gallon water tanks to provide extra water pressure to rapidly developing areas in southern Williamson County.

Byrd said the project is dangerous.

"You can ride up the hill there, which I won’t ride down on horseback, because you can grab rocks with your hand and pull them out of the wall," Byrd said.

That's why neighbors lined the road with 'Save Holly Tree Gap From Milcrofton' signs.

"They’re not happy about it, particularly our next-door neighbor who is literally downhill of where the tanks will be because that water will flow straight down and into his house," Byrd said. "Milcrofton has not shown us any engineering studies that can show that the land can hold that kind of weight. It just hurts my heart to know that the land I rode with my father and with my mother, with my siblings, and pony club friends, is going to be industrialized like this, it’s just wrong."

One of the fastest growing counties in the state, Brentwood grew from 37,000 to 42,000 residents in the last decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Overall, the county's population expanded by 30% in that same time frame.

But despite growth, some residents have sided with the landowners and want to preserve the farm and its history. Before it was the Byrds, the farm featured an original section of the Middle Road, the original road between Franklin and Nashville in 1799. Wanting to see it preserved, more than 1,700 people have signed the “Save Holly Tree Gap” petition opposing Milcrofton’s efforts.

Additionally, the county's preservation nonprofit — the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County — has also gotten involved to advocate for the family.

“This historic corridor and the generational Menefee/Byrd farm connected to it must be protected,” said Rachael Finch, senior director of preservation and education for the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. “The historic significance of this naturally occurring hollow cannot be understated. Due diligence has not been considered by the Milcrofton Utility Board, including a full historic survey, complete with an archaeological and environmental assessment to determine historic and cultural resources located within the parameters of the proposed placement of water tanks.”

During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers retreated through Holly Tree Gap. Even Andrew Jackson took his carriage through the trails.

"You’re looking at various civilized tribes of native peoples prior to any white settlement." Finch said, "What could be lost if we were to see water tanks put on this property?"

Milcrofton Utility District's general manager explained it had approximately 10,500 metered connections and services a population of over 30,000 residents of southeastern Williamson County.

"As the water provider to citizens we serve, we must maintain service and be prepared to accommodate the ever growing needs of people seeking to reside in Williamson County," Milcrofton Utility District general manager Mike Jones said. "As you may be aware, the area is very appealing to current and potential residents. So many are wanting to come to our county and the surrounding greater Nashville area."

Jones said the proposed water reservoirs will have an important function to those in Williamson County, and the water transmission line traverses along Holly Tree Gap Road. To improve water functionality, Jones said it was necessary to put the water tanks on the farm property.

"We offer a vital public service, and sound management practices require these water reservoirs," Jones said. "The best location is on the Byrd property because of the hill and the existing location of our major water supply, which runs along the property. The Byrd’s are a prominent and influential family that have been quoted as, 'declaring war on Milcrofton.' However, as a governmental entity, Milcrofton cannot give them or anyone else preferential treatment over neighboring landowners, or Milcrofton’s thousands of customers seeking water."