Map of Horizon Center with motorsports track overlaid showing the impacted natural areas that include a rare Beech-Maple Forest and wildlife corridors connecting the Black Oak Conservation Easement to East Fork Popular Creek access.

The Department of Energy has released an Addendum to the Environmental Assessment (EA) at the Horizon Center (HC). The addendum details a proposal favored by the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board (IDB) that would remove or modify protection for natural area parcels that lie between the three tracts of land previously approved for development. The IDB has voted in favor of making nearly all the available HC acreage for purchase and development for a motorsports park and associated amenities. The figure below is from the EA addendum. Additionally, the IDB-accepted proposal broadens the future use of the space beyond that of industrial or office space and includes the possibilities of hotels, a recreational vehicle (RV) park, a vehicle test facility, residential development, and an amphitheater. TCWP has concerns about the loss of these natural areas, the proposed use of the land, and the impact on the surrounding natural areas and community. The proposal from DOE represents a major change since these natural areas have consistently been preserved due to their high environmental value. It represents a major departure from the only previously-proposed use as an industrial park, which would provide good jobs and limited impacts on the natural areas. In addition, the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement and nearby residential areas could be dramatically impacted by the motorsports park, with intrusion of traffic and noise being heard miles away.

In the Environmental Assessment Addendum, the stated purpose of the proposed action is to create a single large tract for development and relax environmental protections. This is not an appropriate purpose for a federal action. The EAA contains numerous non-binding mitigative recommendations and strategies that are unenforceable on a third-party owner and should not be considered in the analysis.

Discussion Points

  1. An EA has to analyze the effects of a federal action. In the Environmental Assessment Addendum, the stated purpose of the proposed action is to remove the [environmental] restrictions on the Horizon Center. That may describe what is proposed, but it is not an appropriate purpose for an action by our government. When the purpose is stated this way, it comes pretty close to the government planning a racetrack.

  2. Wilderness preservation
    • The natural areas designated for protection in the original HC covenant should not be dismissed without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) being conducted. These areas contain valuable ecological resources and provide needed corridors among larger wilderness areas (e.g., the East Fork Poplar Creek riparian corridor and the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement) that border the HC.
    • We are aware of no evidence that the lack of connectivity among the three main HC parcels has been a barrier in the past to the attraction of developers to the HC. The proposal that this lack of connectivity justifies ignoring the value of the designated natural areas and a major NEPA reversal is unfounded.
    • The natural areas data is dated. Current survey information is needed for plants, birds, bats, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and other wildlife. The surrounding land uses data is also dated and needs to be updated, including planned residential use that has been platted but not built out.
    • Although the EA Addendum addresses potential issues of concern to nearby neighborhoods, such as noise and traffic congestion, the addendum does not address how these issues would affect the experience of hikers and bikers in the BORCE and ED-1 natural areas that border the HC.
    • In the EA Addendum, it is asserted that environmental constraints have restricted development, but no evidence is presented to substantiate this assertion. The issue is how to develop appropriate areas without impacting the protected areas. Consideration should be given to alternatives instead of relaxation/elimination of environmental protections.

  3. Proposed development is contrary to original Horizon Center covenant
    • When originally obtained by the city, the HC land was to be developed for light industry and research; a motorsports park does not meet this original intent.
    • The addendum seeks to expand the accepted uses of the HC to include increasing land uses to include hotels, a recreational vehicle (RV) park, a motorsports park, a vehicle test facility, residential development, and an amphitheater.
    • This is the only land the city has left for industrial development, and opportunities with higher benefits and lower environmental costs should be pursued instead of the current proposed motorsports park and associated development.
    • There is no mention of parking in any of the provided material except for a notation on a map showing the racecourse that suggests that an area not included in the agreement but within the HC would be used for event parking (Fig. 2-3 in Addendum). This (parcel DA2) is an area that is still available for industrial development that would be much more valuable than a parking lot.
    • The land uses proposed in the EAA are not encompassed by the limits of the current (City of Oak Ridge) IND-2 zoning.

  4. Impacts to Oak Ridge residents
    • Noise – The noise analysis provided by the developer is unconvincing. It is hard to believe that noise from the motorsports park will not extend well beyond that described in the report.
    • Congestion – It is hard to argue that the crowds at motorsport park events will be large enough to provide a valuable economic benefit while at the same time be not so large as to cause traffic congestion problems and other nuisances.

  5. Other
    • Promises of lots of jobs seems dubious. Large events would likely be infrequent and maintenance of a motorsports park for out-of-towner’s recreation won’t likely provide many full-time jobs, let alone high value jobs.
    • One has to wonder why the valuable HC property is being considered for this development given that there are surely other lands available in Anderson or nearby counties that would be easier to acquire and develop as a motorsports park than the HC.
Map showing the location of the Horizon Center (ED-1 on the map).

More information

  1. Links to EA addendum, etc.
  2. Oak Ridger for Responsible Development (OR4RD):
  3. Contact TCWP: If you have any questions please contact us.

What can you do?

  1. Please send your comments and concerns about the motorsports park to DOE and encourage them to outright reject the EAA based on the inappropriate conduct by a federal agency or perform a thorough Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed action. The comment period ends on October 21, 2020.

    Address comments to: Katatra Vasquez at

  2. You should also send comments to Oak Ridge city council and the planning commission who will need to approve a different zoning ordinances to accommodate the motorsports park: