Failed federal high-tech site now a $4.2 billion ghost town
Buildings, equipment grow obsolete in Mississippi
May 13, 1999
From Correspondent Aram Roston
IUKA, Mississippi (CNN) -- Amid the farms and forests of Mississippi's Tishimingo County are the remains of an extremely expensive failure.
On a 4,700-acre site at Yellow Creek, federal agencies spent more than $4.2 billion over 20 years developing a high-tech facility in the state's far northeastern corner. But today, it is virtually a ghost town, with expensive buildings and equipment sitting idle and becoming more technologically obsolete with each passing day.
The saga of Yellow Creek began in the early 1970s, when the Tennessee Valley Authority -- prodded by a powerful congressman from the region, Rep. Jamie Whitten (D-Mississippi) -- decided to build a nuclear plant and spent $2.5 million acquiring land at the site.
But in 1985, the TVA decided that it didn't need the plant. By then, the agency had already spent $1.2 billion on the project.
TVA eventually sold its property to NASA, which planned to build a plant to make advanced motors for the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters. It poured another $2 billion into the site before deciding that it didn't need the motor after all.
Today, a huge explosion-proof facility designed for mixing rocket fuel, which contains $7.5 million worth of concrete, sits idle in the Mississippi countryside.
"It's too expensive to do anything with it," said Bob Smira of the Mississippi Department of Community and Economic Development. "It will be a monument to times gone by."
Inside the administration building at Yellow Creek sits a 7-year-old mainframe computer. A printer shows that the system was last logged out on April 27, 1994.
When it was purchased in 1992, the computer system cost $1.8 million. Now, the terminals are obsolete and could never be used, as intended, by rocket scientists.
"Possibly they could be used by elementary schools to teach basic skills about computers," said Jerry Wilemon, also of the Mississippi DCED.
An advanced chemistry lab for NASA scientists cost $2.5 million to build and $3.5 million to equip. None if it has ever been used. Similarly, a $3.5 million advanced X-ray machine, designed to examine rocket parts, has also never been used.
In 1996, after more than 20 years of pouring money into Yellow River, the federal government finally decided to give it all away. Equipment, land and all was transferred to the state of Mississippi to try to attract private industry to the site.
A couple of businesses have come, including Alliant Techsystems, which is building a rocket part for its planned commercial space program.
The state will try to auction off what equipment it can. But some of the $4.2 billion poured into Yellow River will remain sitting in the weeds.
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