The small Texas town of Waxahachie fears its quiet pace will be threatened if it is thrust into the 21st century as the site of America's first supercollider.
Waxahachie has been popular among Hollywood producers, who have shot such films as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Places in the Heart," "Tender Mercies" and "The Trip to Bountiful" in and around the town because of its historical character.But now the Department of Energy wants to put a 53-mile circular particle accelerator - known as the superconducting supercollider - in the town of 18,000, resplendent with old mansions and Gingerbread-style homes.
The $4.4 billion project, if approved by Congress, promises to give the state's economy a much-needed shot in the arm.
Local leaders vow it will not be at the expense of the town's historical character, but others are skeptical.
Jay Paul, leader of a group called Texans Against The Supercollider, said the project will "swamp the rural, quaint atmosphere" of the area.
"For the seven years or more it takes to construct the project, life will be hell out here," Paul told Reuters.
"We know things are going to change around here," says Waxahachie Mayor James Self toward Reuters. "It will be our challenge to stay on top of it."
Since the announcement, Waxahachie has been abuzz at the prospect of economic growth. An estimated 4,500 construction workers will be needed to build the massive project, a giant atom smasher scientists believe will teach them about energy and matter and lead to dramatic technological breakthroughs.
The supercollider itself is expected to provide 8,000 jobs and politicians also hope it will create spin-off industries in Waxahachie, which only a few decades ago still clung to a 19th century economy as the center of the cotton industry.
During that era, when the town was known as the "Queen of the Cotton Belt," Waxahachie was an affluent, bustling town. Its former wealth is reflected in the old mansions and gingerbread-style cottages that survived the years.
The city holds an annual Gingerbread Trail tour, which attracts 20,000 visitors a year.
Mayor Self says no matter what happens, the city does not intend to lose its character.
"Absolutely nothing is going to happen to our historical buildings. There is too much of the people in those places. We can't lose that," he said.
Self said suppercollider supporters in and around Waxahachie vastly outnumber opponents. But the opposition is vocal.
Paul paints a picture of noise, dust and upheaval throughout Ellis County, of which Waxahachie, located about 25 miles south of Dallas, is the county seat.
"They have the ability to drill and haul gravel 24 hours a day. They have promised to work no more than 12 hours a day, but that is still a lot for people accustomed to a quiet life," he said.
Paul also sees the potential for long-term environmental damage to the underground aquifers that supply water because the supercollider will require massive amounts of water to operate.
Paul said environmental impact studies have also shown soil around the 53-mile tunnel could become contaminated with radiation.
The supercollider will be buried under 150 feet of earth. Along its route, transmission stations and refrigeration units will dot what is now mostly open farmland.
Paul, a construction subcontractor, moved to Texas 15 years ago from California and now lives in a small town called Maypearl.
"When we moved here, we were intrigued by the country life, but we came here with the idea of accepting that life, not changing it," he said.
The project still must be approved by Congress, which may be reluctant to fund it at a time when government money is tight, politicians have warned.
Self said he is confident the project will move forward and as it does, it will push Waxahachie out of its sleepy past and into the future.
Paul, on the other hand, would like to see the whole thing dashed on the rocks of political conflict.
"People don't realize what they are giving up," he grumbled.