• Tuesday, November 26, 2019 4:54 PM | Kristen West (Administrator)

    TSRA's Board of Directors has approved a $5,000 contribution to help purchase and conserve the Lone Star Tract on the Cumberland PlateauTennGreen is leading this project to purchase 6,650 acres that will ultimately become a significant addition to Cumberland Trail State Park, providing the opportunity to reconnect a key segment of the Cumberland Trail, restore a critical wildlife corridor and protect nearby rivers and streams.

    Lone Star has over 22 miles of freshwater streams that flow into three separate watersheds: Daddys Creek Lower, Daddys Creek Middle and Piney Creek. The tract includes a section of river frontage on Daddys Creek and the headwaters of Fall Creek (Ozone Falls). Because much of the Lone Star property has been impacted by timber harvest and mineral extraction, this acquisition is imperative to protect the water quality of these streams and watersheds. 

  • Wednesday, May 09, 2012 12:00 PM | James Parnell (Administrator)

     Written by  Becky Johnson

     09 May 2012

    Evergreen Packaging has reached a partial settlement with environmental groups over pollution from the Canton paper mill in the Pigeon River.

    Environmental groups had challenged the mill’s pollution permit, claiming that the standards weren’t tight enough. There were two bones of contention: how warm the river gets and the dark color the river takes on due to the mill’s discharges.

    The portion of the suit dealing with temperature fluctuations to the river has been settled. Initially, the mill was permitted to raise the temperature of the river by 15 degrees Fahrenheit with its discharges, as measured at a monitoring point about half a mile downstream.

    The limit was based on a monthly average, however, so spikes much higher were acceptable as along as it evened out over the course of a month to stay within the acceptable 15 degrees.

    Now, the mill has agreed to an additional temperature criteria based on a weekly average. The river cannot exceed a maximum temperature of 89 degrees in summer or 84 degrees in the winter based on a weekly average, under the terms of the new settlement.

    That is largely within the temperature confines the mill adheres to already.

    “This agreement largely validates what was already a good permit ... the result of a good process,” Blue Ridge Plant Manager Dane Griswold said in a statement. “Having this issue settled means we can continue to provide jobs for hundreds of Western North Carolina families, continue to meet the needs of our customers and ensure the quality of the Pigeon River continues to improve.”

    Hope Taylor, the director of Clean Water for North Carolina, said the temperature standard is still too lax in her book.

    “We would have liked to go far enough to have a true mountain cold water stream downstream of the mill,” Taylor said.

    But moving the mill toward a weekly average instead of a monthly average is still progress, said Taylor, who has been wrangling with the Canton paper mill over water quality issues for more than a decade.

    Taylor said in some instances water in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit has been discharged into the river by the mill. For monitoring purposes, however, the river’s temperature is taken about half a mile downstream of the discharge point, after the hotter water has mixed with the rest of the river.

    The lawsuit was filed by Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of several groups: the Western North Carolina Alliance, Clean Water for North Carolina, the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, Cocke County, Tenn., and Clean Water Expected for East Tennessee.

    The paper mill sucks roughly 29 million gallons a day out of the river and uses it in a myriad of aspects of the paper making process — from cooling coal-fired boilers to flushing chemicals through wood pulp  — and then dumps it back in the river again.

    The settlement was reached “without any admission of liability” on Evergreen’s part, the agreement makes a point of noting.

    Too dark? You decide

    Another area environmental groups contested in the suit is how dark the river’s color should be. Discharges from the mill darken the color of the river. The state considers this purely an aesthetic issue, governed by a subjective standard. Whether the river is too dark is in the eye of the beholder.

    The state has wagered that the color of the river is acceptable, and the mill no longer needs regulation on this front. Environmental groups argued the river is still too dark, however.

    To resolve the issue, the mill will soon undertake a public perception study. A random panel will be asked to size up the color of the river upstream and downstream of the mill.

    The environmental groups have agreed to table their concerns over color pending the outcome of the study. In the meantime, Taylor said her organization is riding herd on the protocols for how the study will be carried out to ensure it is done fairly.

    “Blue Ridge Paper is paying for the consultants who are coming in to do this study, so you have to assume they would bias the study,” Taylor said. “There is a way to really manipulate the way the study goes.”

    For example, the mill initially proposed taking the panel to view downstream portions of the river first where the water is darker due to the discharges, then to the upstream portions where the water is clear. But the color contrast of the river downstream would likely be more striking if viewed the other way around — seeing the clear stretch first then the darker stretch, Taylor said. So she proposed a different methodology: splitting the panel into two groups in terms of viewing order.

    “We said, ‘No, you have to have to have half of them go one way and half go the other way,’” Taylor said.

    Taylor also wants to ensure the panel doesn’t have anyone on it who works at the mill, or whose family members work at the mill. She is also scrutinizing the way the questions will be phrased and the spectrum of multiple-choice answers.

    Mike Cohen, a spokesperson for the Canton mill, said the issue of color is primarily aesthetic, thus the subjective standard is appropriate.

    But Taylor believes there are underlying ecological concerns from the color of the river.

    “We see that color as evidence of the chemical soup coming into the river,” Taylor said. Some of those compounds could be toxic, said Taylor, even though the state doesn’t currently classify them as toxic.

    Even on the basis of aesthetics, the color is still a black mark against the mill, according to the lawsuit.

    “We believe the dark color makes the river less desirable for fishing, rafting and wading than other, less polluted rivers nearby,” said Daniel Boone of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association in a press statement.

    Taylor said the mill should not deprive the public from being able to use and enjoy the river as a resource.

    Whether the public is indeed bothered by the river’s color — based on the opinions of the random panel that is selected — will be borne out by the study in coming months, with the results finalized in early 2013.

    The parties in the suit will then revisit the issue of color. The mill hopes the study will resolve the concerns and the rest of the suit can be dismissed, according to a statement by the mill.

    Permit, take III

    The environmental standards in the mill’s water pollution permit have already been tightened once compared to what the state initially suggested. The state was sent back to the drawing board once by the Environmental Protection Agency, which intervened in the pollution permit two years ago.

    The state had initially recommended looser temperature criteria. The state also deemed the mill had already done enough to improve the color in the river, and that the color discharges were now acceptable and no longer needed regulating through a permit.

    But the EPA called for tighter limits, telling the state to tighten up temperature fluctuations. Under the state’s original permit, the mill would have been allowed to raise the river’s temperature by as much as 25 degrees Fahrenheit downstream of the mill based on a monthly average, but the EPA reined it in to only 15 degrees warmer.

    The EPA also wasn’t convinced color was no longer an issue. The study to determine whether color was within acceptable levels was a result of the EPA stepping in, Taylor said. The EPA also wanted tougher monitoring requirements on dioxins and fish tissue testing.

    The permit was approved by the state two years ago in May 2010. Technically, the permits are up for review every five years.

    “It is pretty much a continual process,” said Cohen, the mill spokesperson.

    In reality, it is often longer between permits. Before the new one was adopted in 2010, the last one before that dated to 2001. The mill operated under an extension of that 2001 permit for four years while a new one was being worked out.

    The river downstream from the mill is far cleaner today than anytime in the mill’s 100-year history. The Pigeon River was once so polluted few fish species could survive and it was unsafe for people to swim in.

    During the 1990s, the mill embarked on a $300 million environmental overhaul, spurred partly by expensive class action lawsuits.

    The biggest environmental victory of the 1990s was getting the mill to drastically reduced dioxin, the most toxic chemical discharged into the river. The final health advisory against eating fish caught downstream of the mill was lifted in 2005. Fish once wiped out by the mill’s pollution are being reintroduced in a joint effort between the mill and state wildlife and environmental agencies.

    But environmentalists and downstream communities want the mill to make further improvements. But instead, it seems progress has plateaued.


  • Saturday, January 31, 2004 12:00 PM | James Parnell (Administrator)

    UPDATE - January 2004 It's been fairly quiet since the Summer of 2002 when the City began discharging to Lick Branch under a temporary 2-year agreement to find a final solution - and time is running out. Recently things have heated up again as it now looks pretty obvious that Spencer will not make the August 2004 deadline to stop discharging to Lick Branch and will have to ask the court for their first one year extension (of 2 possible). At a status hearing before Judge Haynes on Friday January 16, 2004 it was explained that the city is awaiting a decision from a federal funding agency (EDA) on a grant to build a pipeline to the Caney Fork River. Meanwhile a citizen opposition group has organized on the river to stop the pipeline and this could jeopardize the funding. This means that Spencer will likely ask for an extension to stay in Lick Branch another year, and may have to look at another alternative - meaning land application might be back on the table.

     For older stories and items on the issue visit peer.org

  • Sunday, October 10, 1999 12:00 PM | James Parnell (Administrator)

    Marta W. Aldrich

    The AP

    COLUMBIA, Tenn. - On a chigger-infested basin along the Duck River, bulldozer-size hydraulic hammers chip away at 26,000 cubic yards of concrete that for 16 years stood as a monument to failure.

    The Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) unfinished Columbia Dam will never hold back a drop of water. It is being demolished.

    For hundreds of people who saw their families uprooted and homesteads bulldozed to make way for the project in the 1970s, a bitter taste returned in May with the announcement that the dam would come down.

    "To think that it was all for nothing, it's sad," said Patricia West, 73, whose 156-acre farm was among 12,800 acres acquired. "My heart is still broken."

    The TVA spent about $83 million on the dam between 1969 and 1983, when the project was halted over environmental concerns. The dam's concrete portion was more than 90 percent complete and the project as a whole was nearly half done.

    Except for occasional vandals and rappellers, the site was mostly abandoned until June 1, when demolition crews arrived.

    Rising price tag

    The TVA cited safety among its reasons for the demolition - people fall off dams from time to time - but the price tag also had become prohibitive. Construction and land expenses have risen steeply since 1967, from a projected $50 million then to $200 million.

    Demolition should be finished by January.

    Each weekday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., hydraulic hammers flake off 15 cubic yards of concrete an hour. The TVA will have spent $2.4 million once the dam is dismantled and broken rock used to reshape the basin to resemble the original site. TVA project manager Dan Ferry said it's an expense of conscience.

    "We're trying to leave this land in as good a shape as we can. We've irritated people enough around here already," he said.

    The TVA, created in 1933 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, built a string of power-producing and flood-controlling dams in Tennessee and Kentucky through the 1940s. For the most part, they transformed the character of the flood-prone Tennessee Valley and made large-scale economic growth possible.

    Less well received were TVA tributary dams such as Columbia that came in the 1960s and '70s. Their goals weren't electricity production but local economic development, drinking water and recreation.

    Local business leaders envisioned the Columbia Dam as a precursor to industrial growth for the region. They formed the Upper Duck River Development Association in 1964 and lobbied U.S. Rep. Joe Evins, D-Tenn. He was chairman of the powerful House subcommittee on public works and a friend of Columbia banker and dam proponent Lon MacFarland.

    Evins secured the first funding in 1969 for a two-dam project on the Duck River that would begin with Normandy Dam and finish with the more expensive Columbia Dam 100 miles to the north.

    "He just thought it would be a great benefit to that area," said Robert Moore Jr., who worked for the late congressman in the early 1960s.

    Attorney Frank Fly, who represented environmental groups and farmers opposing the project, saw it as pork-barrel politics at its worst.

    "The few who were going to get money at Columbia were in favor of this project. Everyone else was against it," he said.

    Fly believes the TVA was dragged unwillingly into the job. The agency conducted three feasibility studies - in 1933, 1951 and 1966 - that recommended against building the dam. However, the last study was revised and presented a more favorable case, showing $1.20 of benefits for every $1 of cost and setting the stage for federal funding.

    The TVA quickly began acquiring the flat, rocky land on the outskirts of Columbia, 40 miles south of Nashville, where farms and homes dotted rural communities.

    Few residents able to fight

    Few residents had the resources or know-how to fight the giant federal utility when TVA officials ordered them to sell or face condemnation.

    "They'd say, `If you don't like what we give you, you can hire a lawyer,"' said Buddy Derryberry, whose parents' country store was bought in the land rush.

    "After that, the elderly folks were never the same. It destroyed them. I remember seeing 80-year-old people just sit down and cry like a baby because they didn't want to leave home."

    Environmentalists pounced on the Columbia project, which would impound the Duck River on relatively level land. They said the dam would turn the tributary into a murky, algae-filled lake.

    They mailed small bottles of smelly green water to Tennessee's congressional delegation, took the matter to federal court and managed to get several construction delays, angering local supporters who saw the environmentalists - mainly out-of-state groups - as meddlers.

    But the courts and later government regulators eventually sided with the TVA and allowed the project to proceed.

    The momentum shifted by 1977 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added a number of freshwater mussels to its list of endangered species, including two in the Duck River: the birdwing pearly mussel and the Cumberland monkeyface pearly mussel. Efforts to transplant the inch-long creatures to other streams were unsuccessful.

    "That pretty well sunk us there," Ferry said of the Columbia project.

    Business leaders disappointed

    In Columbia, seat of the fifth-fastest-growing county in Tennessee and home to the Saturn car plant, business leaders remain disappointed.

    "The dam represented our future," said ex-City Manager William Gentner. "Without a good water supply, we're at the whim of Mother Nature. And I have yet to see a city grow without ample water."

    Columbia resident Ralph Meece is more direct.

    "There will be a time when Columbia will be thirsty and stinky," said Meece, who joined two dozen protesters outside the demolition site in June. "At this rate, human beings will be the endangered species."

    Chamber of Commerce President Tony Beyer said most locals backed the dam in the early years but support eroded.

    "I think people just got tired of hearing about it," Beyer said. "The only enthusiasm lately has been over what to do with the land now that they're tearing down the dam. Everybody has their own idea."

    The TVA has recommended transferring all 12,800 acres to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to manage. Some land would be for public use, including sites for two schools, a fire hall, a civil-defense training center and recycling station. Part would be reserved for another potential water-supply project. And a fraction would go for residential use.

    In the meantime, former landowners and their heirs are suing the TVA in federal court to reclaim their land.

    Patricia West is among the 125 people listed in the complaint. She wants back the farm where she and her husband raised three children and tended cattle, tobacco and hay for 23 years.

    "No one will ever know the strain and hardship this put on us," said West, whose husband died of a heart attack six years after the move.

    "I've cussed and cried. . . . If I could get that land back, I'd die happy."

    Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

    http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19991010&slug=2988099 

  • Tuesday, May 11, 1999 12:00 PM | James Parnell (Administrator)

    Duck-River Opportunities Project (DROP) started in 1999 to monitor-&-improve the water quality of the Duck River and its tributaries. Drop was funded by the Duck River Protection Endowment which was created following a court settlement between Dana Corporation and the EPA.  

    TSRA initially created DROP after John McFadden spoke to TSRA's board of directors in 1999, asking the organization to sponsor his plan to use the fund to improve water quality in the Duck-River watershed.  DROP was to be a collaborative effort between the protection fund, TSRA, and project director John McFadden.  Marshall Spencer acted as TSRA chair for the project. 

    With John McFadden, an independent consultant, heading up the project, DROP used the protection fund for its projects.  After those funds were depleted, DROP obtained grants from TWRA and other grantors.  Under Marshall Spencer’s supervision, TSRA processed the invoices for materials used in all of the site-specific conservation projects in DROP and kept records of grant funds spent for reporting purposes. 

    Following a verbal agreement with Leslie Colley of The Nature Conservancy, DROP agreed to limit its focus to "the Lower Duck-River watershed", which for that agreement was below Columbia dam. 


    DROP Successes:

    • A large part of DROP's efforts were in the Spring Hill area, since fast-paced suburban expansion was heavily impacting Duck-River tributaries in that area.  DROP mobilized many residents and area volunteers to help with weekend projects. Many of the volunteers used for tree planting and for riverbank stabilization were TSRA members, but eventually the residents took the lead in those projects.
       
    • John McFadden and Marshall Spencer kept an eye on TDOT projects in the watershed and even advised them on how to use best practices to minimize water pollution during construction.  The biggest TDOT project monitored was the first phase of the 4-lane expansion of U.S. highway 412 / TN 99 east of Hohenwald in Lewis County.  That project is now in its third phase.
       
    • It was through DROP's persistence that fraudulent record-keeping in Mt. Pleasant's sewage-treatment department was discovered.  High levels of sewage-related pollutants in Grassy Branch belied what the department's records stated. That eventually led to two federal convictions of department employees. 


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