On Thursday morning I received an email from a concerned citizen from Kingsport, Tennessee, informing me of an article the Kingsport Times News had ran that day. Its headline, Hawkins County intends to fill in a swampy section of Laurel Run Park near the entrance gate at the far west end of the park (written by Jeff Bobo), got my attention and I wanted to know what exactly was going down in Hawkins County. I immediately called the news room and asked if someone could email me the article so that I could better assess the situation. Within an hour I received the message with the attached article.
In the article, Alderman Joe McLain, a member of the Hawkins County Commission who serves on the Parks Committee, explained to the Board of Mayor and Alderman Monday that the county intends to fill in a swampy section of Laurel Run Park near the entrance gate at the far west end of the park. Laurel Run Park is located along the south bank of the Holston River just outside the Church Hill city limits. “It gets worse every year, and if it gets too bad they will eventually declare it a (protected) wetland and you can’t ever do anything with it,” McLain said. “Right now the state has said we can fill it in with dirt. We have to leave the drains in it, but we can fill it in with dirt and reclaim that property basically because right now you can’t even mow it.” After reading the entire piece I felt that I needed to make a call to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). While waiting on a call back I did a little research. Here’s Tennessee’s definition and delineation of wetlands.
Wetlands definitions and delineation
The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977 defines “waters of the state” as: any and all water, public or private, on or beneath the surface of the ground, which are contained within, flow through, or border upon Tennessee or any portion thereof except those bodies of water confined to and retained within the limits of private property in single ownership which do not combine or effect a junction with natural surface or underground waters. Wetlands are defined in the TDEC rules as “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.”Tennessee relies on the delineation criteria in the Corps’ 1987 Wetland Delineation Manual.
Wetland related statutes and regulations
The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977 and the corresponding Aquatic Resources Alteration Rule establish the state’s Aquatic Resources Alteration Permit (ARAP) program that regulates wetlands and wetland activities apart from those covered by individual §404 permits. Physical alterations to waters of the state that require either an ARAP or a §401 water quality certification include: dredging, excavation, channel widening, or straightening; bank sloping; stabilization; channel relocation; water diversions or withdrawals; dams, weirs, dykes, levees or other similar structures; flooding, excavating, draining and/or filling a wetland; road and utility crossings; and structural fill.
§401 certification program
Tennessee uses §401 certification to protect wetlands by approving, conditioning, or denying federal §404 permits. In 2000, rules for implementation of the state’s §401 certification and the ARAP programs were formally adopted. The rules specifically define wetlands as a category of waters of the state and establish a “no net loss of water resource value” standard for permitting. Section 401 certification is required for any §404 permit approved by the Corps. However, if the Corps issues a Nationwide Permit (NWP) for a project, or doesn’t have jurisdiction over the impacted wetland, then the applicant must obtain a state ARAP permit. TDEC issues approximately 400 to 500 wetland permits per year, split about equally between ARAPs and §401 certification. These qualitative factors are described in TDEC’s Aquatic Resource Alteration Rules in relation to assessing water resource values and in the Tennessee Antidegradation Standard.
TDEC’s wetland assessment methodology is still evolving. The division is incorporating Tennessee’s antidegredation rules and tier evaluations into the permit assessment process. TDEC reviews all applications to assess the proposed impacts and determine if a tier assessment must be conducted. The antidegradation guidelines, which apply to all waters of the state, are more stringent for impacts to Tier 2 and 3 wetlands than those for Tier 1 wetlands. A field review is conducted for projects impacting all three tiers of wetlands; these are coordinated with TWRA, the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and occasionally the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The department also has an EPA grant to develop a new assessment methodology for permitting purposes. TWRA reviews public notices for §401 certification and ARAP permits to ensure that the proposed impacts and mitigation comply with the Basic Minimum Compensatory Mitigation Requirements developed by TDEC, TWRA, EPA, Corps, and FWS. TWRA also ensures that permits follow the mitigation ratios laid out in the TDEC mitigation rules.
Around 5:30 pm, the call came in from the TDEC field officer. I explained the situation and reviewed the article, and then emailed the entire article to the office so she could read it in its entirety. While on the call, she looked up Laurel Run Park in the TDEC database and found a 2009 permit issued for work on the east side of the Park, it was to help with water removal during flooding. It didn’t include any alteration to the documented wetlands. She also stated that they had not applied for any new permits for the wetland fill project that was mentioned in the article. Before we ended the call, I let the officer know that I would be visiting the Park the next morning to investigate and photograph the possible dredging of part of the protected wetlands.
Friday morning, I arrived at Laurel Run Park around 9am and found that someone had replaced the tile for the road that crossed the wetland and they had, in fact, started to dredge the west end of the wetland. I photographed the work that had been done, made a few notes, and decided that I had enough to make a report to the field officer. But before I could leave, the field officer pulled onto the road where I was parked. It was a great meeting, I was able to review the TDEC data and maps showing exactly where the documented wetlands are located, and we were able to confirm that the dredging was exactly where we suspected, right down the middle of the protected wetlands, on the west side of the property. At that moment, she confirmed that there were violations and that she was going to talk with the Park manager. I took a few more photos and made my way back to my office in Johnson City.
Late Friday evening, I received a followup email from the field officer detailing her meeting with the Park officials and how the violation would be handled. She explained that the individual who had dredged the wetland and replaced the tile now understands that no one can place any fill material in the protected wetlands and how he would be restoring the wetlands with the material that had been removed while dredging.
I’m very happy to announce that currently, all is well and the Laurel Run Park wetlands are safe. We will be monitoring the situation by continued visits and also checking with TDEC to make certain that no new permits have been applied for. I am certain that this is not the end of the threat and at some point the county will apply for the ARAP permits. At that point we will do whatever it takes to insure that any permits to fill the wetlands be denied. So stay tuned!
Senate boosts wilderness protection across US! Yes, now we can get some protection for our wildlands!
This is an awesome start! The great thing is we don’t even have our new President yet! Read the full story here!
Thanks Senators! We need to keep moving in the right direction.
Sorry to post some bad news on Christmas but this is devistating! Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee!
Not sure why I haven’t received this info sooner but I just received it by email. I hope to have so photos of this soon, I’m going to make a trip to the disaster this week!
Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee; 48 Times the Size of Exxon Valdez
An environmental disaster of epic proportions has occurred in Tennessee. Monday night, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.
According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.
Toxic Sludge Got Into Tributary of Chattanooga Water Supply
Apart from the immediate physical damage, the issue is what toxic substances are in that sludge: Mercury, arsenic, lead, beryllium, cadmium. Though officials said the amounts of these poisons in the sludge could not be determined on Monday, they could (at the mild end) irritate skin or trigger allergies or (longer term) cause cancer or neurological problems.
This toxic sludge got into the Emory River, a tributary of the Clinch and Tennessee Rivers: The water supply for Chattanooga, Tennessee as well as millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. TVA says that as yet the spill (which they are characterizing as a mudslide or landslide, but frankly it’s still toxic…) has not affected the water quality in the Emory River.
High Levels of Rain, Thaw Freeze Cycles May Have Weakened Pond Walls
On why the spill happened, the Tennessean speculated,
The area received almost 5 inches of rain this month, compared with the usual 2.8 inches. Freeze and thaw cycles may have undermined the sides of the pond. The last formal report on the condition of the 40-acre pond — an unlined, earthen structure — was issued in January and was unavailable Monday, officials said.
Greenpeace Calls for Criminal Investigation
In a press release issued yesterday, noting that spills of similar substances have resulted in felony charges, Greenpeace called for a criminal investigation into the spill:
“Every facility like this is supposed to have a spill contingency plan to prevent this kind of disaster,” said Rick Hind, Greenpeace Legislative Director. “The authorities need to get to the bottom of what went wrong and hold the responsible parties accountable.”
TVA Releases Official Statement
In an official statement, TVA president and CEO Tom Kilgore said,
Protecting the public, our employees, and the environment is TVA’s primary concern as we supply electric power for the people of Tennessee Valley region. We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide and damage to nearby homes.We are grateful no injuries have been reported, and we will take all appropriate actions to assist those affected by this situation.
We appreciate the continuing efforts of local and state agencies, as well as TVA employees, to respond to this situation quickly and efficiently. Our intense effort to respond effectively will continue 24/7 for the foreseeable future with the safety of the public our top priority.
Clean Coal, Yeah Right
As many people in the blog world are noting, it’s this sort of thing that really makes the proposition of clean coal so absurd. Even if you can scrub all the CO2 out of it, you still have so many other toxic waste products associated with burning coal that have to be stored that carbon emissions are just a part of the problem. How many other holding ponds are out there waiting to burst?
The move for responsible fire management will be underway very soon! It’s nice to have a competent administration moving into the White House!
BTW, I’m posting this for it is directly connected to what we do as nature photographers.
OBAMA-BIDEN: COMMITTED TO WILDFIRE MANAGEMENT & COMMUNITY PROTECTION:
Barack Obama and Joe Biden salute the heroic efforts of America’s local, state and federal wildland firefighters who risk their lives to battle the massive wildfires that have endangered communities throughout much of the country. The risk of fire to firefighters and communities could be significantly reduced by working hand-inhand with states and localities and investing in effective fire prevention, mitigation, and land and forest management measures. As President, Barack Obama will aggressively pursue an effective fire prevention, mitigation and land and forest management plan that decreases the fire risks that many communities are now facing. When wildfire threatens lives and property, an Obama-Biden Administration will increase the federal government’s commitment to field the most professional, well-trained, and well-coordinated wildfire fighting force in the world. Unlike the Bush Administration, they will not finance these efforts by raiding the budgets relied upon by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to provide public access to, and manage, the more than 430 million acres of public lands that they oversee. Barack Obama will work with Governors, Congress and local officials on a bipartisan basis to develop and enact reliable, dedicated funding sources to fight the most catastrophic fires so that public lands may continue to be managed for public access, fish, wildlife, recreation, forestry and other multiple uses. As President, Barack Obama Will Aggressively Pursue An Effective Fire Prevention Plan That Decreases
The Fire Risks to Communities. Decades of fire suppression, urban sprawl, and past timber management have altered historic fire cycles. In many forests today, wildfires burn with uncharacteristic intensity because of unnaturally high levels of small diameter trees and brush and endanger large numbers of rural and suburban communities across America. This situation is exacerbated by dry conditions, the spread of insects and disease, and prolonged drought associated with climate change.
—- Barack Obama recognizes the need to invest in forest and rangeland health in order to reduce the risk
that fires pose to communities. He will place a high priority on implementing cooperative projects to remove brush, small trees and other overgrown vegetation that serve as fuel for wildfires. Barack Obama will focus the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management’s efforts on working with local communities on hazardous fuels projects to make communities safer and forests healthier.
—- An Obama-Biden Administration will use controlled burns and prescribed natural fire to reduce such
fuels in close coordination with those communities that are most at risk. Thousands of jobs will be
created by working with communities to thin unnaturally crowded forests close to homes. And by
coordinating fuel reduction efforts with biomass energy projects, communities will have the potential to
generate new sources of low cost energy. Resources will be focused where they will do the most good:
in the wildland-urban interface, and not in fighting fires or on logging projects in remote, backcountry
—-Reducing the dangers of wildfires cannot be addressed through federal action alone. Under an Obama-
Biden Administration, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and other agencies will work with local and state governments and insurance companies to pursue effective wildland urban interface planning, develop building codes and other “best practices” to prevent and mitigate fire impacts in high risk areas. By using fire-resistant building materials, removing fuels from around homes, and curtailing invasive species, the risk of fire can be reduced. Many communities and citizens are already stepping up to the plate and an Obama administration will be a partner in that initiative.
Barack Obama will work with Governors, local officials, and Congress on a bipartisan basis to develop
and enact a reliable, dedicated budget to meet the needs of firefighters, at-risk communities, and public
The U.S. Forest Service firefighting budget is based on a ten year average of firefighting costs that is out of step with the increased frequency, size and intensity of wildfires. Over the last decade, fires have burned an average of more than 7 million acres a year – twice the average of the 1990s. The Bush Administration has failed to address this problem relying instead on a pass-the-buck strategy of raiding the budgets of popular programs that manage access for sportsmen, protect fish and wildlife habitat, and manage recreation usage. When those programs were drained, they sought emergency appropriations from Congress. In 2007, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management “spent nearly $1 billion more than was budgeted for firefighting, forcing both agencies to shift money from other programs to pay for firefighting.”
—- Barack Obama will work with the Congress on a bipartisan basis to ensure agencies have the funds
needed to suppress and manage wildfires without taking money from other important programs within
the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Although Congress provided supplemental funding for fire operations over the Bush Administration’s objection earlier this year, the agencies have once again run out of wildfire funds, forcing them to redirect funds from other land management activities. Barack Obama and Joe Biden support a plan to provide the necessary funding to fight truly catastrophic and expensive wildfires.