TDEC adds 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park

News release from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation

MARION COUNTY, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), in partnership with The Conservation Fund, The Land Trust for Tennessee and the Open Space Institute (OSI), today announced the addition of 1,058 acres to South Cumberland State Park in Marion County. The acquisition connects more than 7,000 acres of protected public land, conserves forestland and cove habitat from future development, and protects scenic views on the Fiery Gizzard trail.  Continue reading

TDEC fines Memphis $512K for sewage spill

A year after ruptures in the Memphis wastewater system began spewing millions of gallons of raw sewage into local streams and lakes, Tennessee environmental regulators issued an order Thursday assessing at least $512,857 in penalties and damages against the city, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The order signed by Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau cited the ruptures of a 96-inch interceptor, a 60-inch pipe and a 42-inch line that occurred between March 31 and April 18, 2016, after heavy rain washed out the stream banks in which the pipes were buried.

State officials estimate that more than 350 million gallons of untreated wastewater poured into Cypress Creek and McKellar Lake in Southwest Memphis, killing at least 72,000 fish. The rupture of the 42-inch pipe along the Loosahatchie River, along the city’s northern edge, spewed at least 7.5 million gallons of raw sewage before crews finished a bypass line that ended the leak.

The order calls for Memphis to pay $359,855.98 into a state natural resource damages fund and ante up a civil penalty of at least $49,920 and more if it fails to comply with environmental-restoration work prescribed by the department. In addition, city must some $61,929 in damages to TDEC and $41,153 to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which investigated the fish kill.

…The order isn’t final until 30 days after its issuance, and the city can file an appeal that would be heard by an administrative law judge.

Privatization conference draws protesters at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation met Thursday with five companies interested in operating the park’s hospitality services while “a couple of dozen” protesters braved the cold outside to show their displeasure with the proposed privatization, reports the Times-Free Press.

The companies are scheduled to notify the state by Monday if they intend to respond to a request for proposals that was posted in December outlining the state’s willingness to spend up to $22.1 million for a new inn that would be owned by the state but run by a private company. The contract with a private company would last until December 2029.

The request states TDEC’s desire for the redeveloped lodge to be operational and open to the public by January 2020. It also calls for the new facility to be “a full-service hotel with a sophisticated, yet relaxed, contemporary design with modern upscale rustic décor.”

Requirements of the request for proposals call for the new inn to have 75-95 rooms that, according to projections in the request, could be rented for $151 per night.

Rooms in the current 145-room facility, built in 1971, rent for $76 per night, but it has deteriorated due to a lack of state funds for maintenance.

Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the environment and conservation department, said in a statement released Thursday afternoon that, “The right partner will help us more effectively steward taxpayer dollars while ensuring the long-term viability of Fall Creek Falls’ hospitality operations.”

Opposition is centered on the impending loss of state jobs for inn employees, who would be displaced for two years during construction of the new facility, although the request for proposals stipulates they be guaranteed interviews with the new company. Hill has also said the state will seek placements in other state jobs for those affected.

Opponents also fear that the move to privatize hospitality services at Fall Creek Falls could be the first in a series of actions to privatize more state park facilities. They contended Thursday that the projected price of the hotel mentioned in the RFP would put a financial strain on families seeking to stay at the inn.

The request proposes that the state receive a minimum of 4.5 percent of annual gross revenue from the park’s hospitality services, which also include 20 cabins, 10 villas and an 18-hole golf course.

“It’s not a good deal for Tennessee,” Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps said, his breath visible as he held a protest sign. “This park was never intended to be a profit center. It’s intended to preserve land and provide an affordable place for Tennesseans to come and enjoy the outdoors.”

Historic correction? David Crockett, not ‘Davy,’ was born in on a mountaintop in TN

The state park named after the “king of the wild frontier” – as he was dubbed in a popular 1960s song —  is getting an overhaul, financed by federal and state money, along with official abandonment of his nickname.

The 105-acre site in Greene County, now officially the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, will officially become instead the David Crockett Birthplace State Park, reports the Greeneville Sun.

That announcement by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill brought nods and positive exclamations from several in the crowd (of 25-30 “invited supporters”), the newspaper says.

Hobart Akin, cultural resources and exhibits specialist for TDEC, said that $700,000 in funding from a federal grant that was supplemented by state matching funds will pay for the portion of the work that involves upgrading the visitor center. Hill said other state funds provided through the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam have been identified to fund the other portions of the project. Work is expected to begin early in 2017.

… Despite containing a log cabin symbolizing the one in which Crockett was born and other frontier touches, for decades the site has been visually dominated by a modern swimming pool and related buildings, a campground, various picnic pavilions and a paved parking area.

Hill and Akin said that none of those more modern features will leave the park, though some, such as parking areas, will be moved. Overall, the historical aspects of the site will become more dominant, with the more modern areas less accented. Privacy methods including plant screening will be used to make the pool area less visible from the historical sections.

 …Not only will there be an enlarged and enhanced garden area, but there will be animal enclosures with cattle, horses and chickens. Areas now covered by paved parking spots will be made earthen again, with most parking shifted to a different area.

Note: A new bust of Crockett at the state Capitol – it bears the name David, not “Davy” – was unveiled on Dec. 6. The Tennessee Arts Commission news release on that event is HERE.


Four TN sites added to National Register of Historic Places

News release from Department of Environment and Conservation

The Tennessee Historical Commission announced today (Tuesday) the addition of four Tennessee sites to the National Register of Historic Places.

“The National Register is an honorary recognition for time-honored places that enrich our communities and make them unique,” said Patrick McIntyre, State Historic Preservation Officer and executive director of the Tennessee Historical Commission. “We hope this recognition helps generate and reinforce an appreciation for these special properties, so they can be retained for present and future generations of Tennesseans.”

The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.  It is part of a nationwide program that coordinates and supports efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic resources.  The Tennessee Historical Commission, as the State Historic Preservation Office, administers the program in Tennessee.

Sites recently added to the National Register of Historic Places are:

Continue reading

TDEC moves ahead with plans to privatize Fall Creek Falls State Park

Fall Creek Falls State Park employees learned Monday that the state is taking a significant formal step today in the plan to demolish, rebuild and privatize the park’s inn, restaurant and conference center, reports the Times-Free Press.

A request for proposals on the project is scheduled to be posted on the state’s website this morning, officials from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation confirmed Tuesday.

TDEC officials met with the park’s full-time employees at the conference center Monday to discuss how the building project and subsequent privatization will affect the 48 full-time hospitality workers at the park.

“People are mad,” Van Buren County Mayor Greg Wilson said. “The employees are mad.”

TDEC Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill said Tuesday the state plans to identify its top proposal in late March or early April and that demolition of the 44-year-old building could begin by next December.

Hill called it a $22 million project that will benefit the local, regional and state economy as a company enters to operate the park with “a private sector business model.”

Opponents of the project argue that state parks are not intended to be profit centers and that extensive renovation at the inn would be a more cost-effective solution to falling occupancy rates.

Tennessee State Employees Association Executive Director Randy Stamps said Tuesday that he is “mystified” the state wants to tear the inn down, adding he expects there to be legislative hearings about the matter when the Tennessee General Assembly reconvenes next year…. “I do know there are some legislators who had no clue the money allotted to parks in the budget would be used this way.”

Deal preserves 4,000 southern Cumberland Plateau acres

More than 4,000 acres on the southern Cumberland Plateau will be protected under an agreement involving the state, land conservation groups and property owners, reports the Times-Free Press.

The land includes more than 8 miles of streams in the Crow Creek Valley and other vital habitat for endangered species that live just north of the Alabama border.

The project also protects local mining jobs for the next 50 years and connects 25,000 acres of forest and wildlife corridor, according to officials with The Conservation Fund and The Land Trust for Tennessee, the nonprofit organizations that partnered on the effort with the state.

“The South Cumberland State Park area is unique in many ways,” Brock Hill, deputy commissioner for state parks and conservation, said in a statement. “By providing protection of the threatened species and preserving one of Tennessee’s most scenic lands, Tennessee State Parks will preserve and protect this wild place forever.”

The protected 4,061 acres lie along the eastern side of the Crow Creek Valley above the tiny town of Sherwood, Tenn. Sherwood is home to about 500 people and Sherwood Mining Co., the town’s longtime limestone mining operation that harks back to the days when the community was three times its present size.

The Conservation Fund, with support from The Land Trust for Tennessee, purchased 3,893 acres earlier this year from the mining company. The company retained the right to mine limestone underneath the property for the next 50 years, officials said.

…In an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the mining company donated an additional 168 acres to mitigate impacts from mining on the painted snake-coiled forest snail habitat. Franklin County is the only place in the world the animal lives. The habitat of the endangered Morefield’s leather flower and seven other rare species of plants and animals also is protected.

TN taxpayers may pay for plugs on abandoned oil wells

There are about 4,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Tennessee and the state’s taxpayers likely will have to pay the cost of cleaning up many, according to WTVF-TV.

The wells should be plugged to protect groundwater, says Mike Burton of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC has been doing so, spending almost $500,000 this year from a fund financed by bond money oil and gas companies put up before getting a drilling permit. But that fund is almost depleted since some companies put many wells on one bond, then went bankrupt or disappears.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “Are you going to run out of money to do this?”

Mike Burton said, “Probably. For the older wells I’d say that would be true.”

… Berry Resources abandoned 25 wells in Tennessee. It went out of business after Kentucky fined the company for “defrauding investors.”

Haslam hails TDEC for ending ‘gotcha’ approach to polluters

Gov. Bill Haslam’ is defending the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s anti-pollution efforts despite recent criticism in an Environmental Protection Agency audit, reports WPLN.

Last month, federal regulators faulted the state for not penalizing water polluters, even after they’ve been dumping waste for months. Auditors also found the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation took action against polluters only 19 times last year. Down from an average of more than 180 actions before Haslam took office.

But the governor says the department and its leader, Bob Martineau, have shifted the focus from punishing polluters to working with them.

“I have all the confidence in the world in Commissioner Martineau. He is somebody who takes that responsibility very seriously,” Haslam says. “And, again, we have brought an approach of instead of saying ‘Gotcha’ after something’s wrong to saying, ‘How do we prevent something happening up front?’

“I think that’s how Tennesseans want us to do that.”

Environmentalists say enforcement of water regulations has been uneven. They argue penalties have to be tough enough to hurt polluters’ bottom lines if they’re going to be effective.

EPA faults TDEC’s enforcement of pollution laws

In a recent audit, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found fault with the Department of Environment’s enforcement of anti-pollution laws, reports The Tennessean. The auditors say TDEC neglected to penalize permit holders despite months of documented pollution, failed to assess appropriate fines and didn’t report sewage overflows from major facilities, among other findings small and large.

In one instance, an unnamed facility received five warning letters in seven months for significant violations, but never received a formal penalty, according to the EPA. Another exceeded its limits for polluting into a state waterway during a 10-month period, but the state didn’t take any enforcement action.

“TDEC is relying on carrots but no sticks,” said Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator of the Tennessee chapter of the Sierra Club. “They have adopted this philosophy that working with the company and voluntary compliance is better.”

…Officials from TDEC declined to be interviewed for this story but issued a statement saying they “appreciate” the EPA’s oversight as “an opportunity to receive constructive feedback on our programs.”

The statement continued: “But we don’t always agree on all of its findings. TDEC’s enforcement efforts continue to make positive, profound and lasting impacts on clean water and clean air in Tennessee.”

…In their written responses to the EPA findings, state officials said they were already working on enforcement orders for some of the facilities, but they just hadn’t finalized the orders at the time of the federal review.


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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