TDEC

Jim Fyke, former state conservation commissioner and Nashville parks director, dies aged 78

James H. “Jim” Fyke, who served as Nashville’s city parks director for 25 years and as commissioner of the state Department of Environment and Conservation under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, has died at age 78 following a long battle with cancer, reports The Tennessean.

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Zero bids for Fall Creek Falls Park privatization

In a stinging setback to its privatization effort for Fall Creek Falls State Park, the Haslam administration’s proposed contract to outsource hospitality services has failed to draw a single bid from would-be operators, reports the Times Free Press.

Kim Schofinski, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, confirmed Wednesday there were no bidders for the request for proposals.

She said the department, meanwhile, is thankful the governor and state lawmakers “allocated funding to enhance the user experience at Fall Creek Falls, and we will evaluate how to best manage those resources as we move forward.”

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TDEC fines TDOC for pollution by two prisons

In a case of one state agency penalizing another, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation recently fined the Tennessee Department of Correction for stream pollution near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Lauderdale County and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex north of Chattanooga, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Potential fines in the TDEC order total $457,806. That can be reduced or eliminated the TDOC restores the streams – the Hatchie River in West Tennessee and a tributary of the Caney Fork River in Bledsoe County — and wetlands damaged by the pollution and outlines other environmental-restoration projects.

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Rural TN governments duped by corporate landfill operations?

The Tennessean has a report on controversy surrounding two rural West Tennessee communities dealing with big corporations that located landfills within their boundaries, expanded them over the years to take in allegedly toxic wastes polluting the environment — and now seek to exit the scene.

The article’s focus is on Decatur County (so rural the article uses the county name as a dateline rather than the county seat, Decaturville), which has a lawsuit going against a subsidiary of Waste Industries Inc.

In February, a surprise inspection by county officials found high levels of arsenic, ammonia, cyanide and other heavy metals in leakage from the landfill they traced into a creek that flows to the Tennessee River, the source of the community’s drinking water.

A day after county officials inspected the landfill, the company filed suit seeking to walk away from its contract to manage the landfill.

County officials have counter-sued, contending Waste Industries is trying to leave it with a multi-million dollar environmental mess. They have also filed formal notice with the federal Environmental Protection Agency of their intent to sue the company for violations of federal clean water and solid waste rules.

Cited as a similar situation is the town of Camden (county seat of Benton County, located about 45 miles away).

In Camden, landfill owner Environmental Waste Solutions, which likewise accepted thousands of tons of “special wastes,” filed for bankruptcy and abandoned operations earlier this month. Local District Attorney Matthew Stowe is investigating the company for possible public safety and white collar crimes while Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, officials are working to contain the site.

The two landfill controversies also have something else in common: Community leaders and residents are laying part of the blame on TDEC for not holding landfill operators accountable.

…TDEC officials take strong issue with criticism they have not done their job or protected local communities.

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.

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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:

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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.”