GOLD MINE ON THE HARPETH

12 02 2006

I was telling you last month about the abandoned quarry that the Metro Solid Waste Advisory Board has approved as a new dump site. I got a chance to visit it a couple of weeks ago, and I want to share my findings and observations with you.It’s huge. It’s desolate, it’s beautiful, it’s dangerous, it’s right on the Harpeth River, it has great acoustics and a beautiful lake and, yes, water is flowing into it from seams in the rock and, since it isn’t getting any fuller, there must be water flowing out of it, too. The geology of the area is what is called “karst;” the rocks are shot through with wide cracks, through which water seeps or flows, sometimes creating caves. It would be easy for contamination from a dump here to enter the water table, and there will be no getting pollution out of the groundwater once it’s there. These things happen—just ask the people of Dixon about it.

This quarry is huge. Walking down into it reminded me of being in a canyon out west. One of my fellow explorers gasped, “it’s bigger than Bourdeaux,” referring to Nashville’s Bourdeaux landfill, which should, if proper recycling guidelines are followed, be big enough to hold all garbage of any category—construction, household, whatever—for the forseeable future. In other words, authorizing use of this site as a dump gives Davidson County way more landfill capacity than it needs. One begins to wonder if perhaps the operators are contemplating bringing in trash from elsewhere? It’s been estimated that this site will hold two hundred thousand truckloads of construction and demolition waste. Two hundred thousand truckloads at the current landfill disposal rate of about $150 a truckload is a lot of money—thirty million dollars, to be approximate. State Representative Gary Moore commented,”If they want to fill it up, they can do like anybody else and put up a sign and ask for fill dirt—but there’s no reason to be dumping any kind of trash where it might pollute the Harpeth River.” The quarry owners will not get thirty million dollars by advertising for fill dirt. They evidently don’t care if they end up irreversibly polluting the Harpeth River, if it pays them well enough. Such public spirited citizens, offering to donate the land for a park once they’re done getting richer off it.

This quarry is desolate. It is a site where the earth has been raped. The ground that has not been dug for the quarry has been scraped flat and looks like a parking lot. There are several dozen loads of construction waste already dumped here, which may be a violation of the law. Most of these loads are rocks and dirt, but we also saw plastic foam insulation and a mangled deck chair wrapped in the remains of an old-style blue plastic metro recycling box. We all found that very ironic.

Nashville currently recycles a minute percentage of its wastes, minute compared not just to the Solid Waste Board’s goals or what could be recycled, but minute compared to what we must contrive to reuse if we want to continue enjoying something like our current standard of living for very much longer. Did you know that if everyone in the world consumed petroleum and petroleum products (like fertilizer and plastic) at the rate we do here in America, the world’s known oil reserves would last seven to ten years?

I want to talk for a little bit about this whole recycling business. I hate to sound like the old coot I am, but when I was a kid, things mostly didn’t come prepackaged. If I wanted a toy car, I went to the five-and-dime store and they had a counter with toy cars lined up on it, bumper to bumper like in a parking lot, with little paper price tags on them, and the cars were made out of metal, so if you really wanted to you could melt it down and recast it and turn it into something else. I haven’t shopped for toy cars in a long time, but I think I know what I’d find if I went looking. I’d find a plastic car in a plastic-and-cardboard wrapper that is almost as bulky as the car itself, and that wrapper may have cost more to produce than the plastic toy it contains, and if an amateur like you or me melts the plastic down we may have fun but we will also end up with a stinky, polluting, unrecyclable mess.

It’s kinda the same with food—people don’t much cook any more, they take things out of boxes or cans or whatever and put them in the microwave, or bring home takeout in lots of so-called “disposable” containers or go to a fast food dispensary that, again, swaddles our meal in paper and plastic that probably doubles the cost of what we are eating—I know a little about this, I used to be a commercial fruit and vegetable farmer and I know that even the kind of basic packaging you buy for retail fruit and vegetable sales costs some money.

There is some pressure on us as individuals to reduce, recycle or at least stash our trash where it’s easy for someone to remove, but there is very little pressure on the companies that produce the trash WE are supposed to dispose of properly. In fact, packaging and disposable gizmos are big pistons in the economy, adding value to the GNP and creating jobs. We wouldn’t want environmentalism to hurt our sacred economy, now, would we? This dump could make somebody thirty million dollars—ain’t that sacred enough for ya? The dollar is my shepherd, I shall not want!

And then there’s electronic toys. I recently had a set of headphones malfunction—they no longer play treble sounds—I have a suspicion this could be easily fixed IF the headphones were made to be taken apart and IF I hadn’t bought them for under twenty dollars—because I know I couldn’t get ‘em fixed for twenty dollars, and, alas, I am not enough of a renaissance man to be able to fix my own headphones. So now my headphones are part of the 4,000 tons of electronic waste that is discarded every hour, not to mention the printer we had that just burned out and that now sits on our front porch…but I digress.

Yes, Charlie Tygard, the quarry is dangerous. We climbed over rocks that had fallen from the cliffs, and I saw plenty of standing rock that I wouldn’t want to get anywhere near, and for sure it wouldn’t take much for some drunk to slip over an edge and hit deep water or hard rock. But it’s no more dangerous than anyplace else I’ve been where there are cliffs. People have fallen to their deaths from the top of Burgess Falls, over by Cookeville, but I don’t hear the town fathers over there proposing to fill the gorge up with construction trash so nobody will ever have to be exposed to any danger there again.

This former quarry, this Earthrape crime scene, is beautiful, people, like I said it reminds me of canyons out west, like canyons out west it’s big enough to make me feel small, and I think there is something nourishing to our souls about being in natural places that give us a sense of how small and fragile we human beings are. My friends and I stood in the bottom of the quarry (well, at water level, anyway) and looked out across the water and up at the sky and drank in the immense scale of the place. We played drums and flutes and chanted and made a small offering to the spirits of the place, and thought about how where we were standing may someday be buried under two hundred thousand truckloads of trash.

The dump’s proponents are beating their drum about how dangerous it is, how much safer the area will be when it is filled in (unless the Harpeth is polluted from waste in the dump).I say: We have got to get over letting fear of injury rule our lives. Again, the old coot speaks: some of the best days of my youth were spent in abandoned quarries. They’re one of those places kids have always gone to get a taste of freedom and self-determination, and those places are seriously endangered in our over-supervised, over-regulated world.

So…what DO I think ought to be done with this beautiful ugly mess? The quarries across the road have been turned into a state park, but they’re much smaller, they’ve been abandoned much longer , and natural bioremediation has taken place—that is, the woods have grown back. I think the barrenness of this site offers an excellent opportunity to demonstrate intentional bioremediation, and as for the cliffs, they’re nothing a chain link fence couldn’t substantially (and discreetly, for the sake of the aesthetics of the place) prevent fools from falling off. Actually, there are no chain link fences at the state park, and while the cliffs there are not as high, they are still tall enough to be fatal.

Neither State Senator Douglas Henry nor State Representative Gary Moore, in whose districts the quarry lies, seem inclined to amend the State Scenic Rivers Act, which they helped write. Sen. Henry did qualify this, saying “I’m one of the authors of the State Scenic Rivers Act and unless the Department of Conservation recommends a change I’m not going to change it.” My friends in the conservation struggle are concerned about a certain pliability they perceive in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. After all, the Department of Water Quality approved the discharge of sewage into the Rumbling Falls Cave system, and it took a lawsuit to stop them. This may take another lawsuit before it’s over. Start saving your pennies.

music:  James McMurtry, “Vague Directions”

Comments

So where is the situation at? Is there still time to do something: contact more groups, get a petition signed by residents of the area. And then there’s always bumper stickers.(I can make some.) Keep me posted. Caz
Posted by Caz on 03/01/2006 06:12:24 AM

Yes, there is further resistance to this dump. I recently received this email: __To those on this email group. Please read and consider the implications for the Bellevue comunity over time. If you care to, send this questionaire on to all the people you know who will also benefit from the knowledge of this proposed legislation. I urge you to contact the links provided and give them your opinion. ____________________________________________________________________________________________ Group one: Local Neighborhoods close by the requested landfill a. Do you know state agencies are being told the local neighborhoods close to the landfill, are in favor of this project? How do you think this can be proven? b. Were you ever told existing laws, based on solid science, require a landfill to be located at least 2 miles from the Harpeth River and this landfill is 500 feet? c. Did you ever receive a notice of a meeting to discuss this project where the words “landfill or dump” were used to simply describe the proposal to fill in a quarry? Wonder why? d. Have you ever attended such a landfill meeting on this project meeting where there were speakers who could provide “balance,” science or opposing views as you may expect in an adult discussion? d. Were legal assurances ever provided in detail to your attorney(s) for your neighborhoods, outlining the offer and the contract, size, details, time limits, performance, oversight of the landfill operations? e. Do you wonder why you know so very little about this landfill? f. Have you ever read or heard about environmental issues at stake for the Harpeth River and this project? g. Does the next ten years of putting up with a line of dump trucks sound like something you negotiated when you invested in your home? h Do your think your roadways are safe and durable enough to take the truck abuse and who will pay? i. If you have questions or concerns about this proposed legislation, contact the HRWA and ask to be kept apprised of this project. http://www.harpethriver.org or call 615-790-9767 Group #2 For those of us who live in the West Nashville/Bellevue Area a. While property taxes are going through the roof, schools are being underfunded and every department in Metro is being asked to reduce the budget, does it make sense to lose millions in dump fees which go to our government for income to pay for needed services and send it to a commercial owner of this dumpsite? b. Does Bellevue and “Landfill along the Scenic Harpeth River” sound sweet to you? c. Did you ever wonder why you know so little and never heard of any opposition from anybody or any agency, how something this big and debatable was so silent? d. Water runoff and stream destruction go hand in hand; does a major landfill full of demolition and construction debris 500 feet from the Harpeth make sense? e. The Laws are on the books for decades to protect the environment so why are they being challenged now for a private firm to benefit, and put the public at risk and loss? Group # 3: For those who live in Middle Tennessee,,Outside Davidson County a. Six counties are in the Harpeth River Watershed. Yet, only Davidson/Nashville is 100% responsible for trying to get the laws weakened to allow this landfill on the river’s edge and YET did you know 94% of the watershed is outside Davidson County? b. How does it make you feel to know Metro Davidson County wants to put you and your family at increased risk on this project without asking your opinion or permission? c. Does water contamination of drinking water in Dickson County sound like a path you want your family to follow in support of relaxing proven laws to protect you? d. Fishing, farming, livestock, family recreation and the ecology of the area benefits from a healthy river which is already suffering severely from development pressures. Does it sound like the politicians in Nashville are thinking of you and your interests in a proposal to enrich a commercial project and weaken the protections afforded for decades to all of the public with the Scenic River Act? You can do something today about this proposal for an exemption/exception to the current Scenic Rivers Act to protect yourself from loss. Invest a few moments to call or email or send a letter to the State Senators below who have pledged publicly that they will feverishly fight to defeat any attempt to weaken the current law. Don’t allow a vocal minority of politicians and developers who will benefit, to overpower your voice on this issue. The proposal is already being sponsored in the legislature and action is required. sen.douglas.henry@legislature.state.tn.us The proposed project is in Sen. Henry’s district. He wrote the original Scenic Rivers Law and will defend it, but he needs you vocal support now. rep.gary.moore@legislature.state.tn.us State representative and the project is in his district. He too is strongly against any measure to weaken the existing laws. Also contact: Cheatham Co. reps. rep.phillip.johnson@legislature.state.tn.us and sen.rosalind.kurita@legislature.state.tn.us. Tell them simply to stop any attempt to exempt the current Scenic River Act proposed by Metro/Nashville. They can also tell them if they ever heard of this before, given that the resolution states Bellevue is behind this proposal. If not, tell them ! thanks I will have an update on this story on my March show/posting
Posted by brothermartin on 03/01/2006 03:25:02 PM

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