9 05 2010

There was no earthquake.  There was no tornado.  There was no hurricane boiling up from the Gulf.  And Wolf Creek Dam didn’t even break.  It was just, as the Army Corps of Engineers put it, “a thousand-year flood.”

And suddenly, life came to a screeching, splashing halt here in middle Tennessee.  Interstate highways were closed and impassible.  The electricity went out over large parts of town.  There was no way to pump gasoline, if you could get anywhere, and grocery stores, their freezers, coolers, and cash registers disabled, closed down as tons of food. albeit only a three-day supply for the city,  spoiled.  Rising waters overwhelmed one of the city’s water treatment plants and came within a foot of flooding the other before starting to recede.

Up where I live, we were lucky.  Our homestead is at the head of a hollow, so although on Saturday and Sunday  we had a whitewater stream rushing down the dirt road that leads up our hill, damaging the road and washing away material we had stockpiled to expand our garden, the water quickly moved on and we have only had to deal witht the relative inconveniences of a 14-hour electrical outage and an intermittent supply of city tap water.

Things have been much more dire elsewhere.  Just a mile downstream from us, White’s Creek has expanded across its floodplain, inundating houses.  Here’s a quote from a friend who lives along the Harpeth:

Beth and I just got back from a 2 hour canoe ride to assess the damage to our place and to the neighbors…Hundreds of our neighbors no longer have houses to come home to. We paddled across the big lake to Beech Bend Subdivision where every house was at least partly submerged along with their cars and trucks. The Harpeth was taking the shortest route by cutting off Beech Bend and running a strong current right through the yards and houses. People had to wade quickly out and had no time to gather anything. We ferried a man back to his house from the shore so he could get his skidoo out of the garage. It barely fit between the water and the top of the door. You could hear the sound of a broken water main inside. He tried to wade  through the house in chest deep water to retrieve his wallet but said his bed was pinned against the ceiling and he couldn’t get to it. A National Guard helicopter was buzzing us, probably thinking we were looters, but they didn’t shoot. A cop back on the shore said that a kayak had just flipped over a few blocks away and the people had to be rescued. He said we had better leave quickly or the authorities would probably not let us get back out. So we stroked hard for home, the current strong between every house.

Except for the fact that the authorities didn’t shoot (hey, my friends are white!), it sounds like New Orleans, doesn’t it?

As an aside, I think the May family should be very grateful that they were stopped from building Maytown, because this flood would have washed it all away.  How ’bout it, Jack?  But, I digress…..

Cassandras like me and Albert Bates (Albert much more emphatically than I, to be sure) have been warning local governments for years that we are woefully unprepared for disaster.  Our police, fire departments, and hospitals have little or nothing in the way of long-term backup for motor fuel or electricity.  Maybe this brief, but dramatic interlude will bring official Nashville to its senses.

The IPCC has warned that one consequence of global warming will be more intense storms, and more of them.  What just happened in Nashville has been termed “a thousand-year storm,” but I have an uneasy feeling that we will see its equal, or worse, a lot sooner than the thirty-first century, quite possibly in the next decade or two.  Maybe even next year.

My eighty-year old neighbor, who has lived in this hollow just about all her life, said she had never seen it rain like that before.  “Is God punishing us for being bad?” she asked my wife.   I would have to say it’s not some God out there that’s punishing us, but this is a fate we are bringing on ourselves.  Can we wake up enough to stop before it’s too late?  Or is it too late already?

music:  The Band, “Look Out Cleveland


9 04 2006

The majority of the two hundred and fifty people attending an “informational meeting” about a proposed landfill in Bellevue were strongly opposed to the project. As a result, it probably won’t happen. The meeting, called and chaired by Rep. Gary Moore, drew an overflow crowd to Bellevue Middle School auditorium. Attendees, many bearing “NO DUMP” placards handed out by dump opponents outside the hall, first listened to (and heckled) a well-crafted power point presentation by the dump’s proponents followed by a simple rebuttal from Dorrie Bolze of the Harpeth River Watershed Association: it’s illegal for the simple reason that it’s potentially dangerous, so don’t do it. There’s no way to clean up a polluted water table.

The crowd largely shared her sentiment, and echoed it in one way or another throughout the evening. The dump’s advocates are asking for an amendment to the State Scenic Rivers Act that will allow them to fill this former quarry with about four million yards of construction and demolition waste over the next ten years, and then turn the leveled land over to the state for park and recreation purposes–and some condos. They want to clean up this attractive nuisance, this tragedy waiting to happen. A noble purpose, although little mention was made of the approximately thirty million dollars in dump fees the project will gross over its history–not to mention proceeds from the condominiums “Yeah, we’re in it to make a profit,” spokesman Crom Carmichael admitted. “Aren’t we all?”

This “everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?” attitude seemed to be at the heart of Carmichael’s case. At one point he produced a map of the Harpeth valley showing all the major point sources of pollution that flow into the river, challenging opponents of his plan to go after all the other polluters on the river. Not a bad idea, actually…. At another point he produced a chart showing that the water currently in the quarry is cleaner than the water in the river flowing by the quarry. He seemed to think this would justify creating another potential point source for pollution, but this logic failed to impress the crowd, one of whom shouted out, “The river’s polluted there because of all the crud washing into it from the Riverwalk development!”

This prompted Rep. Moore to ask the audience to please be courteous and allow Mr. Carmichael to finish his presentation. It was not the only time he had to make that request. Most but not all of the interruptions were from those against the dump, but at one point when someone was talking about the obligation of the current owners to secure the property against being an attractive nuisance, and referred to “the millions of dollars they have made from this quarry,” a representative of the current landowner called out, “Since when have you been my accountant?”

One surprise for anti-landfill campaigners was the advocates’ enlistment of Odell Binkley as a potential manager for the project. Odell operates a similar landfill on the floodplain of the Stones River on the other side of Nashville, and is highly regarded for the quality of his operation there. He was also one of the major movers in the effort to close down Nashville’s notorious downtown thermal plant. He is probably the most conscientious person available for the position, but even he had to admit, in response to residents’ repeated concerns about the potential for river pollution, “God’s the only one who can guarantee anything,” and God is not being offered the management of this landfill. Moreover, Karl Meyer reported to me that Binkley admitted to him after the meeting that he was still negotiating with the Carmichael crew about the terms of his management, that Carmichael and friends were having a hard time with some of the standards Binkley wanted to enforce, and were only offering him a five-year contract on the ten-year project.

I suspect that some of their difficulty comes from the recycling dilemma. posed by the project’s ten-year deadline. It is possible to recycle up to around 90% of what gets brought to C&D landfills, especially if you have someone who will take recycled material for fill rather than digging it out of someplace new. According to John vanderHarst, a well known Nashville recycling authority, Binkley recycles about 25% of what comes into his Stones River landfill. That ain’t 90%, but it’s better than Metro’s paltry 2.5%, or the complete lack of recycling at Southern Services, another major player in the Nashville trash game.

But the Newsom Pointe landfill people (“Newsom Pointe Reclamation Project” is the formal name for the dump proposal) are trying to fill their hole in just ten years. The traffic they will need to achieve this goal—it will take a truck every six minutes, eight hours a day, five days a week, for ten years, to fill the quarry with no recycling—is similar to what Mr. Binkley’s landfill on the east side of town is taking in from the whole county already, and with U.S. economic indicators raising red flags all over the place, the future of development on the west side of Nashville could be pretty iffy, and with that, the reality of actually filling this hole could vanish with the value of the dollar. So, it is in their best interests to recycle as little as possible, to make sure they make their deadline.

In response to repeated questioning, Carmichael said that if the ten-year deadline was looming and the quarry was not full, they would have to buy fill dirt from somewhere to finish it off—that, it seems, is one object of the ten million dollar bond they would be required to post before commencing operations. “How far is ten million dollars gonna go when diesel fuel hits ten dollars a gallon?” one resident demanded. Carmichael didn’t seem to understand the question.

Another way they could forfeit their bond is by polluting local ground water. Testing for interconnectivity between the quarry and the river still has not been done, but the quarry is almost certainly connected with the local water table, and many people in the area still get their water from wells. Mr. Binkley assured residents that, once the quarry was pumped out, the landfill would heat up enough to evaporate any water that entered it before it reached the bottom and carried potential pollutants from the landfill into the water table, citing his experience at Stone’s River for reference, but the audience did not seem convinced. After all, it was Mr. Binkley himself who said only God can guarantee anything. One audience member with an engineering background said that he understood that about 43% of all clay landfill liners leak, while another said he had been told in engineering school that all earthen dams leak. (I should point out that lining the stone pit with an “impermeable” clay liner is part of the Newsom Pointe plan.)

Carmichael also stressed the attractive nuisance danger of the currently abandoned quarry, as well as the fact that it has become a site for completely unregulated dumping. Area residents responded that it is the current landowner’s responsibility to stop this, and it doesn’t take turning the site into a landfill to make it more secure. Besides, there are two abandoned quarries in the state park across the street, and they’re tourist attractions, in spite of being nowhere near as spectacular as the Newsome Point quarry.

Representatives of the current owner (an elderly woman) said that if conversion of the quarry into a dump was not approved, they would reopen it as a quarry. In the meeting, they claimed that they still had all the permits they need for this, but Dana Coleman of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said in an email, “the site no longer has a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and would therefore be required to submit an application as though it were a new site.”

Such an application would require public hearings and, given the increasingly residential nature of the area, would meet just as much opposition, at least, as the landfill proposal. You can bet residents will be even more upset about dynamite than they are about construction and demolition waste.

At the end of the long line of people with questions was a local minister, who started talking about how much misinformation was circulating in the room and how there had been several public meetings called about the landfill that had attracted no attention. He seemed to be launching into a sermon on the benefits of the proposal when Rep. Moore interrupted him, asking “Do you have a question, sir?”

“No,” the minister replied, “I just wanted to make some remarks….”

“This is an informational meeting. We’re not asking people to speak up for or against the proposal. Please sit down.” Polite but firm. Thank you, Rep. Moore.

Representative Moore and Senator Henry, as well as Charles Graves of TDEC, all said in conclusion that,while they respected the good intentions of Mr. Carmichael and Mr. Binkley, they felt it would set a bad precedent to allow such a variance to the Scenic Rivers Act, and opposed the proposal. The manager of the Kingston Springs water system, which takes water from the Harpeth just a few miles below the quarry, had already voiced his concerns. Mayor Purcell’s office has announced that they see no need for another C&D landfill in Davidson County.

Charlie Tygard, the local Metro Council member who has advocated in favor of the project and was expected at the meeting, had phoned in his regrets to the organizers and gone to a hockey game instead, an announcement which drew hoots of derision from his assembled constituents.

The crowd left the auditorium with the feeling that there will not be a landfill in their back yard. With opposition from both local members of the state legislature, the City of Nashville, and TDEC, it seems at this point that the Harpeth River dump is dead in the water, so to speak. Maybe democracy still works.

music: “We Can Run (but we can’t hide)” by The Grateful Dead


12 03 2006

The once-quiet attempt to sneak a for-profit landfill into that old quarry site on the banks of the Harpeth has been getting a lot of publicity lately. There will be a community meeting at Bellevue Middle School at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 30, with Rep. Moore, Sen. Henry, and probably several other members of state and local government. A corps of volunteers is distributing anti-dump fliers to area residents, the neighborhood newspaper and a local TV station have done features on it. I am very happy to see all this action. Makes me think there’s hope for the country yet.

The current owners and would-be buyers of the site (it turns out that their offer to buy is contingent on approval of the site as a dump) are threatening to reopen it as a quarry if the dump proposal gets stopped. I guess they think we have short memories—when they went before the Solid Waste Board back in December, they were SO concerned about how dangerous the open pit quarry was and so unctuous about what a great public service they would be doing by filling it in (which, it turns out, could bring them about thirty million dollars). Now they’re willing to make it deeper and more dangerous if they don’t get their way. Reminds me of a certain chief executive I know…..

But that threat is pretty hollow—since the quarry has been closed, it has lost its permit, and the quarry permitting process is even more bureaucratic and fraught with pitfalls than the dump process, from what I hear, and would certainly be less popular with the neighbors. Even people who don’t care about 200,000 dump trucks might get upset about daily dynamite—know what I mean?

Furthermore, there’s two technical details that they’re up against. The most obvious is the roughly two million gallons of water in the bottom of the quarry. I don’t think they’d be able to get a permit to pump it into the Harpeth River, and there’s no place else for it to go. The second is that, apparently, one of the reasons the quarry closed in the first place is that the Tennessee Department of Transportation decided that the quality of rock coming out of this quarry was too poor to use in road construction.

I must admit, that one surprised me. I had no idea TDOT had quality standards about ANYTHING. By the way, did you know that there’s a bill snaking its way through the Tennessee legislature that will enable TDOT to resume its program to pave over the entire state? It’s called “An Act to Amend the Tennessee Code Annotated, Titles 3, 4, and 54 relative to transportation.” What a mouthful. I bet they called it that to discourage people from contacting their representatives and complaining about it.

This bill would set up a committee of the legislature that will oversee the distribution of pork—excuse me, I mean the construction of new highways, and severely limit the amount of TDOT’s overample budget that can be spent on mass transit in the cities where most of us live and pay gas taxes. As if the price of gas isn’t about to hit black-market levels. Haven’t you noticed that the cost of a full gas tank and the cost of a bag of pot are approaching parity? The cluelessness of people in power continues to amaze and dismay me. But, I digress….

This dump is not likely to go through if enough people contact Sen. Henry (sen.douglas.henry@legislature.state.tn.us) and Rep. Moore(rep.gary.moore@legislature.state.tn.us) and object, and if plenty of people show up at Bellevue Middle School, 655 Colice-Jean Road, at 6:30 PM on Thursday, March 30. Senators Henry and Haynes (the sponsor of this measure) will be there, as will Rep. Moore, Metro Councilman Charlie Tygard, Jim Fyke from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and who knows who else. Please be there if you can. Bellevue Middle School, 655 Colice-Jean Road, runs south off Harding Rd. just past old Hickory. See you there!

music: Pointer Sisters, “Yes We Can Can”  (sorry, all i could find was a Harry Connick version!)


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”


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


9 01 2006

A couple of nights after Christmas, I got to witness something that truly astounded me. The setup was simple, pedestrian, not the kind of situation in which you’d expect something bizarre, and so it took me by surprise. My friends who were there with me said it shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, and I had to admit they were right. Here’s what happened.

I attended a meeting of the Metro Nashville Solid Waste Region Board, a branch of Nashville’s government that is supposed to oversee the way garbage is handled in Davidson County. They were considering whether to approve an old quarry as a site for a landfill for construction waste from all the new development that’s going to be happening out on McCrory Lane. Oh, you didn’t know about that? More on that later….On paper, the Board looked good—the head of the Board is John Sherman, former head of the Tennessee Environmental Council. One of our guys, right? He’s gonna do the right thing, right? Listen….

As I arrived, an engineer was winding up a presentation on the question of water flow between the Harpeth River and the landfill site. He was admitting that not all the data was in yet—in other words, they didn’t yet know if water from the quarry flowed into the river. It changes depending on the time of year, he said, and we haven’t studied it long enough to find out. This engineer, I later found out, is the man who designed the landfill, and will be running it if or when it opens. He is the only person researching the geology of the site , and he has a job riding on what the answers turn out to be. Not a good prescription for objectivity, y’know?

Then it was time for public comment. One of the first people who got up to talk was Metro Council member Charlie Tygard, who avowed the deepest concern for environmental factors, although he has encouraged the zoning changes that go hand in hand with the landfill. What zoning changes? Zoning changes on McCrory Lane…I’ll get to that. But Charlie assured the Board that the Harpeth River Watershed Association had been consulted in planning the landfill, and that they had been consulted on the plan. Charlie expressed concern that the quarry, with its cliffs, rocks, and deep water, would be an increasingly dangerous place as the McCrory Lane area became more developed. A young mother came forward and said she would like to see it turned into a sports field so her children would have a place to play sports. A man who identified himself as the owner of a horse farm adjoining the former quarry echoed concerns about the potential for fatal accidents, and endorsed the idea of turning it into a landfill. We’re talking eighty dump trucks a day for ten years to fill it in, according to the traffic study—that’s a dump truck every six minutes during business hours. Over ten years, that’s someplace in the neighborhood of two hundred thousand dump trucks, which seems to me to exude a lot more accident potential than an abandoned quarry. Do these people really understand what they’re signing up for? And what are the odds that at least one of those 200,000 trucks will contain something toxic that will end up in the river?

Then Pam Davee from the Harpeth River Watershed Association got up and pointed out that NO, her organization had NOT concurred in plans to put a landfill so close to the Harpeth River, because the Harpeth is a designated scenic river at that point in its course and it is illegal to put a landfill within TWO MILES of a designated scenic river. Okay, I thought, this sounds like an open and shut case. A contractor reminded the Board that although the application was for a class IV (construction debris only) landfill, there would be very little control over what actually went in it, and that some construction waste is QUITE toxic. Not the kind of thing you want to have leaching into a river, y’know?

Others pointed out that the quarry itself is quite scenic and worthy of inclusion in the state park that has been created from a nearby former quarry, while other citizens questioned whether sufficient waste would be generated in the neighborhood to actually fill the thing, or whether there was a secret plan to bring in waste from elsewhere. Bruce Wood of BURNT (Bring Urban Recycling to Nashville Today) was quite eloquent on this score, pointing out that the dump applicants’ duplicity in claiming support from the Harpeth River group cast doubt on everything else they said. In correspondence I had with Charlie Tygard after the meeting, he said that yes, the landfill would be bringing in waste from all over Nashville.

That was not at all clear to me during the hearing, where most people seemed to think the dump was intended only for local construction waste. Little mention was made, too, of how easy can be to change a landfill’s designation from class IV (construction waste) to class I, II, or III (varying degrees of anything goes). Just the thing for an upscale neighborhood. Oh—and nobody mentioned that Metro adopted an ordinance in 2000 (BL99-86) prohibiting construction landfills within two miles of any school or park, and as I said– There is a state park right down the road from this site, folks….

Another bit of sleight-of-hand that DID emerge from the meeting is that the Department of Public Works, which has never been comfortable with even the Solid Waste Board’s tepid endorsement of recycling, had slipped a bill through the legislature that made the Department’s annual report the official ten year plan, trumping the Waste Board’s pro-recycling ten year plan—but nobody had told the Solid Waste Board this before it performed its official duty of rubberstamping the Public Works Department’s annual report. Isn’t it just wonderful how people play politics with the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the ground we live on? Power plays for control of the Titanic, I tell you.
John vanderHarst , from RAM(Recycling Advocates of Middle Tennessee) closed with testimony about the importance of recycling cement block, brick, and even fill rock and dirt, since it’s gotta be quarried from somewhere, and nobody likes to live near a quarry. Moreover, he pointed out that the Board’s ten-year plan said that another landfill could be opened in Davidson County only if it was needed, and if the recycling guidelines were followed, this new landfill wouldn’t be needed. John, in case you haven’t met him, is kind of a cross between Mahatma Gandhi and Bucky Fuller.

Well, like I said, I thought Pam Davee had pretty much made the question moot when she pointed out that it’s illegal to have a landfill within two miles of a scenic river. All it would take is one flood worse than anyone has yet imagined and we’ve dumped toxic waste in a scenic river that just happens to also be the water supply for Ashland City! (Worse floods than we can imagine JUST WON”T HAPPEN—ask the residents of Florida, Louisiana, or Cancun…I’m digressing again. ) But when the vote came down, the Board voted 6-1 to APPROVE the permit! And John Sherman of the Tennessee Environmental Council was one of the yeas! I don’t get it! I just don’t get it! Do you give up your conscience when you put on a suit and a tie?

He did say that he thought that many of the comments that had been made had merit, but that they weren’t the criteria on which the Solid Waste Board was supposed to base its decisions. HELLO? Isn’t legality a significant criterion? He said he thought that was up to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the State Legislature to decide. I’m naïve about TDEC, but my friends who work on these issues don’t seem to have a lot of faith in it, and we all know the legislature is for sale. Great. Goodbye, quarry, hello landfill. Goodbye, fishing or swimming in the Harpeth River.

OK, you don’t give up your conscience when you put on a suit and tie. Daniel Lane was wearing the American Business Uniform and he was the only “no” vote. When I talked with him later, he said that in his opinion there is no need for additional landfill capacity, the question of connectivity between the Harpeth and the quarry needs further study, and the law says you’re not supposed to put a dump within two miles of a scenic river. Daniel Lane lives in the Bourdeaux neighborhood of Nashville, near the current landfill. He knows what having a landfill for a neighbor means. Thank you, Mr. Lane. I asked John Sherman for an interview, but he didn’t return my phone call.

So….the backstory I’ve been promising you. McCrory Lane, in case you don’t know, is, in Charlie Tygard’s words, “the last undeveloped freeway interchange in Davidson County.” It’s a winding two-lane road that climbs steep hills and offers a stunning panorama of Mordor, excuse me, I mean Nashville, from several locations, before it drops back down to meet Highway 100 at the Loveless Cafe. (Oh, by the way, there’s going to be a Hollywood Video store opening up on the site of an unnamed restaurant on that corner. Just the thing we need. How nice.) Nashville’s ten year plan calls for McCrory Lane to be “widened,” for over two thousand housing units to be built in place of the woods that have been feeding oxygen into Nashville’s air supply for all these years, and for strip malls that will offer fast food and other so-called services to the new residents of this new neighborhood. In short, McCrory Lane is going to get an extreme makeover, and will soon look just like the rest of Nashville, only with a steeper hill. Chalk up another one for urban sprawl. The only good news I can get out of this is that there’s going to be more people moving into WRFN’s broadcast area. That’s cold comfort. Having a wonderful time, wish you weren’t here…

There’s something very important that hasn’t been factored in to this ten-year plan, because this ten year plan assumes that we are going to have a steady supply of automotive fuel, a steady supply of heating fuel, and a steady supply of jobs to pay for all of this—not to mention a steady supply of new construction that will create enough waste to fill this massive hole in the ground. If you’re paying any attention at all, you know that none of these are assured. Just this week, the Chinese, who have been financing the Bush Junta’s multi-trillion dollar debt spree by buying American bonds, announced that they are going to start “diversifying their foreign investments.” The plug is being pulled, folks.

Charlie Tygard and his developer buddies are going to trash one of the last pretty places in Davidson County for their own short-term gain, and everyone who buys or invests out here is going to be left high and dry at the end of a long and increasingly tenuous supply line.

Broad principles result in specific decisions. When Unterfuhrer Cheney proclaims, “Die Amerikan vay of life iss not negotiable,” it comes down to the development of McCrory Lane, which is now poised to go forward, whether or not this landfill is part of the deal. I’m a great believer in thinking globally and acting locally, and I have to say that locally, it looks like we’re blowing it. That doesn’t bode well for the globe.

music: Exene Cervenka, “Real Estate”


Brilliant and humorous! Thank you for posting your writings, Martin. This story is a great example of the ridiculously scary and irresponsible way our government works. I too havae used to analogy of the government acting in a sociopathic and/or psychopathic way. And many times as an irresponsible fit throwing child… Peace,Rose
Posted by Rose Davis on 02/13/2006 09:07:48 AM

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