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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