7 07 2012

Here’s an example of a neighborhood/city wide issue:

A few years back, a broad coalition of local folks, from the usual suspects in the environmental movement to outraged local home owners, came together to defeat a proposal that would have turned an abandoned rock quarry on the banks of the Harpeth River into a landfill for construction materials.  That coalition started to pull together again, when the owner of a wooded property on the west side of Nashville proposed to turn it into a similar landfill.  A record number of people attended a zoning hearing, somebody pointed out that, according to the planning commission’s own, probably optimistic estimates, the area won’t need another building materials landfill until 2018, and the developer and property owner decided to drop the idea.  There was a massive sigh of relief.

This issue was discussed on the “Transition Nashville” elist, and prompted me to look at just what stopping a landfill has to do with “transition.”  Here’s what I came up with:

The paradigm that we need to transition out of is the one that not only completely devalues used construction materials, deeming them only fit to be buried, but also  places no value (or a tax liability) on land that is an undisrupted natural ecosystem, and insists that land only has “value” if it is being used to “make money,” which is why a landfill is better, in some people’s minds, than “undeveloped” woods.  Destroying the natural world, of which we are an inextricable part, is like being paid to weave the rope and build the scaffold for our own hanging.  Pays good–wanna sign up?

The paradigm we need to transition into is one that recognizes the wisdom, efficiency, and economy of natural systems and values finding the human place in that natural flow.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “Unsustainable


12 09 2010

I recently read the “Sustainable Tennessee Agenda,” issued by the Tennessee Environmental Council and Tennessee Conservation Voters.  You can find it online yourself at  I had to double-check the date to make sure it wasn’t really written in 1980, at the close of the Carter administration, when the steps recommended in this report would have had a better chance of succeeding.

I know people who are involved with these groups, and I know their hearts are in the right place, but I would like to ask them a few questions, like:

“Are you candy coating the depth of what we face for mass consumption?”

“Are you soft pedaling what we need to do about it because you’re aware of how little political traction this will get in a legislature that’s barely willing to grudgingly admit that the world is not flat and wasn’t created in 4004 BC?”

“Do you really think our knuckle-dragging legislature would go for even these half-, or more realistically, quarter- and eighth measures, anyway?”

Sorry if I seem kinda unfriendly, guys.  It’s just that it’s time to stop fretting about replacing the Titanic’s incandescent bulbs with compact florescents and get our butts into some lifeboats.  Let me count the ways:

They start out on the right foot, giving us a good definition of “sustainability”:

The concept of sustainability can be defined simply as, “no waste”. Waste is a measure of economic efficiency, and a simple metric Tennesseans can utilize to measure how sustainable our lifestyles and communities have become. We can monitor waste generated, or lack
thereof, to track our progress toward sustainability as individuals, organizations and societies.  Sustainability can also be defined in more complex terms that include economic criteria, natural resources and equity of access.

Unfortunately, the very next paragraph steps off into liberal la-la land, with its invocation of the magic g-word:  “growth.”

A sustainable strategy for Tennessee will position our state to stimulate a growing Green Economy and Green Jobs sector. The Green Economy potentially represents an economic future like Tennessee has never seen before. It is a retooling of our failing infrastructure in a manner that promotes Tennessee heritage, our communities and our quality of Life. This strategy insures that labor-intensive Green Collar Jobs are created locally and training programs are initiated so segments of the population currently unemployed or underemployed can benefit from stable well-paying opportunities.

Initially, you might think a lot depends on interpretation: are they daydreaming about the never-never land of a “growing,” but somehow “sustainable” economy?  Or are they simply recognizing that our “green economy” is currently miniscule, and will need to grow to replace the functions of the “growth economy” as it rots like a dead cow in a hot field?  The report’s repeated invocation of “growth” gives me the distinct and disappointed impression that the writers of this report are clinging to the idea that “growth,” the cancerous destruction of the natural world, will still be happening in our future, somehow made “smart” and “green” by higher standards and new laws.

I doubt it.  The report talks of training “at-risk youth and young adults” to do energy conserving retrofits on existing buildings.  I got news, folks–there’s already plenty of well-trained construction workers with families and mortgages (or just the rented roof over their heads) who are “at risk” of becoming homeless if they don’t find work soon.  And the money for this project is coming from…..?  Sorry, we’ve got a war to fight, no money for domestic make-work programs.

But, if the housing and commercial real-estate boom, which has been the main driver of our economy ever since manufacturing jobs started going overseas, if that boom has busted, the only boom left is the coal and natural gas extraction industry, which aims to pulverize Tennessee’s countryside so we can keep the lights on in the cities.  Hey, nobody can afford to live in the middle of nowhere anymore, who cares what it looks like or if you can drink the water?  The report takes a strong stand against mountaintop removal and gas fracting–the idea of injecting fracting chemicals into Tennessee’s cave-riddled topography sounds like a recipe for nightmare to me, but since we’ve got a nightmare legislature (that’s probably only gong to get scarier), there’s no telling what they will approve for the sake of those generous campaign contributions.  I will stand with you on this issue, folks, even if I think you’re more than a little out of touch when you talk about “growth.”

Likewise, the section on solid waste recycling is…solid, calling for increased recycling and composting and an end to Tennessee’s bizarre practice of labeling landfilled construction materials as “recycled.”  Talk of composting leads to the subject of local agriculture, which the Sustainable Agenda, of course, strongly supports.

Calling for better public transportation, on the other hand, is one of those too-little-too-late platform planks.  Our entire infrastructure is built around the private automobile, and the result is that there are not a lot of “masses” needing transportation–points of origin, destinations, and times of travel are so fractured that it would be difficult to locate a mass-transit system that would actually be serviceable for most people.  And then there’s two other factors:  construction money, and the continued existence of jobs to which people need to commute.

The “education” section talks about the importance of creating a “no child left inside” program, and generally instituting conservation/pollution awareness/environmental programs in our schools.  They don’t mention the movement towards hands-on gardening as a school project, but I’m sure they would approve of it being in the mix.  Maybe they thought it was a little too radical to mention out front.  I don’t know.

So, I’ve been a real Mr. Smarty Pants about this report–what would I do different?

Let’s start with education and “green jobs.”  Through most of history, most people have spent most of their time producing food, or providing the technology needed to produce it.  We’ve had a couple of hundred year break from that, but the break is drawing to a close.  Farmers, herders, hunters, gatherers, blacksmiths, basket weavers, barn and granary builders, harness and buggy makers are the wave of the future…oops, no jet backpacks….sorry ’bout that!  We also need clothes, at least part of the year, and shoes come in handy.  Weavers and spinners and tailors and seamstresses and shoe makers will once again be important as well.  It won’t all be a throwback to the past.  There will be plenty of work recycling and repurposing the detritus of our current consumer culture.   And, let’s not forget millers and bakers, and the facilities they need to ply their trades.

But we do not live by bread alone.  We need to educate people not only in these practical skills, but in the expressive arts as well.  We are not “going back” to lives that are “brutish, nasty, and short.”  We are going forward with the cultural heritage of the entire history of the planet.  Gilgamesh and James Joyce, Beowulf and the Beatles.  Local manufacture of paper and ink, and local printers, will be important.  The internet will not be with us forever, I suspect.

I  believe it is not too late to create a future in which nobody needs to, as Thoreau said, “lead a life of quiet desperation, and go to their grave with the song still in them.”  We need musical instrument makers, and millions of people to play, really play, those instruments, millions of people who are not afraid to sing while they work and when their workday is done, in millions of neighborhoods, not for fame and profit, but just for fun.

We also need to educate people to celebrate our heritage and history, to understand our triumphs and mistakes and our place in the cosmos, not to mention fostering an understanding of how our own minds work, and we will need truly creative teachers to foster this kind of education.

I haven’t even mentioned “the healing arts”…but I’m running out of time.

The “green jobs” future I foresee may not be “well-paying opportunities” as we think of them today, for the simple reason that there will not be that much “money” around in the future, but it will, in the report’s words, be  “an economic future like Tennessee has never seen before….a retooling of our failing infrastructure in a manner that promotes Tennessee heritage, our communities and our quality of Life.”

We won’t be rich, but we might just be a whole lot happier than we are on the current treadmill.  Whatever it turns out to be, I’ll see you there!

Burning Times, “The Only Green World”


14 02 2010

There has been good news and bad news in Tennessee in the last couple of weeks.  Some of the bad news is that our dear governor, not content with throwing poor people off Tenncare, has decided to throw poor hospitals off it, too.  Under his plan, struggling hospitals like Nashville General, and many rural hospitals, will not be reimbursed more than $10,000 for any Tenncare patient they take care of.  Now, I’m not about to defend hospital price schemes, or many hospital practices, for that matter, but overpriced and unintuitive as it is, our current medical regime works hard to save people’s lives and ease their pain. Setting broken bones is setting broken bones, whether you do Reiki on the patient afterwards or not.  Hospitals do have a legal and moral obligation to take care of people (and yes I know a lot of horror stories about what has happened when, for insurance reasons, they don’t), and if the state quits reimbursing them for that care, the net result over a few years is going to be fewer hospitals and less medical care for those on the bottom of our societal pyramid.

And, speaking of those on the bottom of the social pyramid, let’s talk some real trash, and more good news/bad news, like, the good news is, Tennessee leads the Southeast in the amount of landfill material we count as recycled….the bad news is that that appears to be the case only because we jigger our statistics, and everybody knows it, and a regional EPA representative who showed up at last week’s Davidson County Solid Waste Board meeting and at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) review hearing said that our funny accounting makes us “the laughingstock” of the Southeastern solid waste disposal community….a “solid waste disposal community?”…who knew?  But I digress….

Tennessee claims a remarkably high percentage of diversion from landfills, which is presumed to be “recycling,” but it seems that our near-70% figure (most states are in the 25% range) has been achieved by creating construction and demolition (C&D) landfills around the state and counting material that ends up in them instead of  trash landfills as “diverted from the landfill.”  As you may remember, there’s a big quarry out on McCrory Lane that some big operators wanted to fill with C&D trash…right next to the Harpeth River.  Well, we kept that mistake from happening, but there are  over 80 other C&D landfills in the state, and more bad news–due to Tennessee’s geology, almost all of them leak, as do almost all of our regular landfills.

More bad news–guess who tends to live near landfills?  Why, poor people, wouldn’t ya know, rural poor people who get their water from wells and springs that are all too often contaminated by runoff from these landfills…so then they need Tenncare to help cover the sometimes awful consequences of imbibing low levels of serious pollutants, but, gee, the Guv just cut their access to Tenncare….round and round we go….gotta pay for those roads, y’know….

Hey, I’m not just some radical conspiracy theorist making this stuff up.  That EPA guy I mentioned, Jon Johnston, called the pattern of dump sites in Tennessee “racist.”  It seems to me that if somebody from the government says something is “racist,” that kind of makes it official, doesn’t it?  So…all the trash generated by us rich white folks ends up poisoning low-income people of color, just like all the carbon we white folks spew is baking and inundating…dark-complexioned people in third world countries….is there a pattern here?

OK, good news–it looks like TDEC has finally been shamed into closing the C&D loophole….bad news, the C&D dumps that are still open get to stay open, and will keep leaching nasties into the water table.  At least the building boom is over.

Some further peculiarities of Tennessee waste disposal law have to do with food waste and its potential as animal feed and compost.

The average grocery store discards about a thousand pounds of unsaleable produce and other over-age food every week.  Used to be, farmers could take this and feed it to their animals, no problem.  But the garbage haulers looked at this, and they had a problem.  They wanted to get paid to haul that “food waste” to their landfills, so they had the state pass a regulation that said that all food waste must be heated to 140 degrees before it could be fed to farm animals.  Farmers, by and large, are not equipped to do this, and so the garbage haulers stopped a reasonable recycling program and fattened their own wallets, as well as increasing the load on Tennessee landfills.

They also tweaked the regulations on making compost out of this material, i.e., feeding it to worms, the only kind of livestock exempted from the 140 degree requirement.  They wrote the law so that you could bring anything in to your farm, but made it illegal to sell compost, classifying it as “toxic waste.”

The good news is, it looks like a lot of this is about to change.  There’s two kinds of green consciousness involved:   Greenback consciousness, and green living consciousness.

Greenback consciousness is about all the money it’s costing to bury recyclables in landfills.  Bruce Wood, who has devoted decades to advocating for saner solid waste policies, estimates that a quarter of what is “thrown away” in Nashville (and I put that in quotes because there is no “away”), a quarter of Nashville’s solid waste is compostable, and another quarter is paper.  Composting and recycling this material, Bruce calculates, would save Nashville thirty thousand dollars a day in hauling and dumping fees, as well as creating useful, valuable compost and paper that doesn’t come from sacrificing trees. Thirty thousand dollars a day…that’s a hundred and fifty thou a week, someplace around seven and a half million dollars a year…like I said, greenback consciousness has a certain leverage.

Let me put this another way to help you understand the scale of this.  A thousand tons, two million pounds, of compostable materials enter Nashville’s waste stream every week.  Handled properly, this could produce about 330 tons of finished compost per week.  Wouldn’t that make this city’s gardens grow!?

More good news.  The solid waste folks have confessed that their stringent regulations on composting are based on sewage sludge handling procedures, and that there needs to be a separate, much looser category for “vegetative compost.”

The problem with sewage sludge isn’t from what you’re supposed to put in your toilet, although mixing that with water does make it nastier than it has to be.  The problem comes from the myth of “throwing things away,” and all the toxic substances that people “throw away” that end up at the sewage treatment plant.

Out of the toilet and back to “vegetative compost”–it looks like we’re not just talking theory here.  Recycling activist Glenn Christman, who has been working to get a municipal composting operation off the ground (well, on the ground, really) for several years, reports that Metro’s Public Works Department has offered him five acres for a pilot program, and that TSU, while still reeling from being used by the Maytown Center gang, is ready to launch a program that will compost all the University’s food waste for use by the school’s ag department.

Meanwhile, Waste Management Incorporated, which has been the bad guy behind the restrictive regulations I have been describing, has realized that there is money to be made in compost, and has become a major investor in “Harvest Power,” a company that is planning to set up and manage municipal composting operations all over North America.  I’m not clear why this needs to be done by private, for profit industry, but  in a capitalist economy it’s a good sign, as long as the boys from WMI don’t start putting their competitors through the compost choppers….

music:  Drive-by Truckers, “Puttin’ People on the Moon”


23 11 2008

So, on the appointed evening, the wife and I rolled down out of our hollow and across the bridge to Looby Library and Community Center for the Great Green Ribbon Meeting.  The lot was full of cars, and we felt cheered by the prospect of a big turnout, but when we entered the basketball court, which was laid out with chairs and tables in expectation of a turnout of a hundred or so, it was pretty much us and the visibly concerned committee members.  Whatever people were flocking to the Looby Center for last Thursday night, it wasn’t concern for the future of Nashville.  Cindy and I were the only people signed up to speak.

Just as the meeting was set to begin, a small flush of people entered the room, maybe thirty-five in all. Quite a few were old friends from the Bioregional Council or Bell’s Bend; but, here in the heart of Nashville’s ghetto, there were only two black faces.

The meeting began with “citizen input”–and three more people had signed up. I stood up first and talked about the importance of local food, how there are areas, some owned by metro and some owned privately, that could be turned into community gardens or local CSA’s, because whatever development was going to happen there, it probably isn’t going to happen for a good long time, and with people losing jobs, helping people get a start in small farming covers a lot of bases–food sustainability, local economy, putting people to work.  I brought up my estimation that it would take five thousand CSA’s to feed Nashville, and emphasized that the city needs to be more open to allowing individuals to raise small animals for food in their backyards, because man does not live by salad alone….I wish I’d thought of that line in time!  I said something about putting motion sensors on security lights and turning off streetlights in low-traffic, non-residential areas, like out where I live–Clarksville Pike, Ashland City Highway, and White’s Creek Pike are lit up all night long, when the traffic frequency approaches one vehicle per hour.  Firing up all those sodium vapor lights costs a pretty penny, and guess whose taxes pay for them?

I also talked about disaster preparedness, how nobody wants the worst, but we need to prepare for it anyway by having a hospital that can at least function minimally if the grid goes down, and by having a one-month fuel reserve for emergency vehicles and a city fleet of solar-powered electric cars, fire trucks, and ambulances.  The Green Ribbon crew took notes and looked interested.  I was amazed at how much I managed to pack into four minutes, even if I did forget to say anything about lawnmowers and mandatory mowing.

Cindy presented the idea of creating neighborhood councils that would come up with local solutions to local problems and ease the burden on metro courts and social services.  This was probably not what the panel was expecting to hear, but it takes more energy to maintain centralized infrastructure than it does to maintain decentralized infrastructure, whether you’re talking about water and electricity or codes and family court.

Next, a young lady got up and talked very earnestly about getting metro to quit using broad-spectrum pesticides to combat alleged mosquito outbreaks, especially since there has never been a problem with mosquito-borne illness in this area.  It was a neat feat of gymnastics to relate this to the topic of sustainability in Nashville, but she hooked it in to biodiversity, if memory serves.

Mack Pritchard was the next speaker.  He pointed out that Metro has a tendency to take parks and fill them with buildings–Looby Center, it seems, is in an area that was once called Buena Vista Park–and also emphasized the importance of finishing Nashville’s “Greenways” program so there is a network of walking/bicycling paths connecting all parts of the city.  He also mentioned “green streets” paving, which is a new, porous kind of pavement that allows rainwater to soak through into the ground instead of shunting it all off into storm sewers and overloading the system.

One of the two people of color in the room spoke next.  He was concerned about transportation.  “I ride the bus to work,” he said, “and have to transfer.  If the first bus I ride is a minute late, the second bus is gone and I have to wait a half hour for another one.  We need to do something about these kinds of things.”  Indeed, better public transportation was the first choice of more people than anything else in the committee’s poll, coming in at thirty percent, more than twice the runners up, increased recycling and “increased use of renewable energy,” and three times the next batch of answers, which included more local food, more open spaces, and green building incentives.

Next, it was the city’s turn to talk to us.  Jenna Smith, who runs the mayor’s office of sustainability, talked about how the city is instituting recyling in all its offices, encouraging its employees to ride the bus to work, insisting on LEED certification for all new metro buildings, getting ready to do a census of pollution sources, and, yes, Mack, finalizing plans to connect all the greenways.

Next, we broke up into small groups for brainstorming sessions, in which somebody from the Green Ribbon crew sat at each table and wrote down everybody’s suggestions, which were then taped to the wall.  We each were given three blue sticky circles, and asked to put them next to the three ideas we liked the best.  Well, I’m pretty shameless in some ways, so I voted for my own ideas, then found some sticky circles that had been abandoned and voted again.

Most of the ideas offered were, from my point of view, a little pathetic.  Just a little.  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with better bus service, outlawing plastic bags, having better parks, instituting “dark skies” lighting all over town (thanks, Manny Zeitlin!), encouraging recycling, outlawing unnecessary vehicle idling and the drivethrough windows that promote it.  It’s just that this is a form of bargaining:  “If I promise to be a good boy, can I please, please please pretty please keep my comfortable American Way of Life?”

I’m sorry, the answer is no.  It doesn’t matter if you make sure the deck chairs on the Titanic are made from recyclable materials that can be recycled once again when they are no longer functional deck chairs.  We have still hit an iceberg, water is still pouring in, and the ol’ Titanic is starting to list pretty badly and the hull is riding down in the water. To get off the metaphor, our credit is completely drawn out.  There’s nothing more to borrow against, and little likelihood of paying back what we owe already, as the black magic of compound interest pushes our national and individual debt further and further over our heads.  It isn’t just individual home buyers who are “under water,” folks, it’s the whole American three-ring circus.

The future is going to be nothing like the past we have always known, because we cannot afford to keep up the pretences that we have taken for granted all our lives.  I am doing my best to be materially, psychologically,  and spiritually prepared for this, and it still scares the hell out of me–but it’s also the great adventure I’ve always wanted.  Ready or not, here it comes.


10 04 2008

or the electricity stops running…something to think about….

What To Do With Your Appliances When You Get Over Them

Sharon Astyk April 8th, 2008

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.” – Henry David Thoreau

My kitchen is old fashioned. I’m not talking about the wooden cabinets, the open shelving of grains and stored foods, the home canned jams, or the lack of a refrigerator in my main cooking space. I’m talking about the electric stove and the fridge itself. That is, these appliances are archaic residues of a life in which energy was cheap and abundant and our whole lifestyle was created around that abundance. These energy sucking appliances may have a place in our future or they may not, but they are fundamentally a product of a day when energy sucking appliances with 5-10 year lifespans could be made, replaced and disposed of. Those days are as over as the days of the Crimean War, and my kitchen has a growingly retro look to me – I bet yours does too.


Fortunately, my side job as the Design Consultant at the fine magazine _Better Homesteads and Rat Holes_ gives me every qualification to offer suggestions for how to make use of those old appliances, now that you’ve shaken off the past and moved on to the low-energy future. So here are some suggestions for post-electric uses for common appliances.

Dryer: We actually bought one of these about 5 years ago, because my husband’s grandmother insisted. And it was used, mostly by her, until her death, and once in a great while by me until we started Rioting. Now it is sitting in my laundry room, waiting to be pulled out and put in the garage as permanent storage for apples or potatoes (pulling it out involves removing the washer and some other stuff, and I’m a slug). With a small piece of wire over the dryer vent, it will be rodent proof, provide a nice surface to set things on, and a measure of insulation on the coldest nights. Other possible uses: manual compost tumbler (would require a bit of adaptation, but I bet there are some handy folks out there with ideas).



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 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. 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. 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. 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. and 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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