Army Corps of Engineers studies Little River for potential dam removal
TOWNSEND — In February the Army Corps of Engineers announced a study to evaluate potential effects of proposed removal or modification of three dams on the Little River. These dams include the Townsend Dam, Peery’s Mill, and Rockford. The announcement sparked a public furor in Blount County over potential impact that dam removal might have on the Little River and adjoining communities.
The results of the Army Corps’ study are not expected until June or July. Despite not knowing the study’s findings — which may include recommendations of full or partial removal of individual dams, or no action at all — the Blount County Commission unanimously passed a resolution in April calling for the preservation of all three dams. The resolution was sponsored by 14 of the 21 commissioners (it takes 11 votes to pass a resolution).
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David Etnier, a legendary chronicler and advocate for lesser-known regional fish, dies at 84Written by Ben Pounds
Etnier left behind a legacy of research and ambitious students
KNOXVILLE — Dr. David Etnier, a professor at the University of Tennessee internationally known for his research on freshwater fishes and caddis flies, died May 17 at the age of 84.
Etnier, known as “Ets” to his students, joined the UT faculty in 1965 and retired in 2001. Three aquatic insect species he helped discover are named after him, and those are just three of the more than 410 insect species he helped discover.
The Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail gets you down with Southern Appalachian fish
ASHEVILLE — Snorkeling and looking at freshwater fish are great ways to enjoy Southern streams, and visitors to Western North Carolina will soon have better access to it courtesy of North Carolina Snorkel Trail. Stream access points in numerous locations will boast signs about snorkeling, safety and fish identification.
The concept began with North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Mountain Habitat Conservation Coordinator Andrea Leslie, and Luke Etchison of the Western Region Inland Fisheries Division, which surveys aquatic animals by snorkeling. This allows them to look at populations of fish, crayfish and mussels.
Leslie told Hellbender Press she wants to encourage snorkeling tourism because people love streams, waterfalls and swimming. The sights below the waterline may be less familiar to the general public.
Southern mountain streams have fish as vibrant and exciting as the Caribbean Sea.
‘It’s very good for the soul.’ Bo Baxter and Conservation Fisheries focus underwater to save our Southern fishes.
This is the latest installment of an occasional series, Hellbent, profiling citizens and organizations who work to preserve and improve the Southern Appalachian environment.
KNOXVILLE — For more than 35 years, an obscure nonprofit headquartered here has grown into one of the most quietly successful champions of ecology and environmental restoration in the Eastern United States.
Conservation Fisheries, which occupies a 5,000-square foot facility near the Pellissippi State University campus on Division Street, has spent nearly four decades restoring native fish populations to numerous waterways damaged years ago by misguided governmental policies.
In fact, the mid-20th century saw wildlife officials frequently exterminating key aquatic species to make way for game fish like trout.
“It was bad science, but it was the best they had at the time,” said Conservation Fisheries Executive Director Bo Baxter. “A lot of the central concepts of ecology, like food webs and communities, were not developed back then.”
KNOXVILLE — Volunteer registration is open for the 34th Ijams River Rescue on Saturday, April 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. A severe weather date is set for Saturday, April 22.
Ijams Nature Center’s annual event removes tons of trash and tires from sites along the Tennessee River and its creek tributaries. Sites are typically located in Knox, Anderson, Blount and Loudon counties.
“During this cleanup, between 500-1,000 volunteers come together to make a tangible, positive difference in their community,” Ijams Development Director Cindy Hassil said. “It’s eye-opening to participate because you really get to see what ends up in our waterways. Hopefully it makes people more aware of how they dispose of trash and recyclables, and inspires them to look for ways to reduce the amount of waste they create.”
There are cleanup sites on land, along the shoreline (boots/waders recommended) and on the water (personal kayaks/canoes required).
Volunteers will receive a free T-shirt featuring a great blue heron designed by Stephen Lyn Bales. This year’s event shirt, created by Allmade®, uses an average of six recycled water bottles for 50 percent of its content. The remainder is 25 percent organic cotton and 25% modal.
Potential volunteers can learn more and sign up for a site at Ijams.org/ijams-river-rescue. Slots fill on a first-come, first-served basis and typically book quickly. The deadline to register is April 1, or until all slots have been filled.
Groups from scout troops, churches and other organizations may sign up to do a particular site together. All members of a group must register individually to complete a waiver and provide personal contact information should Ijams need to communicate with all volunteers at a particular site.
Site captains will be stationed at each site. Bags, gloves and other supplies will be provided.
The 34th annual Ijams River Rescue is made possible by Tennessee Valley Authority, Allmade, City of Knoxville Stormwater Engineering, Dow, Nothing Too Fancy, Dominion Group, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Vulcan Materials Company, Commercial Metals Company, Knoxville TVA Employees Credit Union, Old Sevier District, Tailwater Properties, and Waste Connections of Tennessee. Other supporters include CAC AmeriCorps, Responsible Stewardship, Thompson Engineering’s Thompson Foundation, and Water Quality Forum.
Responsible Stewardship also will be conducting a multi-site cleanup of Watts Bar Lake in Roane, Rhea and Meigs counties on April 15.
— Cindy Hassil, Ijams Nature Center
Ahead of marquee Knoxville lake showdown, pro anglers fish trash for fish on
KNOXVILLE — The 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk will be in Knoxville March 24 through 26 with competition on the Tennessee River lakes of Fort Loudoun and Tellico.
Ahead of the competition a crowd of volunteers, including several competitive anglers, were out working in the humblest way. They picked up garbage from the banks of Fort Loudoun in the Louisville area.
The pros were joined by people associated with Keep the Tennessee River Beautiful and Yamaha Rightwaters, all of whom banded together to gather Fort Loudoun Lake’s garbage on Tuesday, March 21. They walked along an exposed shoreline, grabbing garbage both large and small. Among the larger recovered items were a traffic safety barrel, a broken chair and the ruins of an old boat.
This cleanup wasn’t just for the sake of preparing for the the tournament. It also represented a desire to conserve the river’s wildlife for its own sake.
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High-profile cleanup to commence on South Knoxville Superfund site, but what about the other toxic sites?Written by Ben Pounds
Vestal community leans into future of multiple South Knoxville Superfund sites
KNOXVILLE — City residents are discussing the future of the Vestal community’s toxic sites after a long history of industrial use and activism that recently led to federally funded action to clean up at least one infamous Superfund site.
Vestal community resident Cathy Scott shared the history of each of these sites near Maryville Pike at South Knox Community Center during two Vestal Community Organization meetings related to the cleanup of multiple Superfund sites on the south side of the city.
She said in an email to Hellbender Press that much of her information came from John Nolt, formerly of the University of Tennessee Philosophy Department and author of the essay “Injustice in the Handling of Nuclear Weapons Waste: The Case of David Witherspoon Inc.,” which is chapter three of the book “Mountains of Injustice: Social and Environmental Justice in Appalachia.”
While the EPA is focusing on the Smokey Mountain Smelter site, Scott, Nolt and others have discussed other properties and their effects on nearby watersheds. The sites are all connected to the Witherspoon family. They are at are at 1508 Maryville Pike; 1630 Maryville Pike and adjacent land; 901 Maryville Pike and 4430 Candoro Ave. The meetings took place Feb. 13 and 22.
“It was a phenomenal accomplishment of community collaboration,” Eric Johnson, president of Vestal Community Organization, said of the two meetings.
Potentially toxic Oak Ridge landfill won’t be built until cleared by operator’s water researchWritten by Ben Pounds
Potential water runoff issues stall future Oak Ridge landfill construction
OAK RIDGE — A landfill intended to hold potentially toxic debris from the demolition of legacy Oak Ridge research facilities is moving forward but construction won’t start until it is definitively determined whether the site could pollute ground and surface water.
As reported previously by Hellbenderpress, environmentalists fear toxins leaking out of the proposed landfill could contaminate waterways and make their way into fish that people might catch downstream. The landfill’s contractor, however, said leaving buildings full of toxic residue standing may be more dangerous for workers and nearby residents and the landfill will help get the buildings quickly demolished. The contractor is doing a mock-up study this year to see how best to handle water issues on the future landfill site.
This summer, the contractor United Cleanup Oak Ridge LLC will choose a subcontractor and do field work. Ben Williams, the Department of Energy’s public affairs specialist, said roads and utilities will need to move to get the site ready at that time. But UCOR stated it won’t build the landfill until after a water study spanning “two wet seasons,” beginning later this year.
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TVA solicits public input following release of environmental assessment for Bull Run Fossil Plant decommission
CLAXTON — Tennessee Valley Authority plans to close its Bull Run Fossil Plant (BRF) in Anderson County, but it’s still looking for public input on what comes next.
“As a large, inflexible coal unit with medium operating costs and a high forced outage rate, BRF does not fit current and likely future portfolio needs,” the federal utility said in a draft Environmental Assessment.
TVA is looking at three different options for the future of the structures still standing on the site by the Clinch River near Oak Ridge: taking down all structures; taking down some of them; or leaving everything standing. A recent report lays out the environmental consequences of each of these actions. The report, in draft form, is against that third choice, listing it as only an option for the sake of comparison.
“If the facility is left in the “as-is” condition, it likely would present a higher risk than Alternatives A or B for the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater as systems and structures degrade. As such, this alternative is not a reasonable alternative,” the draft states.
TVA stated its considering removing “all or most of the buildings and structures” on a 250-acre area. After closing the plant, but before any demolitions, TVA will begin by removing components that may be used at other TVA sites, draining of oil and fluids from equipment, taking ash out of the boilers, removing information technology assets, removing plant records and other tasks.
The Bull Run Environmental Assessment is 170 pages long and available for public review. It doesn’t directly tackle the coal ash storage conundrum that has grabbed the attention of politicians, nearby residents and environmental activists, because that issue involves separate regulations.
Ahead of retiring Bull Run Fossil Plant, TVA faces questions about the site’s toxicityWritten by Ben Pounds
CLAXTON — Even though TVA is about to retire Bull Run Fossil Plant, water pollution issues related to it are still up for debate.
A water discharge permit hearing took place Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation building, 761 Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge.
The permit would, if approved, allow releases of “cooling water, process wastewater and storm water runoff” from Bull Run Fossil Plant into the Clinch River and operation of a cooling water intake system. Environmental groups have concerns.
Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire Bull Run Fossil plant by 2023. Over several years and at meetings, both connected to TVA and organized by activist groups, citizens have voiced concerns about water quality issues due to the continued coal ash waste TVA stores on the site. In advance of this meeting, representatives of the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Statewide Coalition for Community eMpowerment and Center for Biological Diversity all signed a letter asking for TDEC to set standards for water pollution from coal ash based on available technology.
This story will be updated.
Updated: Smokies crews recover drowned Knoxville kayaker
TOWNSEND — Smokies recovery teams on Monday found the body of Carl Keaney, 61, of Knoxville, in the Little River.
Keaney was last seen kayaking the Sinks during high flow when he vanished under water, prompting calls to Great Smoky Mountains National Park rangers who, along with other local crews, proceeded to search for his body for three days.
Here’s the previous Hellbender Press report:
Teams are searching for a missing kayaker in what Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are now calling a “recovery operation” after a 61-year-old man disappeared underwater while boating above the Sinks on Little River. High water levels from recent heavy rains are making search and recovery difficult.
“Around 3:40 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16 Great Smoky Mountains National Park dispatch received a call that a 61-year-old man had disappeared underwater while kayaking above The Sinks and did not resurface,” according to a news release from the park.
‘I remember the marks in his ankle:’ Paddlers push for trotline regulations on Tennessee waterwaysWritten by Anita Wadhwani
Traditional Tennessee trot lines pose a fatal collision with river recreation
This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.
NASHVILLE — Brandon Archer was canoeing down the Buffalo River with friends over Labor Day weekend three years ago when he jumped out for a swim and drowned.
Archer had become entangled in a trotline, an unmanned fishing line studded with hooks that stretched across the river. The MTSU football player died a day shy of his 22nd birthday.
“When they found him he was under 10 feet of water and they found trotline wrapped around his ankle,” Courtney Archer, Brandon’s mother, told members of the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission this month. “When I saw my son I remember the marks in his ankle from the trotline that was there.”
Every TVA coal-fired plant in Tennessee is leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, report concludesWritten by Jamie Satterfield
Report: TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis ranks No. 10 in most contaminated U.S. sites
This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash dumps in Memphis rank among the worst in the nation for contamination of groundwater with cancer-causing toxins, according to a new report that relied on the power provider’s own records.
TVA’s coal ash dumps at the now-defunct Allen Fossil Plant rank as the 10th worst contaminated sites in the country in a report released earlier this month that examined groundwater monitoring data from coal-fired plant operators, including TVA.
TVA’s own monitoring data shows its Memphis dumps are leaking arsenic at levels nearly 300 times safe drinking water limits. Unsafe levels of boron, lead and molybdenum are also being recorded there.
The report, prepared and published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice, shows that coal ash dumps at every TVA coal-fired facility across Tennessee are leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, including arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybedenum, boron, lead and sulfate, into groundwater.
JR Shute and Pat Rakes declare semi-retirement, hand over operations to Hellbender Press board member
KNOXVILLE — A career biologist with deep experience in Southern Appalachian aquatic systems is the new captain of Conservation Fisheries.
The highly productive and robust nonprofit aims to secure, augment, preserve and protect the aquatic environs of the Southeast, namely through the reintroduction of native fish to areas they once inhabited
Bo Baxter spent 25 years as a conservation biologist at the Tennessee Valley Authority. He became an active board member at Conservation Fisheries, Inc. (CFI) upon his retirement from TVA. He soaked up knowledge of its operations and was named executive director as of Oct. 20. His path comes full circle, as he was one of the first paid staff members at Conservation Fisheries, some three decades ago.
Baxter is a member of the Hellbender Press editorial board.