Feedbag (69)

Deadly natural disasters have ravaged hardscrabble Knoxville for generations. Covid-19 takes the cake.


 Hard Knox Wire: A brief history of Ktown's worst natural disasters

The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.

Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.

History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past. 


Dozens of oil spills tracked in Gulf of Mexico nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ida

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Washington Post: Thousands of reports spill in about pollution following Hurricane Ida

It was a perfect storm of imperfect planning that led to southern Louisiana's prominent role as both a producer and transporter of fossil fuels -- and its vulnerability to storms such as Hurricane Ida.

Ida pitched one of the highest hurricane gusts (175 mph) ever recorded in the U.S. when it came ashore at Port Fouchon. Its storm surge also inundated and destroyed both residential neighborhoods and refineries, pumps, pipelines and petroleum storage facilities associated with the high-dollar, polluting petrochemical complex of southern Louisiana.

The Coast Guard is tracking 350 documented oil spills that have occurred since Ida's violent arrival on Aug. 29. Overall, the Washington Post reported "the Coast Guard has received 2,113 reports of pollution or contamination in the waterways to date, with plans to follow up on each.

"The most significant incident so far has been the oil spill off Port Fourchon, in a lease area known as Bay Marchand Block 5," the Post reported.

The Gulf Coast and gulf itself are littered with thousands of miles of abandoned pipelines and imperfectly capped wellheads. Ida ruptured many, but this is a common headline every time a hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast. It just seems to be getting worse.

Park service seeks public input on regulation of Smokies helicopter flights

A public input session has begun as part of a joint effort between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service to establish limited helicopter tour routes over Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with protocols geared to reduce the environmental and visitor impact of the flights.

The flights are already occurring, and have been for years; park service officials said in a news release that 946 flights per year would be allowed under the Air Tour Management Plan, in line with current levels of helicopter tours conducted each year by two operators outside the park.

The park service and FAA plan a virtual public meeting on the proposed tour routes at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 16. Public comment is accepted through Oct. 3, and can be entered into the record at the Smokies Air Tour Management Plan website.

"Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among 24 parks of the National Park System developing air tour management plans in cooperation with the FAA," park officials said in a press release.

"The agencies hope to complete all air tour management plans by the end of August 2022. The schedule is part of a plan approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the agencies to comply with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 within two years."

Abrams Falls and motorcycle crash claim two lives in Smokies area

Abrams Falls

Two people died while on outings in the Smokies area.

One man drowned at the base of Abrams Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the other was killed when his motorcycle veered off Foothills Parkway into a drainage ditch, according to the National Park Service.

In Friday's incident, Stephen Musser, 73, of Roswell, Georgia, was pushed under while swimming beneath the falls at about 2:15 p.m. His body, which was entrapped in debris under the surface, was recovered about seven hours later by divers from the Blount Special Operations Rescue Team. 

Park officials warned visitors about the risks involved in entering park waters, noting unexpectedly strong currents and sieve-like debris common in streams and rivers.

Sixty people have drowned within the national park over its 85-year history; 10 of those have perished near Abrams Falls, according to the park service.

Rangers also responded at about 11:35 a.m. Saturday to a fatal motorcycle crash on Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley.

Park officials said David Birdsong, 57, was heading south at mile marker 24 when he lost control of his motorcycle and left the roadway. He was pronounced dead while en route to a hospital.

Rangers said speed appeared to be a factor in the crash.

Birdsong was the fourth motorcyclist to die on the parkway or in the national park this year.

Car crashes account for 40 percent of fatalities along the parkway or in the national park. Twenty percent of those fatalities involve motorcycles, national park officials said.

Respected environmental reporter Jamie Satterfield leaving Knoxville News Sentinel


Compass: Unknown if Jamie Satterfield's exit tied to impassioned, personal pleas she made to Anderson County Commission

Jamie Satterfield, a journalist known for her aggressive coverage of the deadly TVA coal slurry spill in 2008 in Kingston and other environmental problems related to coal ash and its storage, is departing the Knoxville News Sentinel at the end of the month, Compass reported in its daily newsletter.

The News Sentinel declined comment on her departure; she did too -- until Sept. 2.

Satterfield's byline was always a comfort to see because you knew you were reading something written by someone who not only knew how to tell a good story, but how to do it with intelligence, talent, passion, accuracy and grace.

In addition to her award-winning environmental reporting, mainly focused recently on the dangers of coal ash after at least 50 workers perished after coal-spill remediation efforts in Kingston, she was a keen crime reporter who could tell a great, if ultimately sad, story.

Satterfield is a native of Gatlinburg.

The News Sentinel's highest-profile reporter will depart the paper Sept. 1, Compass reported.

Her departure follows a heart-felt address to the Anderson County Operations Committee during an August meeting in which she implored them to shut down a playground where Duke University researchers concluded there was coal ash toxicity. The exchange was captured on YouTube, according to Compass.

"During the meeting, Satterfield went to the podium and identified herself as a News Sentinel representative. She touched on the toxins in coal ash, criticized TVA, talked about the diseases afflicting the former workers and called on the committee to take action," Compass reported.
“'You all can protect children, starting today, and you can hold TVA accountable,'" she said, choking back tears. Twice during her nearly eight-minute address, she said she would probably be fired for speaking out."

It was an apparent breach of journalistic etiquette and ethics for a seasoned, traditional news reporter who is expected to be a dispassionate observer.

Climate change brings historic rains and ruin to Southern Appalachians and Middle Tennessee

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Washington Post: Devastating Middle Tennessee floods latest consequence of climate change

Training thunderstorms dumped 17 inches of rain within 24 hours last week in Middle Tennessee, causing a cascade of runoff that led to localized flash flooding of creeks and rivers that killed at least 20 people and destroyed the small town of Waverly. That amount of rain, which a climatologist said had a 1 in 1,000 chance of occurring, would set a record for the highest amount of daily rainfall recorded in the entire state.

A lesser-noted flood of the Pigeon River just over the state line in Haywood County, North Carolina a week ago killed at least five people and destroyed homes and property as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred moved over the region. The towns of Canton and Clyde were particularly hard hit. A rain gauge in Cruso recorded nearly 15 inches of rain in less than three days, according to the Smoky Mountain News. Nine inches fell within a 24-hour period.

Deadly floods in Germany and the European lowcountry this summer that killed 200 people were also attributed to climate change.

A warmer atmosphere holds exponentially more moisture, so such intense rainstorms will increase in coming years as climate change reshapes the Earth, scientists told the Washington Post.

"It’s yet another example of how climate change has loaded the dice for disaster, experts say. The floods that people lived through in the past are no match for the events that are happening today. And what in 2021 seems like an unprecedented catastrophe may by 2050 become an annual occurrence," the Post reported.

The flooding threat promised by a warming planet is exacerbated by continuing urbanization and inadequate public stormwater infrastructure. More impermeable surfaces means more runoff.

Tennessee Theatre latest major venue to require vax proof or test result for entry

The Tennessee Theatre announced Monday it will require proof of inoculation against Covid-19 or a recent negative test for the virus before entry into the historic, storied theater on Gay Street in Knoxville. The theater will also require that all audience members be masked. The new rules are effective immediately.

The theater said in an email that increasing rates of infection in the Knoxville area and elsewhere in the country -- predominantly in the Southeast -- prompted the public-safety decision.

"Because of this, the Tennessee Theatre is enacting some new (Covid) protocols to allow us to continue presenting events while doing our best to keep our audiences safer and healthier." The rules will be in place at least through Halloween, according to the theater.

"While we take these necessary steps to remain open and serving the community while providing a safer environment for all, we ask for patience and understanding as we continue to navigate a challenging period in the Tennessee Theatre’s 93-year history."

The negative test must have been administered within the preceding 72 hours.

Some upcoming shows and events at the Tennessee Theatre into October include this week's screening of the Goonies; three Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series performances; the Righteous Brothers; and an Alton Brown appearance.


State’s fight against Asian carp scales up

WATE: Commercial fishing pulls out 10 million pounds of exotic carp from Tennessee River system

If you never thought there’d be an Asian carp commercial fishery in Tennessee waters, you were wrong.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Asian Carp Harvest Incentive Program has yielded 10 million pounds of the exotic fish since 2018, the bulk caught downstream on the Tennessee River system at Kentucky and Barkly reservoirs. The fish has been spotted as far upstream as Knox and Anderson counties.

The Tennessee Valley Authority and TWRA are experimenting with acoustic barriers to prevent further upstream spread of the fish, which compete with native fish for food and habitat.

“There are four types of Asian carp: bighead, silver, black and grass,” WATE reported. “Experts say the species threatens to disrupt aquatic ecosystems and starve out native species due to their ability to out-compete native species for food like plankton.”

So what do fishermen do with 10 million pounds of carp?

It can be sold to wholesalers for distribution abroad and also makes for really good fertilizer.

In face of crushing drought, feds cut Colorado River water use for first time

NYT: Arizona farmers first affected but more cuts likely in future

The Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage Monday in Lake Mead, a huge reservoir below Hoover Dam that lies along the Colorado River, a historical, natural and national landmark and economic engine that ultimately provides water to seven Western states.

It was the first such dire Level 1 declaration since construction of the reservoir, the largest in the Colorado River impoundment system, in the 1930s. The surface of Lake Mead is projected to soon reach about 1,000 feet above sea level; it's only at about 35 percent capacity, the New York Times reported. Lake Powell in Utah is also at historically low levels.

In an example of drought affecting areas beyond the Colorado basin, a California reservoir, Lake Oroville, near the site of the huge and destructive Dixie Fire, recently dropped below levels suitable for pumping water.

Arizona stands to lose 20 percent of its allotment of river water because of the federal restrictions. Many farmers and others have said they will have to drill for groundwater, itself a resource of concern.

The river provides water to 40 million people in seven states across the West from Wyoming to Mexico, which has a say in how the water is distributed before it reaches the border. Increasingly low-level flows are due to reduced runoff from sparse rainfall and snow packs reduced by worsening drought linked to climate change.

An Audubon Society representative on the board that governs the distribution of the river water foresees more cuts, some of which are predicated on protections of natural habitat and wildlife. “Once we’re on that train, it’s not clear where it stops," she told the Times.

A lot of aquatic life is now swimming, crawling, balling and growing in a weird pharmaceutical stew

The Revelator: Residual drugs largely unfiltered by existing wastewater plants

Aquatic species around the world are exposed to at least 600 types of residual drugs, ranging from anti-inflammatories to antidepressants, and it’s not fully understood how these chemicals will ultimately affect marine ecosystems.

Some research indicates that a species of crayfish is emboldened by antidepressant compounds in the presence of predators, lessening its flight response. Scientists have also noted the presence of pharmaceuticals among invertebrates, as well as seaweed.

More work is needed to further document the effects of the chemicals on the behavior and reproduction of aquatic life, but people can temper the introduction of pharmaceuticals in the first place by never flushing medications down the toilet or any other drain, and checking in on the filter technologies in place at their local wastewater treatment plant. Some advanced carbon filters can successfully remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before it’s released into the environment.

News Sentinel: Anderson County ball fields built atop TVA coal ash

News Sentinel: Toxic ash fill at Claxton ball field uncapped and unsealed

Tennessee Valley Authority used a mix of coal ash and dirt for fill during construction of a playing field that was later leased to Anderson County and the local Optimist Club for public use, reported Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

She had earlier reported an adjacent playground was contaminated by coal ash byproducts, including heavy metals and multiple other toxins. The contaminants likely originated from coal-ash piles at the nearby Bull Run Fossil Plant. 

Anderson County and the Claxton Optimist Club operate the playground and sports fields, which are still owned by TVA.

The playground was built about 20 years ago, during which time coal ash disposal was lightly regulated. The disposal of coal ash from facilities such as Bull Run coal plant, which will be closed by 2023, has proven a major environmental problem and challenge for utilities across the country.

United Nations climate report: We are in dire straits and it's getting too late

Washington Post: Carbon dioxide levels at highest point in 2 million years

A United Nations climate report authored by 34 people mining 14,000 scientific studies concludes that substantial climate change and its effects are now largely unavoidable but nations, municipalities and individuals can still take steps to minimize the consequences as much as possible.

Here are some key points from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report:

— Human-caused global climate change is an irrefutable fact. Now the debate is what we do about it.

— Few if any signatories to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord met their pledged reduction targets.

— At current emissions rates, the Earth will have heated to or beyond 2.7 degrees (F) above pre-industrial levels by the 2030s.

— Hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, heat waves and other weather anomalies will worsen.

The report comes as many present disasters linked to global warming unfold around the world. The second-largest wildfire in California history burned in the drought-stricken state; Greece dealt with historic wildfires; and Germany and the European Lowcountry reeled from an unprecedented rainstorm that destroyed entire towns and killed more than 200 people. Another heat wave is supposed to arrive in the Pacific Northwest this week.

Summers are getting hotter. Your lifetime is proof.

NYT: Database allows you to track the local increase in 90-degree days every summer since your birthday

If you were born in Knoxville in 1970, it got hot in the summer, sure. But you and your parents could expect temperatures to exceed 90 degrees only about 37 days a year, generally at the height of summer, according to an interactive database from Climate Impact Lab.

But if you were born in 1985, there were an average 44 days per year when the temperature rose above 90 degrees. Now there are about 63 such days each year in Knoxville. I think you can see the pattern here. 

To use the climate-change database, simply key in your birthdate (it goes back to 1960) and locality and you will see how summer temperatures (as measured by the number of daily high temperatures at or above 90 degrees) have steadily tracked upward over the course of your lifetime.

(If you have any doubt as to how this affects you, check your utility bill).

Knoxville-area transportation planner maps region’s most dangerous roadways

Compass: TPO mapping will hasten safety fixes

A map compiled by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization denotes the most dangerous intersections, streets and roads in the Knoxville region.

Transportation planner Ellen Zavisca crunched crash and related injury data to highlight the most dangerous roadway stretches in the region over 3.5 years, according to Compass.

The database will be updated with real-time data, and will allow a quantified approach to prioritizing safety improvements in the planning region. 

“One of the things that stands out is the major arterial roads tend to see more of these (serious accidents) even than the interstates,” Zavisca said, referring to commercial corridors like Chapman Highway, Clinton Highway and Kingston Pike," Compass reported.

“Because those are the roads that have this, unfortunately, really unsafe combination of high speeds, high volumes, and just a lot of access points,” Compass reported.

“(The) ... map shows the location of 2,326 traffic crashes in the Knoxville region that resulted in a fatality or serious injury between January 2016 and June 2019,” according to the TPO website. 

“There were 321 crashes involving a fatality, and 2,005 serious-injury crashes.

“Every 13 hours in our region, someone experiences a fatal or life-altering traffic crash,” according to TPO.

Tour de France champion will build bikes in Knoxville

WATE: Greg LeMond will manufacture and sell bicycles in Knoxville

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond christened a new bike shop in Knoxville this week accompanied by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. 

LeMond has been researching and integrating carbon fibers into his bikes for a few years, but the Knoxville shop will sell electric bikes along with other bicycle styles.

“LeMond moved to Knoxville in 2016 and has a goal to build and sell bikes in the city and by the end of 2022, he plans to be making all of his bikes in East Tennessee,” WATE reported.

“The store is selling a range of bikes including road bikes, mountain bikes and electronic bikes. LeMond also stated that Tennessee has some of the best bike riding in the country.”

The store is on Deermont Lane in Knoxville. 

Report: Children exposed to coal-ash pollutants in Knoxville-area playground

News Sentinel: Playground near TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant contaminated by coal ash

Testing by independent Duke University researchers indicates a playground in the Claxton community contains dangerous levels of coal-ash byproducts.

The playground is near the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bull Run steam plant, which has historically used vast amounts of coal to produce electricity and stored the resultant coal ash in huge landfills near the facility on Melton Hill reservoir near Oak Ridge. The plant will be decommissioned within two years, but questions remain about how TVA will handle the tons of remnant coal ash produced over the lifetime of the plant.

Duke University researchers sampled soil from the site, and results showed high levels of heavy metals and other toxins typically present in coal ash.

TVA maintains its testing has not detected harmful levels of contaminants in the area, but the News Sentinel’s Jamie Satterfield, who was been relentless in her investigations of TVA coal-ash policies and the disastrous Kingston coal slurry spill of 2008, noted that “There are no human health guidelines, however, for substances like coal ash that combine many toxins or radioactive metals.”

Welcome to the wilderness: Knoxville celebrates its range of outdoor amenities with park dedication

Inside of Knoxville: City dedicates Urban Wilderness Gateway Park

Mountain bikes ripped through ribbons July 23 as city officials, designers and outdoor aficionados marked the opening of an impressive entrance to the city's 500-acre Urban Wilderness. The "ribbon-cutting" had been delayed for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The park is at the terminus of the James White Parkway, which once was planned to slice through what eventually became a regional recreational and environmental asset five minutes (by car) from downtown.

"Phase 1 investment built the park’s infrastructure: neighborhood connections, roads and greenways, lighting and utility installation. The most visible part of Phase 1 is the Baker Creek Bike Park, which was dedicated in August 2020," according to a news release from the city.

"Phase 2, beginning in Fall//Winter 2021, will see construction of the adventure playground at Baker Creek Preserve, restroom facilities, shade structures and picnic areas, as well as new play features and gathering spaces."

Alan Sims has coverage of the event on his excellent Knoxville-centric blog.

DOE moves ahead with plans for radioactive waste dump on Oak Ridge Reservation despite concerns about its ultimate holding power

Oak Ridger: Landfill moves ahead, for now, for DOE demolition debris in Oak Ridge

Hellbender Press contributor Ben Pounds has a great piece in the Oak Ridger about a long dispute over a plan to bury low-level nuclear onsite in a greenfield on Department of Energy property in Oak Ridge. Over the years, many such contaminated materials were typically transported to off-site storage points, namely the western U.S.

Detractors of the plan worry local landfill membranes and safeguards could ultimately fail or be compromised, leading to a surge of low-level radioactive materials and associated contaminants, into the surrounding area and its water tables. Most of the debris slated for storage comes from the demolished legacy buildings of the Oak Ridge Reservation, originally built as part of the Manhattan Project atomic weapons program during World War II.

“DOE released a Draft Record of Decision Monday, July 12, which goes over some of the aspects of this proposed landfill and environmental issues related to it, as part of the process to get approval from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation,” Pounds reported in the Oak Ridger.

“Kim Schofinski, TDEC deputy communications director, stated her agency is currently reviewing the document and its revisions, which could take around 120 days.”

Come get up close with a corpse (flower) at UTK

KnoxNews: Welcome to Rocky Top, Rotty Top!

A seldom-seen corpse flower is about to burst forth in bloom following a 20-year sleep — presumably not in a casket and not at the Body Farm — at the Hesler Biology Building at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

A previous faculty member got the plant two decades ago, but this is its first blooming cycle, according to the News Sentinel. It has been nursed along by current greenhouse director Jeff Martin — in someone else’s office, of course. The plant only blooms about every 10 years, if not more infrequently.

Members of the public are invited to come partake of the odor and revel in sheer stank in the next several days. 

“A 2010 study by Japanese researchers attributed the plant’s smell to a combination of chemicals that smell like cheese, sweat, garlic, decaying meat, rotten eggs and more,” according to the News Sentinel.

But it’s not just about the smell: The plant produces the world’s largest flower and is endangered in the wild. Pollen from this corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum — you can suss out the literal definition yourself) may be used to pollinate other endangered corpse flowers, which are native to Southeast Asia. 

The odor is an evolutionary pollination mechanism to attract flies and other insects that are attracted to the smell of rotting flesh.

Approval of 180-acre subdivision in Strawberry Plains is sign of things to come

WBIR: Knox County planners approve massive subdivision over community concerns

Knox County planners last week approved the concept plan for a 180-acre, 400-home subdivision off Ruggles Ferry Pike in Strawberry Plains on steep, rugged rural land in East Knox County despite community concerns about the impact of the development on the natural features and infrastructure of the area.

Compass Knoxville reported Innsbruck Farms subdivision would be one of the county’s largest housing developments, but it met all requisite zoning codes and planning requirements. 

“The development met all zoning requirements and conformed to the county’s East Sector Plan, leaving planning commissioners little choice but to approve the project. The decision disappointed area residents concerned about preserving the rural nature of the Carter community,” Compass reported.

“This is the latest development in the county’s ongoing struggle to expand,” according to WBIR reporter Katelyn Keenehan. “Knox County is in need of 40,000 homes in the next 30 years to meet the increasing population. Innsbruck Farms is just the beginning.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists keep an eye on endangered fine-rayed pigtoe mussels in Little River

Daily Times: Biologists keep a close eye on imperiled mussel populations in Little River and beyond

The Little River in Blount County just west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosted just one of five known fine-rayed pigtoed mussel populations when federal officials placed the mussel on the Endangered Species List in 1976. 

The Daily Times in Maryville reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now conducting a regular five-year review of the mussel's status. It is one of at least 12 mussel species in the river, which has its headwaters in the Great Smoky Mountains and flows through Townsend on its way to its ultimate destination: the Tennessee River. Little River is the main source of water for an expanding Blount County population.

Native mussel populations face the same threats as many non-game fish in the Southern Appalachians. Oxygen is depleted by sediment plumes, which also smother fish eggs, and many mussels rely on small fish to reproduce.

“Reproduction depends on host fish. During the larval stage the young are stuck together in a packet that resembles the prey of shiners and minnows, which is how they become attached to the fish gills or fins to grow for a few weeks,” the Daily Times reports.

Forest Service bans camping on Max Patch for two years after nonstop deluge of visitor problems

Citizen-Times: Festival-like atmosphere on famed bald led to massive litter, waste and wildlife problems

They trampled warbler habitat restoration areas. They left behind tons of cheap camping equipment. They failed to properly bury or transport human waste. They left their vehicles parked willy-nilly on an access road, impeding the ability of emergency vehicles serving the surrounding areas. They ruined it for the rest of us.

Now Max Patch is closed to camping and other restricted uses for two years, Pisgah National Forest authorities announced on July 1.

Over the past decade, the bald in Madison County, North Carolina with 360-degree views of the surrounding Appalachians experienced stunning overcrowding and misuse, with some areas resembling jam-band festivals at times.

The Appalachian Trail traverses the bald, which was home to vital projects to restore wildlife and vegetative habitat. Now visitors are subject to numerous and pointed restrictions, and failure to abide by the new rules could bring tickets and fines.

The restoration could be a long process.

Report: South Knoxville white supremacist committed suicide while showing child how to shoot a handgun

Hard Knox Wire: Racist leader’s death in Knoxville was by suicide

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Craig Spaulding, 33, took his own life on April 8 on Belt Road in South Knox County.

The death, originally reported by Hellbender Press via Hard Knox Wire, was initially attributed to an accidental gunshot wound.

“Spaulding was a self-described white nationalist, which means he was a member of a group of militant white men and women who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation,” Hard Knox Wire reported.

He regularly organized groups to spew hate at people participating in LGBTQ or Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

“White supremacists under Spaulding’s leadership have been operating in the area and traveling to events outside of East Tennessee for several years, such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.”

Hard Knox Wire reported that Spaulding was showing a son of a friend how to shoot when he abruptly and purposefully shot himself in the head with a .25 caliber Ruger. His blood-alcohol content at the time was approaching three times the legal limit, according to autopsy reports.

Many Southern Appalachian communities still have no running water

Washington Post: Water scarcity persists in poor communities

The digital divide is a serious issue between rural and urban America, but some 2 million people in rural America even lack access to piped, clean water and plumbing, according to a study from the U.S. Water Alliance.

Some of those communities are in Southern Appalachia. This Washington Post article describes a man in McDowell County, West Virginia, not far from the VIrginia Blue Ridge, who fills two 200-gallon tanks each week from a creek down the mountain from his house to provide wash water for his family. He uses a pump, and hose on loan from a local fire department.

Politicians and local utilities have promised for years to extend water utilities to such underserved, largely poor, areas. Much like the promises of broadband elsewhere, they have not delivered.

Scientists and engineers will examine potential role that rising sea levels contributed to Florida condo collapse

Washington Post: Sea level rise will be investigated as one possible factor in Florida condo collapse

There is no direct evidence yet that increased subsidence on a Florida barrier island caused by rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion contributed to the devastating collapse of an ocean-front condo complex near Miami, but the possibility will be examined in coming weeks and months.

Rising sea levels threaten seaside properties on an increasing scale, undermining the unstable land on which they sit and further contributing to erosion of steel and concrete.

In the case of Champlain Towers South, developers used fill from denuded mangrove stands to support the 12-story building, which was built in 1981.

“Land subsidence is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the surface when material that supports it is displaced or removed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Erosion and the disappearance of groundwater are two of several factors that cause it,” the Washington Post reported.

A least one engineer has said the collapse could be related to a structural problem, not subsidence. The investigation continues, as does the search for bodies.

Knoxville sustainability center posts positive organic growth

KnoxNews: Sustainable Future Center in Vestal is growing and growing

David Bolt started the Sustainable Future Center horticulture and environmental education center six years ago on a half-acre with a tiny house, organic garden, horticultural demonstrations and a little fish farm.

Now he and his allies are expanding the center’s mission with makers markets, camps and other educational programs. The site on Ogle Avenue, a busy urban street in South Knoxville, now is now home to automated organic chicken coops, a chainlink fence transformed into a living trellis, summer camps and educational programs. The center is helping establish “food forests” to provide free sustenance from tree fruits and nuts or berry bushes.

The small copses of trees around its perimeter are being cleared of invasive and exotic species by staff and volunteers working to restore a small glimpse of native East Tennessee woods not far from King Tut restaurant.

Solar panels required on every new roof in Berlin after 2022

PV Magazine & BO Klima: Berlin macht Solardächer zur Pflicht

The rooftop solar law, passed on June 16, says every new building and substantial renewal of an existing building’s roof must be equipped with solar panels covering at least 30 percent of the roof surface.

The German capital — which is on the same latitude as Labrador City — intends to become more climate friendly. It wants to act as a role model for other municipalities and states in how to accelerate the energy transition. It aims for solar to cover 25% of its electricity consumption.

The city contends, the solar potential of its roofs has gotten inadequate consideration and expects the new law will create many future-proof jobs in planning and trades.

Building owners may opt to use solar facade panels or contract with third parties to build and operate equivalent solar capacity that fulfills the mandate elsewhere in the city. But critics of the law say it does not address how to optimize its implementation with present practices, regulations, and tariffs. They predict, this law will be inefficient and costlier than other methods to stimulate renewable energy generation.

Bavaria, for example, launched an incentive program that awards combined new solar and battery storage installations. Applications for that program have multiplied quickly and now are deemed likely to surpass the 100,000 installations mark by the end of its third year.

Germany, whose entire southern border is farther north than Quebec City or Duluth, has a long history of technology and policy leadership in renewable energies. In 1991 the German Electricity Feed-in Act was the first in the world that mandated grid operators to connect all renewable power generators, pay them a guaranteed feed-in tariff for 20 years and prioritize these sources.

Outrage + Optimism

Global Optimism: “We Have to Be At War With Carbon”

The first 15 minutes of this podcast analyze the Shortcomings of the G7 Summit.

The second 15-minute segment is a conversation with the CEO of Rolls Royce about its goal to make long-distance flights Net Zero by 2050.

Save Our Future Act introduced in Senate

CCL: Sweeping carbon pricing bill

On Wednesday, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Brian Schatz (HI) introduced the Save Our Future Act, comprehensive legislation that dramatically reduces emissions and protects environmental justice and coal communities.

In a statement, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds said, “The Save Our Future Act would place an ambitious price on carbon to reduce America's emissions, but it doesn't stop there. This legislation would also address long-standing environmental justice concerns by directly pricing emissions of fossil fuel co-pollutants in frontline communities, and it would invest in coal communities to support them through the transition to a clean energy economy.”

The bill is drawing positive comments from unions and environmental justice organizations.

In the House, the number of representatives cosponsoring the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has grown to 68 already.

Saturday farmers market will return to Market Square in downtown Knoxville following pandemic shutdown

In a refreshing sign the worst of the Covid-19 crisis is behind us, the city of Knoxville on Monday announced the popular weekend Market Square farmers market will return July 10.

The Nourish Knoxville Market Square Farmers Market will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and feature local produce, organic foods, crafts, and other homespun products through November.

The Market Square farmers market resumed its Wednesday schedule in May with a smaller footprint and social-distancing measures. Markets on both days had been moved to another location in 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The city recommends, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, that people who have not been vaccinated continue to wear masks, according to a press release. Nourish Knoxville, which runs the farmers market, may require additional protocols for vendors and customers.

The Market Square splash fountains will be turned back on July 1. Fenced outdoor dining areas will also be removed.

Here's more information on the full return of the downtown Knoxville farmers market and other Market Square events. 

NPR: Dangerous Fire Season Ahead


The Southwest drought is worse than you realize. Check out these maps.

NYT: Interactive maps show how the most widespread drought in 20 years is ravaging the Southwest

Low snowpacks, unusually high temperatures and below-normal rainfall have all contributed to the renewed development of extreme and exceptional drought in many portions of the Southwest and California.

Scientists and public officials attribute the drought to climate change. Climatologists expect the drought to worsen during the upcoming summer months and lead to increased wildfires and other problems. Agriculture in California has been particularly affected, and water restrictions to preserve endangered fish are again in a harsh spotlight.  

Drought conditions had lessened since a severe drought affected the region five years ago and led to aggressive rationing and water-conservation measures, but this prolonged dry spell could be even worse.

Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., is at its lowest level in 85 years and is emblematic of the growing crisis.

"The lake, which sits on the border between Nevada and Arizona, is under growing pressure from the prolonged drought, climate change and growing population in the Southwest," The Times reported.

19-year-old woman killed after car veers into rock face on Smokies Spur

A car crash into rocks on the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur killed a young woman and injured two others who were flown to UT hospital via medical helicopter.

Elizabeth Marie Parker, 19, of Centerville, Ohio, died when the sedan in which she was riding collided with a rock hillside on the right side of the road late Monday night, according to a release from the National Park Service.

Vehicle accidents are typically the No. 1 cause of fatalities each year in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which attracts upwards of 12 million visitors annually.

Carbon dioxide levels hit historic high despite emissions slowdown during pandemic

Washington Post: CO2 levels hit highest point yet, even after 15-month idling of transportation, industry and overall carbon emissions.

Initial air pollution reductions during the Covid-19 pandemic had an immediate measurable impact on global and local air quality. Demand for oil dropped by nearly 9 percent. That didn't stop the atmospheric carbon dioxide level from reaching its highest concentration since records began.

It's a sign of how difficult it will be to curb overall global emissions enough to prevent the worst consequences of climate change and global warming.

"Even as international borders closed and global economic activity took a massive hit throughout much of 2020, researchers have found that human-caused emissions rebounded fairly quickly after decreasing sharply early in the pandemic," the Washington Post reported. 

‘Mean greens’ flex their muscles, and a fossil-fuel giant taps out

NYT: Shareholder revolt forces troubled Exxon to focus on a fossil-free future

Exxon stock tanked (it was even kicked off the Dow Jones Industrial Average) in recent years, largely because of the oil giant's dismissive stance toward climate change and renewables. This led shareholders to conclude the oil giant wasn't playing the long game by investing in carbon-free fuel technologies.

Both a renegade hedge fund and huge investor groups recently forced a change by electing half a slate to the board of directors who are calling for increased energy-source diversification. Some of the largest pension-investment groups in the country drove the change because Exxon's coddling of climate denialists was definitely and demonstrably bad for business.

Podcast details 13-year mystery of man who disappeared near Smokies

KnoxNews: "Park Predators" details unsolved disappearance of Michael Hearon

A well-known podcaster who chronicles bizarre disappearances and crime on or near public lands details the sad story of Michael Hearon, a 51-year-old Maryville man who vanished in August 2008 while tending his 100-acre property in Happy Valley. His Blount County land abutted the Abrams Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hearon's abandoned 4-wheeler was located by searchers, but absolutely no other clues to his disappearance were found despite an extensive search by national park personnel, search parties and family members.

Journalist Delia D’Ambra said Hearon's case is one of the strangest she's ever investigated, and hopes the podcast will jog memories and generate new leads. The episode debuts June 1 and can be found on a range of podcast services.