Thomas Fraser

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Opponents of Pellissippi Parkway Extension hammer bureaucrats, unelected economic development officials at public meeting

Raw emotions spilled over at a Tennessee Department of Transportation public meeting to collect citizen input on a nearly 5-mile, four-lane highway that would carve through creeks, forests, farms and homes in rural Blount County in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

The meeting was held Tuesday evening at Heritage High School, not far from where the proposed Pellissippi Parkway Extension (which would originate at the terminus of the current parkway near Rockford) would abruptly bisect East Lamar Alexander Parkway, just to the west of Walland Gap and the Little River Gorge.

A lot of people aren't happy with the proposition of spending at least $100 million on a 4.5-mile stretch of highway, and people are uncomfortable with both the use of eminent domain to force them from their homes and the unavoidable and long-lasting environmental and cultural impact such a project would have on the rural areas of Blount County. The projected cost of the project has vacillated by millions of dollars.

East Lamar Alexander Parkway (U.S. 321) terminates in Townsend; along the way are turnoffs to many valuable pieces of real estate and immensely successful high-end hospitality venues, such as Blackberry Farm. Hellbender Press reached out to Blackberry Farm through its Nashville-based public relations team about the nearby highway project and was simply told "we have no comment."

People who did not attend last night's meeting have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the TDOT website. The comment period is open through Oct. 12.
 
TDOT officials said they would post a full video of Tuesday's contentious meeting, but a link on its website on Wednesday said: 
 
"Due to technical difficulties, the video of the in-person Design Public Meeting is not yet accessible. We will post it to this webpage as soon as it is available."
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One of the biggest electric vehicle loads in state history is set for Saturday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville.

The Knoxville Electric Vehicle AssociationPellissippi State Community College; and Drive Electric Tennessee are all plugging to make the 2021 Knoxville Drive Electric Week Event the largest ever in the state, according to organizers.

Vendors, test drives and educational activities will be held on the PSCC Hardin Valley campus just off Pellissippi Parkway from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25.

The only criteria for displaying your electric scooter, ATV, car or motorcycle: They must be plugged in to recharge. Everyone who drives an electric vehicle, or is interested in alternative fuel sources, is welcome to attend.

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Friday, 17 September 2021 09:54

J.J. takes a bus down Electric Avenue

884E1F2D 2A2F 4F68 A15E 80F9458D1FB0Hard Knox Wire: City takes media and politicos on a spin aboard KAT's newest electric bus

The city demonstrated and offered rides aboard the Knoxville Area Transit's new electric buses at Caswell Park on Thursday. The city and KAT plan to acquire a total of 18 electric buses as part of a plan to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next thirty years. Five of the buses, built by Canada-based manufacturer New Flyer, have arrived.

“In the United States, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently climate change. Transit has the power to change that,” city transit director Isaac Thorne told Hard Knox Wire.

“By drawing new people to consider transit, reducing reliance on cars, opening up opportunities, and providing sustainable mobility choices, transit can make cities more livable, make the air cleaner, and help meet our challenging but achievable climate goals,” he said.

The city plans to have 18 electric buses representing 26 percent of KAT's fleet in regular operation by the end of next year. Another 41 percent of the existing fleet are hybrids, according to KAT.

The Knoxville Utilities Board is installing multiple chargers to service the electricity needs of the new fleet.

The new buses will undergo multiple trial runs before they hit the road with public passengers in January, probably along the Sutherland and Magnolia routes.

"KAT’s fleet of 71 buses carry around 3 million passengers each year on its 23 bus routes and three downtown trolley routes. There are 1,150 bus stops scattered throughout the city, and bus routes come within a half-mile of 80 percent of the population," Hard Knox Wire reported.

“Today marks a dramatic milestone for Knoxville – this is a major step on our path toward a more clean and resilient future for our children and grandchildren,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a news release from KAT.

“These high-efficiency electric buses are an investment in clean air, in healthy neighborhoods, and mobility for our residents."

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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. 

 

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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.

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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."

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Certified master bander Mark Armstrong tends gently to a tufted titmouse shortly before turning his attention to a hummingbird. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

Ijams Nature Center offers a celebration of winged creatures that can bring us all to new heights

The hummingbird buzzed to freedom from a loving human hand into the early midsummer morning.

It was the latest bird to be tagged after collection from a harmless mist net as volunteer naturalists introduced the uninitiated and curious to the simple wonder of birds and the more complicated collections of data needed to ensure their wellbeing.

The hummingbird, along with at least one tufted titmouse, was just one of many feathered friends captured in the pleasantly cool air at Ijams and described in detail by naturalists and friends Saturday morning (Aug. 28) during Ijams Nature Center’s biggest annual educational showcase: the Hummingbird Festival: Celebration of Wings, presented by Ergon Terminaling Inc. and Trust Company of Tennessee.

But it was also a celebration of connections between earth and air as attendees passed from conservation displays to food and natural products and crafts stands. Animals on display ranged from an owl and groundhog to an apple-chewing opossum. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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