The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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fishwildlife_CWD-deer-pic_web.pngA Tennessee deer with Chronic Wasting Disease.  Tennessee Wildlife Federation

In a lawsuit filed against the agency, the former employee claims officials misled the public about the rate of a neurological disorder in deer, changing protocols to avoid admitting mistakes.

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

NASHVILLE — A former state biologist claims he was confronted in his home by law enforcement officers with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency on the same day he sent his boss’s superiors evidence the state was falsifying data on wildlife diseases.

After his cell phone, laptops and other items were confiscated, the biologist said he was then subjected to hours of questioning by officers — among them the husband of his immediate supervisor.  

James Kelly (video link features Kelly at 10 minutes), a wildlife biologist, led the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s deer management program, chaired the agency’s Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Deer Management Standing Team and served as a wildlife biologist until he was fired in 2022.

In a whistleblower lawsuit filed this week, Kelly alleges state officials manipulated data and misled the public about the prevalence of chronic wasting disease, a fatal and infectious disease that attacks deer populations.

(TWRA would not comment on the specific allegations in the filing, but said its data was solid).

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Rober Kennedy of Tennessee Valley Stellar CorporationRobert Kennedy shows a prototype drone under development by the nonprofit Tennessee Valley Stellar Corporation. He had removed the propellers and battery to make it easier to bring it inside and to avoid security and safety concerns about his intentions. He wanted to use it for show and tell, but was denied the opportunity to speak. Attendees were offered to dictate comments to a court recorder. Few were willing to stand in line and do so. Written comments may be sent until Aug. 18, 2023.  Wolf Naegeli/Hellbender Press

Public hearing on proposed Oak Ridge airport suggests there is no easy glide path for project

OAK RIDGE — Citizens of Oak Ridge and surrounding communities continue to debate the pros and cons of a new airport in the area. A public forum on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, brought together those for and against the proposed airport to study documents and discuss the project.

While there was an opportunity to give verbal comments to a court reporter, many decided to put comments in writing. Additional comments can be submitted by Friday, Aug. 18 via mail to FAA Memphis District Office, 2600 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Suite 2250, Memphis or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The city plans to construct a 5,000-foot runway, partial parallel taxiway, and associated facilities at a location north of U.S. 58 between Perimeter and Blair roads. It’s in the Heritage Center around the former K-25 site from the Manhattan Project era

The city of Oak Ridge government commissioned GMC to write an Environmental Assessment and the Federal Aviation Administration will review it, along with public comments to make decisions about moving forward with the airport construction. In a press release the city of Oak Ridge stated it organized the hearing to follow federal laws and policies. Other reasons for the meeting included issues such as “area wetland, streams, and ponds; archaeological and historical sites; biological issues; airport noise and social effects such as road closures and realignments; view shed and lighting impacts.”

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K 25 overlookThe neighborhoods of The Preserve are a mere 1.5 mi away from the end of the proposed runway. Project location, scale and dimensions superimposed on this Google Earth snapshot are approximate; for illustration purposes only. Please ignore the eye altitude indicated. That value depends very much on the size of your screen. It gets updated only when viewing a scene in the live Google Earth app.  If you were sitting in an airplane — approaching the airport on the 3-degree glidepath shown here in yellow — you would pass barely more than 500 feet above these homes. During ascent many of the planes could already be higher, but because running engines at full throttle, emissions would be more perceptible and concerning.

How would the airport project affect livability and property values?

OAK RIDGE — For the past three decades, the City of Oak Ridge has been complaining that most who get hired to work in Oak Ridge prefer to live in Knoxville or Farragut. Low population growth and few new home starts did not make up for increasing costs of city services. A considerable amount of city-budget increases, however, were a consequence of poor decisions, driven by wishful thinking. The payback of grandiose plans that had no solid economic foundation was measly, if not lacking for years and ever more years. The underutilized Parcel A Centennial Golf Course and Horizon Center are particularly memorable examples.

Some of our readers may also remember the scandal when DOE sold a strip of riverfront property near Brashear Island on the Clinch at a price of $54 per acre — drastically below fair market value. That  incidence was related in a roundabout way to another so-called “self-sufficiency parcel,” Parcel E. The latter was sold to the City in 1987 for transfer to the Boeing Company, which planned to build an industrial facility. The project never materialized.

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City says it presently has little idea how to cover potential cost overruns and the public liability behind proposed Oak Ridge airport

OAK RIDGE — Opponents of a plan to build a 323-acre general aviation airport near the site of the former K-25 facility on the western side of the Oak Ridge Reservation have voiced ample environmental concerns, but many also have economic-related questions about the $55 million project originally priced in 2016.

Meanwhile, UT-Battelle, which manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory, provided a statement fully endorsing the project, while the National Park Service said it would closely review the proposed airport’s effect on components of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

“The planned airport project at the East Tennessee Technology Park is an essential component in the future economic growth of the region and an important feature for potential business development. Many businesses or projects that could be positively impacted by the construction of the airport have ongoing research partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which is managed for the US Department of Energy by UT-Battelle, LLC,” according to a statement from UT-Battelle.

In perhaps a bit of contrast, the National Park Service said it would investigate the potential impact of the proposed airport on national park assets, including a visitors center and interpretive facilities centered around the K-25 site in question.

“The National Park Service has a responsibility to ensure protection of cultural resources significant at the local, state, and national levels. Resource impacts should be considered in their cultural contexts and managed in light of their values. The NPS is reviewing the document to better understand effects and impacts of the proposal,” according to a statement from Niki Stephanie Nicholas, the site manager for the Manhattan Project National Historical Site.

That statement was issued Monday. A full public hearing on the proposal will commence at 6 p.m. today (Aug. 8) at the DoubleTree Hotel on Illinois Avenue in Oak Ridge.

The original story continues below:

While Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation (AFORR) has warned of ecological damage to wetlands, woodlands and wildlife in the current proposed airport footprint (and some plans call for the rerouting of Oak Ridge Turnpike adjacent to the site), another citizen group feels the project will lead to another city boondoggle propped up by taxpayers.

Grants from the Department of Energy, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Appalachian Regional Commission, and other external sources will fund construction of the 5,000-foot runway, apron, and hangars planned for the Heritage Center in west Oak Ridge. Half of the stated cost would go toward extensive grading work that would erase wetlands and fill a remediated pond on the property that is adored by birdwatchers. Several concepts also call for the rerouting of the western end of Oak Ridge Turnpike.

The City of Oak Ridge would be fiscally obligated by contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to keep the airport fully operational for a minimum of 20 years upon accepting federal grant funding for its construction. There also would be a risk of potentially very high liability cost in case of an accident, should the City be found negligent in fulfilling its obligations.

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Runway centerline (red) of proposed Oak Ridge Airport at Heritage CenterRunway centerline (red) of proposed Oak Ridge Airport at Heritage Center. P1 Pond, a certified habitat for rare birds would be filled in. Planes would pass very close by the George Jones Memorial Baptist Church as well as the former K-25/East Tennessee Technology Park Visitors Overlook and the slave cemetery. Public greenways & trails are shown in purple.

Desperate necessity or boondoggle in the making?

OAK RIDGE — The City of Oak Ridge will conduct a public hearing at the Double Tree Hotel, August 8, 2023 from 6 to 8 P.M. EDT on the Oak Ridge Airport Environmental Assessment, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Foundation for Global Sustainability (FGS) believes that a full environmental impact statement would be required under NEPA if the City of Oak Ridge wants to use Federal funding to build an airport here. The provided Environmental Assessment is mistaken in declaring that the project will have “no significant impact.”

Please check back here often as we will update this article with more information on important issues over the coming week.

Comments submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration by Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation

(Updated: Inadvertently we had included bullet points from a draft of the expanded and mailed letter.)

AFORR recognizes general aviation (GA) airports are a big part of the US national economy and understands that they can be justified for a local economy. However, in the specific instance of a proposed GA airport in Oak Ridge, we believe there are no compelling merits, needs, or justifications for such an airport. The following points support our position that the development of an Oak Ridge airport is not warranted or needed.

— There is no defensible need for the airport. Oak Ridge has convenient access to three modern airports serving general aviation — DKX, RKW, & TYS. The proposed airport location in Oak Ridge does not meet one of the key FAA entry criteria for a new GA airport. It is a 25-minute ground travel time from the proposed Oak Ridge airport site to the Rockwood Municipal Airport (RKW). FAA Order5090.3C Chapter 2 Entry Criteria requires a new GA airport to be 30 minutes or more average ground travel time from the nearest airport under the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.

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IMG 6655Citizens are objecting to plans to replace the coal boilers at Kingston Fossil Plant with natural gas.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Solar? Gas? Future of Kingston plant up in the air

KINGSTON — Tennessee Valley Authority is considering whether to go with gas or solar power after it closes the infamous Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee.

The plant has stood since 1955 in Roane County. The federal utility plans to close Kingston Fossil plant and is looking at ways to replace the power it generated. It’s asking the public for comments. The utility’s proposals center around replacing the power generated by the plant with either solar generation or natural gas. One option includes replacing the coal-powered plant at the site with a fossil gas plant.

TVA recently proposed to retire three units between 2026 and 2031 and the other six units between 2027 and 2033. Ash spilled from a dike at this plant in 2008. A lawsuit was recently resolved surrounding the health damage to people working on cleaning up the spill. TVA has identified trouble with starting up and shutting down the plant for power generation and technical issues with lower boilers as the reasons for closing the plant, not the spill.

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SWB paperback cover jpg

In Hellbender Press interview, heralded writer describes the way natural sounds shape our world

David George Haskell encourages you to pay attention to the sounds of the natural world.

It’s what led him to write four books; two have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, including his latest book, “Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction.” 

A link on Haskell’s website provides a gateway into natural sounds he describes in the book through the essay “The Voices of Birds and the Language of Belonging.” Visitors to this essay’s page can read the piece or listen to a recording of Haskell reading it, accompanied by recorded bird songs providing a soundtrack for the topic.

Haskell is fascinated by sound. His dissertation, written in the 1990s, was a study of bird sounds. Predators hunt birds largely by ear, which has influenced the evolution of birdsong. His writing is a powerful and beautiful way to understand our relationships with the world through bird sounds.

Published in News, Voices, 15 Life on Land
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Exxon Mobil refinery Baton Rouge, LA ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge, LA refinery, Feb. 11, 2016. Later that day, shortly before midnight, a massive fire broke out, bathing the night sky in an orange glow visible for miles around.  Creative Commons Mark BY 2.0 Jim Brown/Flickr 

Generations of Black Americans have faced racism, redlining and environmental injustices, such as breathing 40 percent dirtier air and being twice as likely as white Americans to be hospitalized or die from climate-related health problems.

AMERICA TODAY — This week, NPR’s Living on Earth podcast and illustrated transcript elucidates how relevant the broader meaning and historic context of Juneteenth is for all American citizens and residents.

Host Steve Curwood discusses with Heather McTeer Toney her new book, ‘Before the Streetlights Come On: Black America’s Urgent Call for Climate Solution.’

McTeer served as the Southeast Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration and is now Executive Director of Beyond Petrochemicals. She argues that the quest for racial justice must include addressing the climate emergency and that the insights of people who experienced the negative health and socio-economic impacts of the petrochemical industry must be tapped to develop solutions that will work on the ground.

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IMG 3112The final passage, describing a character’s dreams about his father, from Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country For Old Men.” The acclaimed book was developed into a screenplay that ultimately won an Oscar for best picture. Thomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

‘A malign star kept him:’ McCarthy offered a fever-dream toast to Knoxville’s frontier river town roots

KNOXVILLE — Cormac McCarthy, the onetime Knoxvillian who rose from obscurity to the heights of fame by penning some of the most violent works in the Western literary canon, died Tuesday, June 13 at his home in New Mexico. 

McCarthy was considered by some critics to be America’s greatest living author. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2007 novel “The Road.” Another novel, “All The Pretty Horses,” won the National Book Award in 1992 and a movie made from his book “No Country For Old Men” won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Picture.

The novelist studied at the University of Tennessee and became an infamous recluse who lived at points in a dairy barn and an RV. He rarely gave interviews, and was known to prefer the company of scientists to that of other writers.

McCarthy admired the works of Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky and William Faulkner, and he is the only Knoxvillian to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction other than James Agee. His work was often divisive, however, as his relentlessly masculine and unsentimental outlook led him to plumb the depths of human desperation and depravity through characters such as cannibals, necrophiliacs and mass murderers.

His literary vision focused on humankind’s cosmic insignificance by pitting rough-hewn men against primordial nature on a succession of vividly realized stages carved from history and myth. Faulkner might have said the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself, but McCarthy opined that serious authors should focus on the struggle of life against death. 

According to Knoxville historian Jack Neely, McCarthy drew heavily from his surroundings, especially in the vivid depictions of Knoxville contained in “Suttree.”

“The descriptions of Market Square, in both “Suttree” and his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper,” are dense, accurate, unsparing and poetic,” Neely said. “I quoted them in my Market Square book, and a passage from ‘Suttree’ is engraved in marble in the middle of the square.

“One, from Suttree, ostensibly from a day in 1951, could have described a scene I witnessed there last week: ‘He went among vendors and beggars and wild street preachers haranguing a lost world with a vigor unknown to the sane.’”

Neely also singled out another passage that comes just paragraphs later, where McCarthy describes the old Market House: “Where brick the color of dried blood rose turreted and cupolaed and crazed into the heat of the day form on form in demented accretion without precedent or counterpart in the annals of architecture.”

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IMG 6003Katie Fleenor of Mattalyn Rogers Dressage rides training horse Asa at Dressage by the River 2023 at River Glen.  Courtesy Mattalyn Rogers Dressage

Nonprofit’s plan to purchase equestrian property faced opposition but raised important future farmland issues

UPDATE: The Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission rejected the proposal for a KARM facility citing zoning restrictions. Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries may still bring the proposal to the Jefferson County Board of Zoning Appeals.

NEW MARKET — Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries plans to purchase River Glen, a storied equestrian facility in Jefferson County, to eventually help disadvantaged clients overcome substance-abuse issues and societal disparities.

The proposal has detractors, but proponents cast it as a way to also ensure the continued operation of an established working horse farm and long-term site of equestrian events, especially dressage. The horses could even provide therapy.

The New Market debate also raises questions about aging U.S. farmers and ultimate disposition of their agricultural lands.

President and Chief Executive Officer of KARM Danita McCartney said her group plans to purchase 185 acres. In addition to its show-worthy horse facilities, the property borders the Holston River and retains a significant amount of forest along the river and sharp ridge lines.

The property’s owner, Bill Graves, spoke highly of the potential new owners and said he was selling the land largely because he wanted to retire from running the business.

The Jefferson County Planning Commission planned to discuss the nonprofit’s plan for the site at a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 23 at the Courthouse at 202 W. Main St. in Dandridge.

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