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Story published: 04-17-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Trade residents raise asphalt plant concerns to TDEC

By Jonathan Pleasant

The Johnson County courthouse was packed last week as concerned citizens from the Trade community took the opportunity to speak with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), concerning the ongoing construction of Radford Quarries’ new asphalt plant adjacent to the Trade Volunteer Fire Department.

Having raised their concerns to the county commission at last month’s meeting, Mayor Larry Potter was key in setting up the meeting after many complaints that the state agency did not provide adequate knowledge that permits had been issued for construction of the plant.

TDEC’s Johnson City office sent Mark Braswell to listen to and record the group’s various issues with the operation and to clarify as much as possible, acknowledging that he didn’t have the necessary technical expertise to answer some of the questions. Braswell also handed out a sheet of frequently asked questions detailing TDEC’s involvement in the permit approval process, including the placement of two small advertisements in October of 2011 and April of 2012. One of the hottest topics of the night, Braswell did confirm that one of these ads, detailing the permit to construct a diesel fueled generator, had not been posted long enough and would be opened back up for official public comment. However, other than this small change, Braswell announced that TDEC did not feel there were any other corrections necessary to be made.

Having appointed several speakers from the audience, veterinarian Dr. Richard Cochran was the first to address Braswell, indicating first of all that he did not have a problem with the building of an asphalt plant in general but was seriously troubled by its location. Cochran went on to say that he also felt TDEC’s notification requirements were grossly inadequate, citing the fact that few, if anyone, in the county actually realized what was going on until the heavy equipment moved in and grading began. Questioning Mayor Potter, Cochran confirmed that no one from the state had contacted county officials, and that both public notices were so small and unremarkable that they were ineffective in letting the public know about the plant. Braswell did acknowledge that the office had not contacted Mayor Potter or the county concerning the permits since it was not standard procedure, but could provide such information in the future.

Cochran also made several points about why he was specifically opposed to the location of the plant, including the site’s proximity to the US 421, a major thoroughfare into and out of the county from North Carolina. Noting that Trade is a beautiful and historic community, Cochran questioned the detrimental impact of the facility on the area, not only from air and water pollution but also from diminishing property values and adverse industrial concerns such as the increase of truck traffic. 

Concluding his appeal to Braswell, Cochran stated that he felt there was simply not enough land, not enough screening, and not enough positive economic impact to justify the plant’s current location. As a result, Cochran made the formal request to Radford to consider a different site while also asking TDEC to look at how serious an issue the water and air pollution could be for the people of Trade. “The decisions made today affect us, our children, our environment, and our way of life,” Cochran said.

Turning to more technical issues with the project, Donna Lisenby, a water quality specialist working in western North Carolina, was the next speaker to address Braswell. Passing out copies of plans for the site, Lisenby made several very strong arguments about permit violations that are already present, even at this early stage.

One of the big problems of the location is that it drains directly into an unnamed tributary of Roan Creek. This small stream is well known to local fishermen who are now worried that pollution may adversely affect the trout and other fish that live in the water. To that point, Lisenby specifically pointed out the fact that all of the plant’s drainage, including those from the diesel fuel tanks, flows directly into the stream without the presence of oil-grease separators designed to catch most of the pollutants.

Further, Lisenby pointed out that the drain access to the stream is perpendicular to a culvert put in by the State Department of Transportation, creating a potential for damage in the future, especially under high waters. Lisenby questioned Braswell if TDOT had been notified of this particular part of the plan, and he replied that they had not.

Still speaking about the potential for water pollution, Lisenby noted that she had been going to the site regularly since the first trucks appeared weeks ago, and that although TDEC normally requires erosion and groundwater controls to be put into place before grading or construction begins, this site did not have silt fences or any other control measures until just recently and, even then, the required catch basin had not been constructed. All of these problems were made more severe by the knowledge that the section of Roan Creek that flows through this part of the county has been federally designated as exceptional waters, meaning that it is of high quality with little pollution present.

Turning to the topic of air quality, Lisenby presented the hand drawn diagram attached to the permit. Noting it was obviously not to scale, Lisenby pointed out that there were serious discrepancies between this diagram and the one used for groundwater controls, including significant omissions and oversights. Lisenby questioned the validity of some of TDEC’s recent inspections of the site, noting that many of the required items on the state’s check sheet had been left blank and that even obvious violations, such as the lack of signage on site, had been overlooked.

Because of these issues and others that were addressed in detail, Lisenby identified four specific requests to TDEC, including the need for additional storm water measures, and the possibility of reopening the permit and moving its classification from general construction to an individual MPDES permit that requires much more stringent measures including an environmental impact assessment, Lisenby summed up by saying, “We need TDEC to do its job.”

Braswell reiterated that he had only limited information but would take these requests back to the state and would provide feedback as soon as possible. He also confirmed that while these technical violations might be present, TDEC has such limited resources that in general the agency only pursues problems when there is a verifiable and clearly present discharge issue with the stream.

For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.