Area resident Tom Chadwell spoke in opposition of the proposed surface mine, saying the area had been “mined enough.”
By Charlotte Underwood
CARYVILLE, TN (WLAF) – Around 25 concerned citizens showed up Tuesday night at the Cove Lake Pavilion to attend a public hearing regarding water discharge and stream alterations for a proposed surface mine in the Davis Creek area of Campbell County. The company proposing the strip mine is listed as Davis Creek Energy LLC out of Seneca South Carolina and the area to be mined is roughly 205 acres and will take two to five years. The company’s managing member is listed as Nat W. Cloer.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) held the hearing to “give the public an opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions,” according to TDEC consultant Dan Murray. He, along with other TDEC employees fielded questions from 6 to 7 p.m., before holding the official public hearing at 7:30 p.m.
The area to be mined has already been heavily mined twice in the past, according to TDEC officials, who said this time, it was silica coal that would be mined out of the area. Silica coal is what is used in computer and cell phone technology and is worth significantly more than coal being burned for energy. Davis Creek Energy LLC is proposing to remove around 1 million tons from the Rich Mountain area.
The permits in question regard the discharge of waste water from the mining operation that would run into Hog Camp Branch, Granny Branch and Davis Creek. According to TDEC, none of the streams impacted are listed as Exceptional Tennessee Waters and Davis Creek is listed as “impaired due to E. coli from contamination of septic systems.” The treated mine waste water would be held in required holding ponds and would discharge in “precipitation events such as rain or snowfall,” according to TDEC officials, who said there would be multiple monitoring stations to check the water for things such as iron, magnesium and total suspended solids, PH balance, among other particulate tests. The company is responsible for continuing the monitoring and if something showed up, then the permit would be “reopened and the mining company would have to adhere to limitations set forth by state and federal standards.” The company will also be responsible for reclamation of the area to “put it back closer to what it originally was before previous mining that occurred in the 1970s”, as well as planting trees and vegetation.
The proposed surface mine is indicated in yellow. It will cover approximately 204 acres.
Davis Creek LLC applied for the permit in Dec. of 2018 and TDEC has been reviewing it for over a year. “They have to show that they meet our water quality standards. We think we can issue a permit for this that is protective of water quality,” Murray said, explaining that as long as the company met state and federal regulations, the permit would most likely go through. “The fact of the matter is if it meets the regulation requirements, it’s not a choice of whether we want to or not. However, that’s why we hold these public hearings, to give the citizens a chance to voice their opinion and possibly show us anything we may have overlooked,” Murray said.
About 10 people spoke during the comment portion of the hearing, urging TDEC to deny the permits. Several locals living very close to the mining area spoke up in concern. One such individual was Tom Chadwell, a long-time resident of Habersham.”I have seen Hog Camp Branch die twice and I guarantee I will see it die again if this permit is issued. The property where I live has been stripped over and over again. If any place has given enough, this place has given enough,” Chadwell said, urging TDEC to “deny the permit” and to stop allowing the land to “be raped.”
TDEC consultant Dan Murray explains water quality regulations. Murray will be taking comments from the public regarding the proposed mine until Jan. 24.
Resident D.J. Coker said he lives three miles away from the proposed mining site and he opposes it because it will “negatively affect his outside activities and pollute the waterway” that he swims in, as well as affect the endangered Black-sided Dace fish that lives in the creek.
The small fish is a federally listed threatened species that will be impacted negatively by the waste water discharging into the streams, according to Bonnie Swinford representing the Sierra Club.”These streams are just now starting to recover from the previous mining,” Swinford said.
Resident April Jarocki lives about 15 minutes away from Davis Creek and said she opposes the permits being issued as well.”My kids have gone swimming in the stream for years; it’s already polluted and this is just going to pollute it more,” Jarocki said. Several individuals from Knoxville representing the Sierra Club, Voices of Appalachia and about a dozen other conservation organizations also spoke in opposition, urging TDEC to “deny the permits.”
Erin Savage with Appalachian Voices urged TDEC to also include monitoring for selenium and also expressed her doubts that additional mining would in any way improve the quality of the watershed and area. The overall message of those in attendance was that “Tennessee needs clean streams and a more diverse economy, not another coal mine.”
The public has until Jan. 24 to provide written comments regarding the proposed waste water discharge for the proposed surface mine and the stream alteration permit. TDEC officials said they will “take into consideration” comments from the public and will make a decision after Jan. 24. Comments can be emailed to Dan.Murray@tn.gov or mailed to TDEC Mining Section, ATTN: Public Notice Coordinator, 3711 Middlebrook Pike, Knoxville TN, 37921. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 01/17/2020-6AM)