By Charlotte Wray
In 2010, Tennessee petitioned the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to prevent surface coal mining on land within 600 feet of certain ridgelines in a 67,000-acre area north of Knoxville.
The state contended that surface coal mining would not be in accordance with state or local land use plans for the areas, which are currently wildlife management areas and conservation easements, and that mining operations would “significantly damage the natural systems and aesthetic, recreational, cultural, and historic values of the ridgelines and their viewsheds.”
The federal agency’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, released on Dec. 10, 2015, outlined several possible responses to the state petition. The agency’s preferred alternative would designate the requested ridgetop corridors in the 67,000-acre area as unsuitable for coal mining.
At a hearing on Jan. 14, Tom Chadwell, a resident of Campbell County who lives beside the petition area on land that has been owned by his family since 1872, voiced his support for the ban.
”We have a beautiful county, a beautiful community and I don’t want to see us [risk] our land that nature has spent most of the last 50 years trying to recover,” he said.
The agency is now reviewing public input submitted during the 45-day comment period.