Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

New Trillium Species Discovered in Eastern Tennessee

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Meredith Warfield

When Mark Dunaway and his wife purchased land in eastern Tennessee, they had no idea they would be moving in with an unheard-of species living in their backyard.

The Trillium tennesseense, a rare wildflower, was first discovered two years ago in the deciduous forests of eastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy Dr. Edward Schilling

The Trillium tennesseense, a rare wildflower, was first discovered two years ago in the deciduous forests of eastern Tennessee. Photo courtesy Dr. Edward Schilling

The couple came across an unfamiliar, yellow-petaled wildflower while on a plant walk along their property one day, and after searching their field guides and finding no match, they decided to contact experts at University of Tennessee and Tennessee Native Plant Society.

A team of researchers at University of Tennessee examined the flower and found themselves just as stumped as the Dunaways. The experts, comprised of Dr. Edward Schilling, Dr. Susan B. Farmer and graduate student Aaron Floden, then journeyed to the Dunaways’ property and investigated the scene of the discovery. After extensive research the team confirmed that the flower was a brand-new species of trillium — to be named Trillium tennesseense — now known to grow in only three locations on the slopes of eastern Tennessee. The research was conducted over the course of roughly a year and a half and was published in June 2013 in the peer-reviewed journal of the Southern Appalachian Botanical Society, The Castanea.

Trilliums ara three-petaled wildflower that grows in a variety of more than 40 different species throughout the U.S. and Canada. Several species can be spotted along the forest floor in Appalachia, blooming from late spring to early summer.

The T. tennesseense, similar in structure to the Wateree trillium growing in South Carolina, seeks shelter on hillsides just above healthy creeks, where there is good drainage and little disturbance from agricultural activity or construction. When in bloom, its yellow petals reach delicately towards the sky above a fan of green leaves sprouting from a very narrow stem. The recently discovered flower is known to grow on the slopes of Bays Mountain in Hamblen and Hawkins counties, although Dr. Schilling and his trillium experts suspect the flower may flourish in more areas that are not yet documented.

The areas surrounding the site of the flower’s discovery are inhabited mostly by residential landowners such as the Dunaways. This reduces the threat of commercial and agricultural development that could harm the plant, but also makes for plenty of “No Trespassing” signs in wooded areas where the T. tennesseense could secretly be thriving, its rare beauty unbeknownst to scientists.

“You can’t just go waltzing on these landowners’ property, ” Dr. Schilling says, but the team was able to go bushwhacking into a ravine where they found thousands of individual T. tennesseense flowers along a hillside.

The biggest difference between the T. tennesseense and its fellow genus members is its floral odor. When in full bloom the flower emits a smell similar to old-fashioned shoe polish. Aside from this, the newly discoverd species’ relatively shorter ovary and longer stamen also differentiate it from its close trillium friends.

Although the T. tennesseense is considered globally rare, Tennessee has no law to protect the plant species. “This is the only place in the world that it grows, so if it disappears, it will most likely be gone for good,” Dr. Schilling notes. As wooded residential areas flourish where the T. tennesseense grows and commercial activity remains at bay, it seems the same fences that have been hiding the flower from human eyes have been sheltering it from extinction.

*Note: In the print version of our description of T. undulatum, we stated that maples and spruces were acid-loving trees. In fact, maples are no more acid-loving than most trees in the southern Appalachian region.

*Note: In the print version of our description of T. undulatum, we stated that maples and spruces were acid-loving trees. In fact, maples are no more acid-loving than most trees in the southern Appalachian region.

Connecting the Dots of the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Matt Kirk

Matt Kirk stands at Rocky Top on the Appalachian Trail while thru hiking SALT. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Matt Kirk stands at Rocky Top on the Appalachian Trail while thru hiking SALT. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

What unites many of us in the Southern Appalachians is a love for hiking along the hundreds of miles of trails in our region. Ten years ago, I discovered that many of these paths form a loop measuring over 350 miles in length. Pieced together, this route, known as the Southern Appalachian Loop Trail or SALT, is currently 99.4 percent complete. With the exception of a sliver of undeveloped land on the state line between North Carolina and South Carolina in Transylvania County, it’s already open to the public for hiking.

As a loop, you can start and finish at just about any point along the way and hike back around to where you started. The route highlights the beauty of the Southern Appalachians, from its staggering biodiversity and abundance of waterfalls cascading down from the Blue Ridge Escarpment to the high-elevation spruce forests and panoramic mountain balds in the Smokies. Several connecting trails afford each hiker an opportunity to choose his or her own adventure throughout the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

In the summer of 2012, I thru-hiked SALT, starting and ending at Jones Gap State Park in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area of South Carolina. I hiked in a clockwise direction towards Georgia, along the Foothills Trail. After crossing the Chattooga River, I climbed ever higher over the Georgia mountains, into North Carolina, through the town of Franklin, and eventually joined the Appalachian Trail. At Clingmans Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee, I ventured onto the Mountains-to-Sea Trail and back through Brevard towards South Carolina.

In preparation for my journey, I started with a big picture and then fine-tuned the details for my adventure by consulting guidebooks, maps, websites and knowledgeable staff from local outfitters. I completed my journey in ten days, but a month would be better for a hike of this duration.

Rhododendron blossoms line a route near the intersection of the Art Loeb and Mountains-to-Sea Trails. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Rhododendron blossoms line a route near the intersection of the Art Loeb and Mountains-to-Sea Trails. Photo courtesy Matt Kirk

Even at my blistering pace, this walk brought me closer to the sights, sounds and smells of a wonderful, living temperate rainforest. For days, I enjoyed the sound of songbirds and the fragrance of the wildflowers as I watched for newts, snails, and yes, one rattlesnake along the trail. Although physically depleted, I returned both mentally and spiritually charged with a renewed appreciation for our region.

The trickiest section resides in Transylvania County where a road detour is necessary to bypass the missing link. Here, a proposed trail could join DuPont State Recreational Forest in North Carolina and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area in South Carolina, bridging 24,000 acres of protected land. Measuring roughly two miles long, this connecting trail would also help to protect the propagation of local flora and provide a wildlife corridor for many animals.

The DuPont Connector, as it’s called, is a focus project of the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, a western North Carolina land trust dedicated to protecting the region’s natural resources. Since 1994, CMLC has protected more than 27,000 acres of natural lands across the Blue Ridge, including more than 3,000 acres directly buffering DuPont State Recreational Forest. Often, the land trust works with landowners and partners to make many of these protected lands available for public recreation.

In 2013, a year after my thru-hike of SALT, I began a year of service with CMLC through the AmeriCorps Project Conserve program with a motivation to help move the DuPont Connector project forward. During my service with CMLC, I’ve been encouraged by the enthusiastic feedback from local residents and hikers about the concept of SALT. Thanks in large part to the work of a handful of organizations responsible for the creation of the Palmetto, Foothills, Bartram, Appalachian, Mountains-to-Sea and other regional trails, the route is close to completion.

My hike inspired me to encourage others to explore this amazing region rather than drive or fly to a far-away place. I strongly believe that this loop could soon become a popular hike for many throughout the country. And as hikers venture through the scenic mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, they will inevitably visit and patronize the businesses in the towns that SALT passes through along the way, including Brevard, Cherokee and Franklin, N.C.

You can help make SALT a reality by joining or volunteering with organizations involved with the construction and maintenance of the route. Visit these organizations at: carolinamountain.org, palmettoconservation.org, foothillstrail.org, gabartramtrail.org, ncbartramtrail.org, appalachiantrail.org and ncmst.org.

HH_map

An overview poster of the SALT map is now available from carolinamountain.org/gear with all proceeds going towards the completion of the route in Transylvania County.

An overview poster of the SALT map is now available from carolinamountain.org/gear with all proceeds going towards the completion of the route in Transylvania County.

Tennessee Invests in Main Street

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Nolen Nychay

The Main Street Festival of Gallatin, Tenn., celebrates its 16th anniversary this October, keeping community traditions alive with local music and homemade food and craft vendors. Last year, the event drew more than 25,000 visitors looking to enjoy the rustic charm that the small communities of Tennessee pride themselves on.

The Greater Gallatin Inc. nonprofit organization hosts the annual festival to stimulate local businesses. The Tennessee Main Street Program, a statewide resource for communities revitalizing their downtowns, aims to preserve the authenticity of such small towns through their new “Ignite Downtown Economic Action” Initiative. “We’re excited about the potential of this new initiative to set realistic, economically prudent goals for Tennessee’s culturally unique towns,” says Todd Morgan of the Tennessee Main Street Program.

Launching this April, the IDEA Initiative will be a one-year program designed to help 27 Tennessee Main Street towns identify areas of economic opportunity. Economic development experts will visit each town, including mountain communities such as Bristol and Kingsport, to identify what most effectively attracts visitors and how that might be expanded. Afterwards, small business owners, city officials and local residents can gather for a public workshop to hear these expert opinions and offer their own suggestions for improvement. A final report with recommendations will be presented to each town hall to use for future projects.

2013 Marks Banner Year for Open Space in Virginia

By Emmalee Zupo

This past year marked the fourth most successful period for land conservation by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation — a state agency responsible for preserving open space and areas of cultural significance.

Nonprofit organizations such as New River Land Trust, based in Blacksburg, Va., have been helping local landowners place their properties into permanent conservation under the stewardship of VOF. The 56,697 acres of land protected from development in 2013 included more than 900 acres added to the state’s New River Trail State Park.*

Conserved properties also included historical landmarks such as the Shot Tower Historical State Park in Wythe County, Va., which protects one of the only remaining shot towers in the United States — and the remnants of what was once a major industry for the state. Shot towers are tall buildings that were used to create lead shot for firearms by dropping molten lead from a height of 150 feet into water, where the lead was then cooled.

John Eustis, executive director of the New River Land Trust, attributes the success of this past year to strong outreach efforts. “We couldn’t do our work without the support of our community,” Eustis says. “Thanks should always be given to those landowners and those community members who support conservation.”

*CORRECTION: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that 900 miles were added to the New River Trail scenic route. We regret the error.

Volunteering in Tennessee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - posted by meredith

Birdhouse

An open space in Knoxville for sharing art, music and educational programs, Birdhouse functions as a venue for voices otherwise not given much space in the community. This multi-faceted building serves as a community center for do-it-yourself workshops, gardening, and exhibition space for artists, musicians and comedians. Volunteers maintain the space and help with tasks such as grant writing and bookkeeping. Commitment of 5 hours per week preferred. 18 years or older. Get involved! Visit birdhouseknoxville.comK. Boyajian

Trips for Kids Mountain Bike Ride Mentor Program

Help instruct urban youth in Chattanooga on how to ride a bike and provide an outdoor experience for these students through the Mountain Bike Ride Mentor Program with Southeast Youth Corps. Trips for Kids participants also work with the Chattanooga Parks Department on conservation projects in addition to weekly bike rides. Volunteers must be able to commit approximately 5 hours per week/per ride. 16+ with an adult, 18+ without supervision. Get involved! Call 423-664-2344 or visit southeastyc.orgK. Boyajian

What’s Happening in Tennessee on Mountaintop Removal Today?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - posted by brian

UPDATE: Both bills described in this post, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act and the Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee, remain in committee after yesterday’s hearing and will not be considered again this session. Senator Lowe Finney, who sponsored the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, told committee members that Tennessee needs to “find a way to protect the natural resources and, frankly, the beauty that we have in those mountain ranges across Middle and East Tennessee,” while also supporting jobs and the economy.

Thankfully, the committee also halted the primacy bill, which would allow the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining. Appalachian Voices Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League told The Tennessean that the committee took a “sound course of action today on this ill-conceived bill.” We’ll share more news about these bills on Twitter. Follow us @Appvoices.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting "yes" on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee's mountains could be threatened further.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting “yes” on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee’s mountains could be threatened further.

Two important legislative efforts face hurdles in the form of a legislative hearing and committee vote today. Both efforts pertain to coal mining and mountaintop removal. One promotes the health of Tennessee’s mountains and mountain communities, the other would harm them.

First, a rightfully controversial proposal to have the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining is being considered in the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources today. The committee hearing starts at 3 P.M. EST and can be live streamed here.

Titled the “Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee,” the initiative represents a drain on Tennessee’s financial resources and its natural resources through a weakening of environmental regulations.

The bill, supported by the Tennessee Mining Association and state GOP legislators, calls for a 20-cents-per-ton-tax on coal mined in Tennessee. But that would have to be much higher to come close to covering the costs of the program, which could reach into the millions. As Appalachian Voices’ Ann League wrote in an op-ed in The Tennessean last week, “Tennessee’s annual production of coal is 1.2 million tons, which would yield just $240,000 [under the 20-cents-per-ton-tax] — and coal production is declining.”

Tennessee contributes a negligible amount of coal to national production, and research has found that coal already does more harm than good to the state economy. As written, the proposal makes no economic sense unless you put coal industry profits above the public interest of Tennesseans. If passed, it would reverse a state decision with 30 years of standing.

During the same Senate committee hearing, the legislators will also consider the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would protect the state’s highlands by banning mountaintop removal coal mining on the highest ridges of the Cumberland Mountains.

Mountaintop removal threatens one of the primary drivers of tourism in Tennessee: its mountains. The tourism industry generates an economic impact of more than $15 billion and sustains nearly 177,800 jobs. Mountaintop removal’s economic importance to the state pales in comparison — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 Tennessee had fewer than 200 surface coal mining jobs.

Despite having broad bipartisan support, the Tennessee legislature has repeatedly ducked the issue of mountaintop removal. Last year, the sixth session during which the bill was considered, legislators in the Senate killed the bill without a vote or allowing testimony from the public. The House likewise deferred the bill with little consideration or time for debate.

The move prompted the Knoxville News-Sentinel to write an editorial opposing mountaintop removal and criticizing legislators for once again shirking their responsibility to the public and the obligation of their posts. “No discussion means no progress in solving an issue that is important to this area.”

For the seventh year in a row, the Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to vote “yes” on protecting mountains and streams, and promoting a sustainable economy for future generations. We hope they do.

Protecting Tennessee’s Scenic Vistas

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

The Volunteer State once again has an opportunity to stop mountaintop removal coal mining from destroying more beloved mountains. The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) in the state House and Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) in the state Senate, would prohibit high-elevation surface mining techniques such as mountaintop removal. Appalachian Voices Tennessee Coordinator Ann League and allies across the state are asking legislators to stand up for Tennessee’s mountains.

Visit appvoices.org/take-action to support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act!

An Unforgettable Lesson, Forgotten

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

Five Years After the Kingston Coal Ash Spill

By Kimber Ray

——————————————————————————————————————————————
UPDATE: Immediately after this issue of The Appalachian Voice went to press, news broke of a coal ash spill at a Duke Energy coal ash impoundment in Eden, N.C. An estimate of approximately 35,000 tons of toxic ash spilled into the Dan River. The U.S. Attorney’s office has launched a federal criminal investigation into the spill and the state’s handling of coal ash. Read the latest on the Front Porch Blog.
——————————————————————————————————————————————

The black liner covering the coal ash containment cell, above, will be topped with two feet of soil and grass when the Tennessee site is converted to a park. Photo by Cat McCue.

The black liner covering the coal ash containment cell, above, will be topped with two feet of soil and grass when the Tennessee site is converted to a park. Photo by Cat McCue.

Just after midnight, a thunderous swell of sound peeled apart the silence that had settled onto Harriman, Tenn. A mountain of black coal ash — the waste byproduct of burning coal — descended upon the surrounding neighborhood, snapping trees and ripping three homes from their foundations. The Emory River was choked to a trickle as more than 300 surrounding acres were covered in a toxic sludge.

The 1.1 billion gallons of waste — with a nearly identical cleanup cost — that cascaded from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil coal-fired power plant on Dec. 22, 2008, marked the largest industrial spill in United States history. When the public took in the sight of 10-foot-high ash piles and dead fish strewn across a hellish scene that morning, no one could have anticipated what would follow.

“Fish Appear Healthy After TVA Coal Ash Spill,” reported a headline in The Chattanoogan nearly two years after the event. That same year, the Tennessee Department of Health released their final public health assessment: no evidence had been found of drinking or groundwater contamination. While the same cannot be concluded for the impoverished Alabama community where much of the coal ash was shipped, TVA ratepayers found that their wallets suffered more enduring damage than the environment.

“I couldn’t believe we weren’t finding more impact,” says Dr. Shea Tuberty, an associate professor of biology at Appalachian State University. For two years after the spill, Tuberty worked with a team of researchers and environmental stewards assessing the ecological impacts of the disaster.

Despite the magnitude of the spill, nature seemed to work to the advantage of the TVA: fresh sediment swept in from the Emory River, covering the ash not removed during the cleanup, and the Emory joined the massive flow of the Clinch and Tennessee rivers, effectively diluting much of what pollution remained.

Analysis of fish tissue did show elevated levels of selenium, arsenic and heavy metals, exposure to which can cause health effects including cancer, autoimmunity and respiratory illness. But on average, Tuberty says, levels seldom exceeded the toxic threshold dose that triggers these harmful effects. After observing levels of heavy metals in fish peak, then drop off to normal averages, the team decided to conclude their research.

The most overwhelming effect on the environment may have been the initial physical impact: the tsunami of ash and loss of habitat. Even weeks after the spill, Tuberty recalls water with the consistency of a milkshake, and fish with coal-black gills and stomachs full of ash.

But the TVA denied that fish had died. “They were picking up trash bags full of dead fish while they were slurping off all the coal ash,” Tuberty remarks. “That level of dishonesty was completely unnecessary.”

Aside from this, Tuberty says, the TVA also took some samples upstream from the site of the spill and — due to a mistake in their analysis — reported lower levels of heavy metals in fish than many outside studies. Given the diluting power of the rivers combined with sustained cleanup efforts, it seemed the TVA was scrambling to hide an environmental fallout that never came to pass.

The Tennessee Valley Authority purchased 180 surrounding properties after the catastrophic landslide of coal ash in Harriman, Tenn. Photo credit: Appalachian Voices.

The Tennessee Valley Authority purchased 180 surrounding properties after the catastrophic landslide of coal ash in Harriman, Tenn. Photo credit: Appalachian Voices.

But while the efficiency of the remediation was unexpected, the spill itself was not. The holding cell for the coal ash was never built right. Sitting on a tenuous water foundation, its 60-foot-high walls were made of recycled coal ash sediment and lacked any reinforcing steel or concrete. Residents had reported seeing workers fix leaks in the wall several times in the decade leading up to the spill.

According to a report filed by TVA Inspector General Richard Moore in 2009, engineering consultants had warned the utility in 1985, and again in 2004, that the wall might fail. Yet due to a lack of state or federal regulations regarding coal ash — an absence that still exists today — the TVA was able to exercise their liberty to ignore these predictions.

Costs in the aftermath of the spill have been enormous — both economically and psychologically. Many residents chose to build their lives by the Kingston plant because of the area’s natural beauty. The adjacent reservoir was a popular birding area where you could see “huge populations of great blue herons and ospreys like pterodactyls landing on the trees in the spring,” recalls Tuberty. But for most residents, the damage and lingering fears of contamination were too great to allow them to remain in the homes they had grown to love.

The current price tag of remediation efforts has already exceeded $1 billion and, according to a TVA budget report released last fall, could rise to as much as $2 billion. These costs encompass site repair and cleanup, compensation to property owners and converting TVA’s other high-risk wet-storage facilities — where coal ash is mixed with water and stored in massive ponds — to safer dry-storage landfills that cannot break out in a catastrophic flood.

Ratepayers will shoulder most of this financial burden. Beginning in October 2009, more than nine million residents throughout TVA’s service territory experienced a rate increase of 69 cents per month. In order to foot the bill, this will continue through 2024.

Damage Displaced to Alabama

The cost of the spill was not limited to the Tennessee Valley. More than 300 miles away in Perry County, Ala., the social and environmental burden of more than four million tons of the 5.4 million-ton spill is borne by residents living in the small, rural community of Uniontown. Between 2009 and 2010, hundreds of trainloads of dry coal ash were shipped here — the heart of Alabama’s “Black Belt” — where more than 75 percent of residents are African American and nearly half live in poverty.

According to a study conducted in North Carolina, landfills are 2.8 times more likely to be sited in areas where the minority population exceeds 50 percent. This is a phenomenon known as “environmental racism,” and Dr. Robert Bullard, dean of the School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and a founding voice for the environmental justice movement, believes this was at play when the Kingston coal ash was relocated from a predominantly white to a predominately black community.

Bullard adds that shipping the coal ash to Uniontown was only an extension of the initial injustice: the opening of the landfill in 2007 despite widespread opposition from the community. In both instances, residential concerns were ignored by elected officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When the coal ash came, Bullard says, “Newspapers reported that the landfill was in an isolated location, there was no community opposition, and it would bring economic development.” A public hearing for residents to voice their concerns was held only after the permit for the landfill had already been signed. As for economic development, it was a hollow promise from the start. Jobs that arrived to help unload the coal ash are long gone — disappearing with the last train’s shipment.

Although there have have been no published studies on the human and environmental impact of the coal ash in Uniontown, the effect is palpable. The coal ash here was not subject to the same level of precaution as the remaining coal ash stored at Kingston; mounds of dry ash are visible above the tree line, lacking a protective cover to prevent dust from blowing into the neighborhood. It rises from the landfill to coat the cars and clotheslines of nearby residents.

“Landfills don’t make good neighbors,” Bullard says. “Before the landfill came, this land was basically farms, cattle fields and trees. People enjoyed working outside, but [now] you can smell the landfill. It’s destroyed their life, and it might destroy the land and their livelihood. And they’ve been powerless to stop it.”

With the help of attorney David Ludder, as well as attorneys from the environmental law firm Earthjustice, residents of Uniontown have filed a discrimination complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights. The office agreed to investigate the complaint this past July, but since then there has been no significant action.

This lack of action has been true for much of the national debate as well. The now-notorious Kingston coal ash spill shined a harsh spotlight on the absence of federal coal ash standards. It was not until October 2013 when a federal judge sided with environmental groups — including Appalachian Voices — that the EPA was ordered to comply with a congressional mandate to establish coal ash regulations. On Jan. 29, 2014, the EPA announced that these regulations will be published by Dec. 19, 2014. The strength of these forthcoming rules remains uncertain.

At the Kingston plant, the TVA is just a year away from bringing their site remediation efforts to a close. TVA Spokesman Scott Brooks says the disaster site will be converted to a park, with ballfields and a green space. “We’re going to leave the area around the spill as an asset to the community,” he adds.

Yet it would be no surprise if residents are not inclined to offer thanks for this “asset.” Much of the enormous cost for the Kingston coal ash spill has been passed off to the community. And with the debate about how to handle coal ash still unresolved, Kingston is at risk of becoming nothing more than a notation in an ongoing timeline of preventable accidents.

Spotlight on Eastern Kentucky Economy

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Molly Moore

When more than 1,700 citizens gathered in Pikeville, Ky., to discuss ideas for regional economic revitalization at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit last December, the crowd was diverse.

In attendance were concerned citizens, grassroots organizers and many of the state’s government and business leaders.

During breakout sessions, participants discussed topics such as jobs, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, tourism and regional identity. Common themes included the need to invest coal severance taxes back into coal-impacted communities and to encourage youth to remain in the region.

Progress was quick regarding one of the most popular ideas at the summit: the expansion of broadband internet in under-served eastern Kentucky. In January, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced $100 million in federal, state and private funding to bolster the region’s internet access. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that it could take three years to install fiber optic infrastructure, the first phase of the project.

Another project touted by politicians at the summit was the expansion of the Mountain Parkway between central Kentucky and Pikeville to four lanes, a $750 million, six-year project that Gov. Beshear has called on lawmakers to approve.

Also in January, President Obama declared that eastern Kentucky would be one of five new “promise zones” where the area will be given special preference for federal grant dollars through existing programs. The initiative also aims to diversify the economy by increasing support for education, leadership and job training and establishing a revolving loan fund for small businesses.

To learn more about the SOAR Summit, read the report at governor.ky.gov/Documents/SOAR-report.pdf.

Recent Conservation Gains in Appalachia

By Meredith Warfield

With the Southeastern Cave Conservancy’s recent 75-acre land acquisition, two caves that were formerly off-limits have now been opened to the public in eastern Tennessee. The Run to the Mill Cave Preserve includes a pit nearly 170 feet deep and the largest population of endangered Indiana Bats in the state. Preliminary studies have revealed a likely presence of white-nose syndrome — an infection that has wiped out roughly 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. By managing the property, researchers hope to contain this disease and maintain local ecosystem health.

A 21-acre addition to the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia will ensure protection of the Soque River, a critical tributary to Atlanta’s primary drinking water source. The Soque River is also home to a significant population of brook trout, Georgia’s only native species of trout. With the Trust for Public Land’s purchase, the public will have use of the fishing waters as well as easier access to thousands of surrounding acres of national forest.

Ann League: Coordinating to Protect Tennessee’s Mountains

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - posted by ann

unnamed

I was born in a little South Carolina town nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I was five years old, my mother and I traveled to Ohio to visit her family. While there, my Uncle Bill started calling me “hillbilly.” I was very proud of that moniker and I would announce to everyone we encountered during that visit that I was a “hillbilly” from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When I moved to East Tennessee when I was 16, I quickly fell in love with the region. It felt like home, especially the Cumberland Mountains. That love has strengthened over the years, which is why I am so excited to join Appalachian Voices to coordinate our organization’s Tennessee campaign.

In 2003, a large cross-ridge mine was permitted on Zeb Mountain in Campbell County. I was living on the mountain adjacent to Zeb Mountain at the time and could see it from my deck — it was my backyard. As the mining progressed on Zeb, I started doing weekly surveys and water testing with other community members on several of the streams coming off of the mine permit area. Month to month and year to year, I witnessed the steady degradation of those beautiful mountain streams as they were strangled by the sediment produced by the blasting on the mountaintop above.

I watched coal trucks race each other on the narrow twisting mountain highway that passed by an elementary school. I saw state and federal violations rack up, most of them concerning water quality. But too many fines were suspended for years and appealed by the coal company, so little or no payment was ever collected.

I watched my well water turn orange, and we started using bottled water to cook with and drink. I saw my windows rattle and my doors move from the massive explosive blasts used to blow apart the top of the mountain to get to a thin seam of coal. I started working to protect Tennessee’s mountains from mountaintop removal coal mining more than 10 years ago because it was personal for me.

I don’t live in Campbell County anymore, but it is still personal to me and I will continue to fight mountaintop removal because the mountains of Tennessee will always be in my heart and in my backyard.

Do you live in Tennessee and share Ann’s love of mountains? Click here to ask your representatives to co-sponsor the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act.

Knoxville: “The Sustainable City”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

Knoxville
By Nolen Nychay

Knoxville, Tenn. ranks second in the nation for growth in green jobs and is one of only a handful of American cities to have fully bounced back from the economic recession, according to a recent Brookings Institute report. Since 2006, the city has reduced carbon emissions by 17 percent, and under Mayor Madeline Rogero’s progressive leadership, is pursuing over 30 green initiatives to further reduce emissions 20 percent by 2020. When it comes to meeting today’s needs with tomorrow in mind, Knoxville is leading by example.

Efficiency

Since 2012, Knoxville has participated in the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge. The three-year, $50 million grant program strives to improve energy efficiency in 100 cities through weatherization upgrades for aging buildings, investing in greener urban design and energy education. Mayor Rogero anticipates improvements to the city’s energy infrastructure will cut long-term utility costs.

Recently, Knoxville implemented efficient lighting in government buildings and replaced nearly every traffic signal and streetlight with LED lights, which use 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescents The retrofits paid for themselves within two years, saving taxpayers upwards of $250,000 annually.

Renewable Energy

In 2013, the Tennessee Valley Authority and its Green Power Switch partners named Knoxville the Sustainable Community of the Year. Green Power Switch offers communities the option to support renewable energy by paying a little more on monthly utility bills, and through the program, Knoxville residents contribute to the production of over 56,250 kilowatt hours of clean energy each month. The city also offers rebates up to $15,000 for Energy Star-certified homes, which use up to 30 percent less energy than the average household.

A Department of Energy Solar Cities grant helped the city implement municipal solar projects, increasing solar capacity from 15 kilowatts to over 2,000 kilowatts in less than four years. The grant also encourages growth in the private energy sector by informing regional contractors about solar technologies and certifications while simplifying zoning and permitting regulations for new solar projects.

Green Nonprofits

Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development is a budding nonprofit in Knoxville that prepares at-risk young adults for “green-collar careers.” Applicants undergo an intensive 90-day program of green job education, community service and life-skills training before being placed in internships or higher education institutions for further guidance. SEEED also seeks to improve access to healthier foods and energy-efficient technologies in low-income neighborhoods.

Another nonprofit, the Knoxville Recycling Coalition, has worked for more environmentally sound waste management for over 20 years, offering public workshops and demonstrations about sustainable recycling methods. The coalition created — and still runs — Knoxville’s first multi-material recycling facility. In 2011, the city followed suit by offering a single-stream, curbside recycling program for all residents.

27 Visionaries

Transportation

Partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ECOtality and Tesla have enabled Knoxville to erect electric car charging stations in more than 30 locations — some entirely solar-powered. Residents without electric vehicles can still travel sustainably via Knoxville’s revamped public transportation system, which utilizes propane-powered buses and shuttles retrofitted with particulate filters to reduce carbon emissions. Low-emission travel is incentivized by Smart Trips, an award-winning program where Knoxville commuters can earn gift cards of up to $100 by logging how often they walk, bike, telecommute or use public transit.