Harpeth Conservancy joins community to Protect the Piney River


The Hickman County Planning Commission, as a result of public and expert testimony at the March 6th hearing, voted UNANIMOUSLY to deny the preliminary plat plan for the Pinewood Surf Club.

It is a WIN for our precious TENNESSEE RIVERS. Congratulations to Protect the Piney, Protect Hickman County – a community-driven advocacy effort that led the way for this win!

A high-density residential development with a manmade ocean-style surf park was proposed for a piece of land at the confluence of two significant tributaries to the Piney River in rural Hickman County. Ahead of the Hickman County Planning Commission’s public meeting on March 5th where the development was under review, the Harpeth Conservancy submitted written analysis of the flooding, sewage treatment, and drinking water challenges that the proposed Pinewood Surf Club (PSC) development will bring to the Piney River in this rural enclave of fast-growing Middle Tennessee. 

Harpeth Conservancy, along with legal and engineering experts working for Friends of the Piney, reviewed PSC’s materials submitted to the Commission the week prior. Our overarching assessmentbased on decades of working with local, state, and federal agenciespermitting requirements to protect public health and waterwayswas that PSC provided insufficient details to county decisionmakers about how the development will address severe flooding and flood safety, sewage treatment, and drinking water.

These three areas were outlined in depth in our comments, which can be read in full here: 

Harpeth Conservancy Analysis & Comments on Pinewood Surf Club

The picturesque Piney River, a tributary of the Duck River, would be at risk from development like the proposed Pinewood Surf Club.

The proposed PSC would include a golf course and surf club, and it would transform nearly 800 acres along 1 ½ riverfront miles of the Piney River by adding hundreds of homes and reshaping the terrain. The property currently includes large tracts of forest, significant areas of steep slopes, many seasonal and year-round creeks, wetlands, and floodplains. In fact, a large portion of the property, which sits in a largely agricultural area of the county, is identified as a high-risk flood zone. On top of that, water and wastewater infrastructure isn’t currently available to support this kind of development, largely traceable to the fact that the county recognized this land’s use as primarily for agriculture. These issues are, unfortunately, not unique to the PSC proposal. How to manage water sources and sewage disposal—where drinking water is coming from and potential impacts to public waterways—is a challenge for all communities, so it’s best to make these decisions with public engagement and based on the best available science. 

The Piney River is a tributary to the Duck River, which is recognized as one of the most biodiverse rivers in North America. Currently, the Piney provides drinking water to customers of the Bon Aqua-Lyles Utility District and recreational opportunities for residents and tourists. In addition to the Piney River, the PSC parcel is bounded by Little Spring Creek and Big Spring Creek. These three waters are considered Exceptional Tennessee Waters because of the presence of a state endangered fish, the egg-mimic darter.

At the meeting, HC Founder and President, Dorie Bolze spoke of her 25 years working in stormwater management. She warned the commissioners of the dangers of approving such a high-density development project in a high-risk flood zone without sufficient and up-to-date data. The floodplain data for the Piney River and rural areas similar to where this proposed development project would occur, are out-of-date. To not underestimate the impact of potential future floods, and for a project like the PSC to not put thousands of people, homes, and property at risk, this data needs to be updated by incorporating river flow data through the current year and correct flood mapping.”

Harpeth Conservancy President & Founder, Dorie Bolze

The historic flood of 2021 saw record water levels across Hickman County and the Pinewood community.

It was only three years ago (in August 2021) that Hickman County suffered a historic flood event where lands along the proposed development site were under approximately 9 feet of water.

For example, a nearby church in the Pinewood community was flooded: its roofline was barely above water with a record 31.8 feet of flood water reaching the building some 350 yards from the banks of the Piney River. 

Dr. Ryan Jackwood, Harpeth Conservancy’s Director of Watershed Science and Restoration, was also on hand at the meeting to speak specifically about the need for thorough planning around sewage treatment management and where drinking water will be sourced. Dr. Jackwood highlighted the sizable percentage of water withdrawal that the single PSC development site would utilize compared to the whole of Hickman County.

For example, assuming Hickman County has a total groundwater pumping of 600,000 gallons per day whereas the PSC could require 200,000 – 300,000 gallons per day, at least, which would be a huge percentage of the current groundwater removal rate for the County as a whole. We all use a lot of water in our day-to-day lives. Tennessee residents average 80 gpd of domestic water use per capita. (See USGS, Public Supply and Domestic Water Use in the United States, 2015)

Dr. Jackwood also mentioned the importance of identifying the location of sewer and drinking water because different flood protection requirements will be needed. As submitted and reviewedthe preliminary plat did not include that information, which is required by Hickman County subdivision regulations. 

Harpeth Conservancy’s Director of Watershed Science & Restoration, Dr. Ryan Jackwood

The Hickman County Planning Commission, after hearing emotional comments from nearby farmers, property owners, engineers, environmental advocates, and area residents, voted unanimously to deny the preliminary plat plan for the Pinewood Surf Club. The motion to deny was made by Commissioner Keith Nash and seconded by Planning Commissioner Eddie Boone.