Public Hearings need to be delayed during COVID-19 state of emergency on 2 upcoming quarry permit proposals in April

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ACTION:  Send emails by Friday, APRIL 17, on two upcoming quarry permit public hearings that the state wants to hold by webex.  Encourage TDEC to delay these hearings until the state emergency for the Covid-19 pandemic is lifted and the Center for Disease Control states that it is safe for the public to participate in public hearings.

ReOstone Quarry on Richland Creek/Nashville TN:  Bonnie.Craighead@tn.gov.   865-594-5547.   Webex public hearing set for 4/21/2020 5:30pm CST.  Click here for webex info.

Volunteer Sand and Gravel Mine/Hurricane Mills Quarry –  Geoff.Klein@tn.gov.   865-594-5527.    Webex set for 4/28 5:30pm CST. Click here for webex info.

See below for links to public notice that has link to documents on these proposals. 

Background and Details:  

“You never want a serious crisis go to waste.”                   
                     –Rahm Emmanuel, White House Chief of Staff, 2009

It seems that many folks these days, after decrying this sentiment for years, have finally decided that it’s useful to them.  They appear to be using the Covid-19 pandemic to push projects that could have long-term negative consequences for our environment.  They are effectively “trying to pull a fast one” by using the Covid-19 crisis to short-circuit public participation in environmental decision-making, one of the cornerstones of modern environmental laws.

Although much more should be said on this topic, Tennessee’s procedures for trying to issue permits to discharge pollutants into our waters (NPDES permits) are a prime example of this attempting to do an end-run around public participation requirements.

In two recent announcements, for permits for the REOStone Quarry in Nashville (TN0057657) and for the Volunteer Sand and Gravel / Hurricane Mills mine in Humphreys County (TN0082236), the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) has noticed web / internet-based public hearings that do NOT give the public adequate rights to participate in matters that will change their landscapes forever.

Among the defects in these procedures are the following:

  • The so-called public hearings are being conducted during a public health crisis when many members of the public are sick with the virus and simply cannot participate in any way.
  • The distractions of the Covid-19 crisis will prevent many people from learning about the hearings.
  • The details of how to access the meetings will not be posted until three days before the event – this effectively deprives the pubic of notice of how they can participate.
  • Many people – particularly poorer and rural Tennesseans — will be excluded because they lack access to the internet, or there are technological limitations to their access.  This is a major issue very recently highlighted by The Tennessean‘Out in the dark’: Coronavirus highlights internet access inequality in Tennessee.
  • The ability of the public to show its concern over the issues by demonstrating the number of people who show up at a hearing will be significantly limited.
  • The ability of the media to cover the story and air public concerns will be severely limited.

These projects are not necessary to respond to the Covid-19 crisis – they have been long planned.  Without effective public hearings, TDEC and other governmental authorities simply cannot properly understand public sentiment and viewpoints. 

TDEC should not be going ahead with procedures that violate the fundamental rights of citizens to participate in their government – the very essence of democracy.

Contact:  Jim Redwine, COO/VP, Clean Water Protection Program,  jimredwine@harpethriver.org