A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director warned a group of Maury County residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism,” reports The Tennessean.
“We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees.
“But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
“Can you say that again, please?” an audience member can be heard asking on the audio. Smith went on in the recording to repeat the claim almost verbatim.
The audio was recorded May 29 by Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a Smyrna-based civic action group that had been working with Maury County residents to tackle water quality complaints in Mount Pleasant.
Residents there have complained to the state for months, saying some children had become ill drinking the water. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, and attended by residents, TDEC and local officials.
UPDATE: TDEC says the comment was “inappropriate.”
Note: News release from enviornmental groups is below.
News release from Tennessee Clean Water Network:
Knoxville, TN — Jun 21, 2013 — In an article in today’s Nashville Tennessean, Mr. Sherwin Smith deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, said “”We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously. But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
The undersigned organizations believe, while Mr. Smith clarifies his statement once pressed and is likely accurate in his facts, we believe it was an unnecessarily drastic and inappropriate comparison for a TDEC employee to use when describing our rights as citizens to participate in the public process. It appears to be a scare tactic employed by the state to quash this particular group’s efforts to protect their drinking water. We adamantly oppose the state attempting to scare groups into silence, especially equating their actions with terrorism.
“The residents of Tennessee have a right under the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act to lodge complaints with the Commissioner of TDEC and TDEC is required to respond to them within 90 days.” Said Renée Victoria Hoyos, Executive Director of TCWN. “Invoking images of Homeland Security and terrorism related to complaining about a public water supply suppress the people’s voice.”
Renée Victoria Hoyos, Executive Director, TN Clean Water Network
Keven Routon, Chapter Chair, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club
Stewart Clifton, Tennessee Conservation Voters
Amelia Parker, Executive Director, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment