Tag Archives: memphis

Massive Memphis sewage spill contaminates lake, kills fish

A massive spill of raw sewage from a ruptured line in Southwest Memphis has produced a “large and growing” fish kill in McKellar Lake, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The number of fish that have died is unknown but could reach into the thousands, said Kelly Brockman, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The fish kill resulted from a damaged Memphis sewer line that is spewing up to 50 million gallons of waste daily into Cypress Creek, which empties into the lake near the Mitsubishi Electric manufacturing plant on Paul R. Lowry Road.

State and local officials have posted signs giving notice that water in the area may be contaminated and people should avoid contact with it. City officials on Monday also closed the boat ramp at Riverside Park Marina until further notice. The ramp provides access to McKellar, which is not truly a lake but a slack water harbor off the Mississippi River.

The rupture occurred Thursday after heavy rains eroded the ground beneath the sewer line, which carries sewage to the T.E. Maxson South Treatment Plant. City officials said Monday that public works crews are working around the clock to construct a bypass to halt the spill and should have one completed on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the wastewater is depleting the oxygen in the lake, causing fish to die.

“There is a fish kill,” Brockman said. “It’s large and growing.”

Protesters block Memphis Zoo parking; Cohen gets involved

A congressman Cohen and Memphis Police successfully negotiated an end to a sit-in of sorts by protesters who oppose parking by visitors to the Memphis zoo on a grassy area of Overton Park, reports the Commercial Appeal.

No arrests or injuries occurred by midday after Memphis police and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, whose home borders the park, negotiated a middle-ground solution — just for Saturday — that allowed vehicles to park on about a third of the large lawn bordered by the Memphis Zoo, Memphis College of Art and Rainbow Lake.

Since receiving the backing earlier this month from the Memphis City Council, zoo officials had expanded zoo parking to cover most of the greensward on high-visitation days.

Several witnesses said the civil disobedience started midmorning when a woman in her 20s lay down in the dirt drive to block cars from entering the greensward.

Others quickly joined her, including musicians playing a mandolin, guitar, accordion and conga drum.

Police swooped in, but instead of making arrests and clearing a path, Memphis Police Maj. Dana Sampietro talked with Cohen and some protest leaders, including insurance agent Bill Stegall who lives in the adjoining Evergreen Historic Disitrict.

Facing a crowd of perhaps 200 protesters, Stegall used a squad car’s microphone to announce the compromise and encourage the protesters to accept it.

“First I want to say something about the Memphis police force,” Stegall told the protesters. “They have just been as nice…” The crowd roared its approval.

Feds OK sending Oklahoma wind energy to Memphis

Plains & Eastern Clean Line Energy says construction could begin in 2017 on a $2.5 billion electric transmission line bringing Oklahoma wind power across Arkansas to Memphis now that the U.S. Department of Energy has approved the project, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Early plans call for installing $4 billion worth of wind turbines near Guymon, Oklahoma. Their electric power would run through a 700-mile-long copper line that would end in Shelby County.

In Memphis, the city-county EDGE board earlier approved a property tax break for Clean Line’s proposed $259.8 million apparatus that would funnel the electricity into TVA for use across its seven-state region.

Friday’s decision could lead to a legal fight in Arkansas led by land owners opposed to the transmission line route.

Arkansas’s congressional delegation opposed the federal decision in a statement Friday that contends state control over transmission lines is being trampled, the Arkansas Times reported. The state’s lawmakers have been trying to pass legislation to keep authority in the states.

Note: Related press release below. Continue reading

Memphis, Knoxville mayors rally against de-annexation

Only six cities are impacted by the latest version of de-annexation legislation and mayors in two of those — Memphis and Knoxville — are trying to rally opposition to the measure, reports Richard Locker.

The bill is the second phase of a massive shift in Tennessee municipal annexation law that began in 2014 when the General Assembly ended six decades of annexation simply by the majority votes of city councils and replaced it with a requirement for the consent of residents of areas to be taken into city limits, through referendums or petitions.

The de-annexation bill would allow 10 percent of the registered voters of a territory annexed since May 1, 1998, or whose annexation “became operative” after that date, to petition for a de-annexation referendum. De-annexation would occur if approved by a majority of voters in the referendum.

House Bill 779 failed on the last day of the 2015 legislative session but its supporters vowed to return with it this year. And they have, with an amended version that limits most of its provisions to just six cities: Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Johnson City, Kingsport and, oddly, Cornersville (pop. 1,199, in Marshall County) — places where the bill says “citizens have experienced the most egregious forms of annexation and have no other reasonable course to redress their grievance than to petition for a vote.”

… It’s sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

“The City of Knoxville is strongly opposed to de-annexation legislation,” said Eric Vreeland, the mayor’s communications manager, on Wednesday. “…allowing de-annexation of properties that have been a part of the city of Knoxville for at least a decade, or many decades, would be chaotic. Infrastructure and facilities — streets, sidewalks and fire halls, for example — have been constructed as areas have been annexed. Services have been upgraded as businesses and residents have come into the city.”

…Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said Wednesday the bill is “potentially devastating” to his city, potentially costing it up to 100,000 residents and up to $64 million in property tax revenue.

Strickland, who took office as Memphis mayor Jan. 1, said the city has identified 10 potential de-annexation neighborhoods that could petition for referendums if the bill is approved in its current form.

Historical marker set for Memphis massacre/race riot

A proposed new state historical marker in Memphis will have both “Memphis Race Riot of 1866” and “The Memphis Massacre” as its titles, under revised wording approved Friday by the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Further from the Commercial Appeal:

The 29-member state commission has spent hours discussing and revising the text for the new marker and particularly whether its title should be “1866 Memphis Massacre” as proposed by the NAACP’s Memphis Branch, or “Memphis Race Riot of 1866,” which the commission approved in October. Friday’s vote would put both names in a two-line title, with the race riot wording on top.

The official marker is to be erected at Army and Navy parks, two small parks separated by South Second Street at G.E. Patterson Avenue in South Memphis, in time for a sesquicentennial commemoration of the events in May. The Memphis Branch of the NAACP, which requested the marker and would fund most or all of its costs, still must sign off on the new wording.

Note: To paraphrase a line in the article, historians agree that the events of May 1-3, 1866, resulted in the murders of at least 40 black Memphians at the hands of between 200 and 300 white rioters.

Norris predicts gov will grant Memphis budget wishes

Memphis and Shelby County business and governmental leaders flooded the hallways of the Legislative Plaza Wednesday and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told them he expects Gov. Bill Haslam to approve much of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s legislative agenda, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Norris told the crowd that he and other Shelby lawmakers are “working hard” with the governor on a supplemental amendment to Haslam’s state budget plan that will include the local priorities outlined Wednesday. The governor proposed a $34.8 billion state budget Feb. 1 and he and legislative leaders always draft a comprehensive amendment that includes legislative priorities every year before the final budget is approved, in late April.

“I’m not going to spill the beans here but all the things that are important to you are important to me and important to Gov. Haslam,” Norris said. “There aren’t any bad proposals. There’s just a question of funding availability and timing for that funding. I meet with (Haslam) every Wednesday. We’re working on every single project that’s been mentioned here today and it’s hard work.

“Some of these things now are projected to be funded. If I talked about them it would be premature and they might be at risk. But we are working very hard to meet your expectations and to help move the community forward.”

Memphis PAC dodges donor disclosure until after election

A group of well-known Memphis businessmen was behind a political action committee that opposed former mayor A C Wharton’s reelection last year, according to the PAC’s financial disclosure Thursday and reviewed by the Commercial Appeal.

Neighborhood Alliance PAC includes several supporters of Mayor Jim Strickland, including developer and Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel, Paul Boyle and Mark Halperin of real estate firm Boyle Investment Company, and HealthChoice CEO Mitch Graves.

Strickland said Friday that he didn’t know, and the “chances are zero” that his campaign staff knew, who was funding Neighborhood Alliance.

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the group passed their donations through another PAC, which avoided having to disclose the donations until after the Oct. 8 election.

The PAC received all of its $113,000 in donations in September from another PAC, Conservatives for Effective Government, according to disclosures filed before the election. Conservatives for Effective Government received $132,500 in September from six people and one company, all from Memphis.

That doesn’t violate any election rules, although Libowitz said the approach put up a “roadblock to transparency.”

Memphis suspends police body camera plans

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has scrapped plans to provide 2,000 police officers with body cameras next week and there’s no timeline now for when they will be issued, reports the Commercial Appeal.

“In an effort to do something good for our city, the process was rushed, and the full implementation of body cameras was not carefully thought out,” Strickland said in a statement. “The bottom line is this: I would rather do this right than fast.”

Strickland said the district attorney’s office needs updated technology to collect thousands of hours of video each day, and the city needs manpower and structure to deal with an influx of open records requests related to the videos.

The body cameras, along with camera systems for squad cars, were supposed to be in use last October, but Shelby County Dist. Atty. Amy Weirich’s office requested the rollout be delayed while her staff received training on how to handle the videos, specifically their storage, usage and dissemination. Weirich said at the time, she was targeting Jan. 1 as the new date for the camera system implementation.

…Friday’s decision garnered criticism from some advocates of law enforcement review.

“If we hadn’t been discussing this since 2014, I think I’d be more sympathetic,” said John Marek, an attorney, member of the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board and a recent candidate for City Council.

Brad Watkins, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said the delay made last year’s push for police body cameras look like “election-year pandering.”

AG says Shelby County not liable for $1.1B

The Tennessee Attorney General opined Tuesday that Shelby County government isn’t responsible for paying the dissolved Memphis City Schools system’s $1.1 billion liability for retiree health benefits unless the County Commission votes to assume the obligation, reports the Commercial Appeal.

So the billion-dollar question is, who is responsible for making the payments against that Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability?

On Wednesday, County Commissioners said the city was the responsible party, but Memphis Chief Legal Officer Bruce McMullen said the city isn’t responsible for the liability of a special school district created by the state, and would fight any lawsuits to pay the money.

“There’s no obligation on the city. There is nothing in this,” he said, holding up the opinion, “directing the city to say anything. And I do want to point out to you that this is an Attorney General’s opinion. This is basically an advisory. This is not a judge just ordering or ruling or anything of that nature.”

“I’m not going to opine about who specifically is responsible,” he added. “What I’m going to tell you is that the city of Memphis is not responsible.”

Note: The opinion, requested by Sen. Brian Kelsey, is HERE.

Police reducing rape kit backlog

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Memphis police have opened a new $1 million sexual assault evidence storage facility.

The climate-controlled facility in Frayser can hold about 50,400 evidence kits. The space includes a DNA storage room, four freezers, two work stations, a crime scene investigation evidence room and office space for four staffers. It opened earlier this month, The Commercial Appeal reported (http://bit.ly/1RGwv1x).

“The kits stored here are more than just inanimate objects,” Mayor A C Wharton said. “These kits represent a traumatized and victimized person. As such, they must be handled with the utmost care.”

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong says the state-of-the-art facility will aid in completing evidence-sensitive investigations.

The kits are being shipped to labs at a rate of 300 a month, and all should be undergoing analysis in about 12 months, said Doug McGowan, head of the city’s rape kit task force.

The city has grappled with a backlog of more than 12,000 sexual assault kits that went untested since the 1980s.

The most recent numbers on the effort to test the city’s rape kits show 5,355 or 43 percent have been analyzed, 2,787 or 23 percent are at a laboratory awaiting analysis and 4,232 or 34 percent still need analysis.

Plans for the storage area began forming in 2013 following the Memphis City Council’s approval of funding for the facility.

Wharton said confidence will not be rebuilt “simply because you build a physical facility.”

“It’s up to us to keep working, not merely in building facilities but rebuilding the trust and being as transparent as we possibly can,” Wharton said.