A coalition of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unlawfully approved surface mining on Tennessee mountains, according to The Tennessean. The Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and others sued the agencies in U.S. District Court in Nashville for not considering how pollution from the mining would impact endangered fish — in particular, the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.
“Extinction of endangered species is too high a price to pay for surface mining,” said the Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt. “Mining pollution from these sites clearly poses a risk to the dace and darter; these permits should have never been allowed to go forward.”
The fish use the creeks downstream of Zeb Mountain and David Creek, both outside of Knoxville (Note: They’re in in Campbell County.). The fish have been dwindling in numbers for years.
Extinction of the fish, the lawsuit says, could harm the area’s entire ecosystem. Citing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the groups contend federal officials have leaned on outdated safety research when approving mining permits.
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is changing its backcountry reservation and permitting process.
Beginning early next year, the park will collect a $4 per person per night fee for backcountry camping.
The money collected from the fees will be used to improve customer service for backcountry trip planning, reservations and permits.
Backcountry Office hours will be expanded with additional staff available. In addition, there will be greater enforcement of issues like food storage from park rangers assigned to the backcountry.
The park will also begin allowing backcountry campers to make reservations and obtain permits online. The new website should be available within the first few months of 2013.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Nature Conservancy say they expect an $8.8 million purchase of undeveloped property in Johnson County to be a boost to tourism and create jobs.
The state and the conservation organization announced Thursday that they have acquired the 8,600-acre Doe Mountain, just southwest of Mountain City.
Doe Mountain, which contains miles of existing roads and trails, is one of the largest remaining blocks of forest in private ownership in the Southern Blue Ridge region. It will be open to the public.
“Doe Mountain offers a great opportunity for outdoor recreation and the benefits that come with opening up space for people to enjoy, such as healthier communities and new jobs from tourism,” Haslam said in a news release. “I’m pleased we as a state could contribute to this lasting legacy for all Tennesseans.”
Gina Hancock, director of the Tennessee chapter of the Nature Conservancy, told The Associated Press that the property is a failed development project that fell into bankruptcy about five years ago.
She said her organization has been working with the state for about a year to acquire the property, which she expects to help tourism regionally.
“The goal is to … work with North Carolina and Virginia on kind of having a triangle for visitation,” Hancock said.
Portions of Doe Mountain are expected to allow outdoor recreation such as mountain biking, horseback riding and scenic touring by all-terrain vehicles, officials said.
A remote Tennessee mountain where drug dealers have grown and hidden mounds of marijuana will soon become protected parkland, reports The Tennessean. Nearly 1,000 acres on Short Mountain in Cannon County will be kept free of development to instead remain wild and natural for hunters and hikers — an unusual outcome for forfeited drug property.
But this was no ordinary land. The gentle slopes and craggy ridges amazed federal drug investigators who were in on the raid and led scientists to discover species of crayfish, salamanders and beetles not found anywhere else. And the water that runs off the mountain — the tallest point in Middle Tennessee at 2,074 feet — flows down in every direction.
The deal to conserve the drug land, signed recently after years of negotiations, is one of just four such transfers in the nation in 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s also by far the largest. In Tennessee, such an arrangement has no precedent.
A huge win for conservationists, who worked for years to convince government and police agencies of its merit, the deal preserves some of the most beautiful land in the state. Those who put it together say that made more sense than selling it off to recoup all of the money poured into the drug investigation.
In the final days of the session, it’s not Republican vs. Democrat; it’s House vs. Senate, goes an old adage at the Tennessee Capitol. Chas Sisk reports the expression refers to the last-minute squabbling between the two chambers over which issues to work out and which to kick to the curb before heading home for the year. In this year’s battle, the House has given itself a little edge: It has a project favored by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey hostage.
The House moved Friday to delay a vote creating an ATV park on Johnson County’s Doe Mountain until this week. Ramsey has been the legislature’s most visible champion of the project, taking Gov. Bill Haslam 4-wheelin’ there back in December and ensuring that funding for the project was included in next year’s budget.
The House took Doe Mountain hostage right after the Senate proposed de-funding $20 million worth of projects during a budget tiff over earmark spending. The two chambers seemed to resolve that dispute in conference committee late Friday, but the House isn’t likely to release Doe Mountain until leaders are certain the Senate won’t cut out while some of its favored legislation is still on the table.
Ramsey took the maneuver with good humor Friday, expressing little concern over the mountain’s safety.
“That’s part of the games you play at the end of session,” he said. “That was rolled to the end just to get my attention, no doubt about that.”
Blountville Republican Ron Ramsey said he couldn’t pull the trigger on targeting funding for major regional projects when he first became Tennessee’s lieutenant governor in 2007, according to the Kingsport Times-News. “I wasn’t about to ask for things in my area when we were cutting in other areas, but state revenues have turned around some. … When that came, I thought it was fair we get some projects on this end of the state,” Ramsey said Wednesday.
His fingerprints were all over two major economic development projects included in the $31.5 billion budget passed this week by the GOP-controlled legislature. Ramsey steered a $500,000 state appropriation toward a planned multimillion-dollar Bristol Cultural Heritage Center just across State Street in Bristol, Va., and an $8.8 million appropriation to acquire Doe Mountain in Johnson County.
That Doe Mountain appropriation, plus a legislature-approved bill to create a governing authority for the property, is expected to lead to development of a multi-use park for all-terrain vehicles, bike riding and hiking.
“This is the biggest thing that has happened to Johnson County in a long time,” Ramsey said. “Not only will it promote their natural beauty, it will be a huge economic boon to them. We’ve studied what other places have done for ATV parks and bike paths and walking paths. When we get this structure put together, it will provide a lot of jobs for Johnson County.”
Financial and legislative pieces are coming together for the state of Tennessee and The Nature Conservancy to buy and develop Johnson County’s Doe Mountain into a multi-use tourist attraction for all-terrain vehicles, biking, horseback riding and hiking. Continuing a report by Hank Hayes::
“It’s looking good. … We should know something within a month or so where we are on this. … I’m trying to keep it low key … (but) I think everything will be fine,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the venture.
Last December, Ramsey said the Doe Mountain venture could have a similar economic impact as Southwest Virginia’s 34-mile Virginia Creeper Trail, which is open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. He envisioned spin-off businesses like campgrounds, restaurants and bike shops.
The 8,600-acre Doe Mountain property was a planned residential development that fell through, according to Ramsey.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has set aside $8.5 million in the state’s current budget, plus $300,000 in a supplemental appropriation to pay for the property, according to administration spokesman Dave Smith.
Smith noted the Doe Mountain acquisition is on the State Building Commission Executive Subcommittee’s agenda on Monday.
The Nature Conservancy State Director Gina Hancock said the plan is for The Nature Conservancy to buy the property and “hold it until the state buys it from us.”
The Tennessee Senate, meanwhile, has passed amended legislation creating a Doe Mountain Recreation Authority to manage the property.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says Tennessee’s state government is considering buying an 8,600-acre tract in Johnson County with hopes of developing a “multi-use park for tourism purposes, according to Hank Hayes. The property, located on Doe Mountain, was a planned residential community that fell through after the developer passed away, Ramsey said.
“They are in bankruptcy now, and we are working with The Nature Conservancy and others to help purchase the property and develop it for ATVs (all-terrain vehicles), mountain biking and hiking,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said of the venture. “We have to see what we can do to take advantage of Mountain City’s (the county seat of Johnson County) natural beauty, and I think this is something that can happen. … I do believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
….Ramsey said the property has been appraised at $17 million but could go for about $8.5 million.
Bad weather caused Gov. Bill Haslam to miss a scheduled appearance last week in Mountain City – one end of the classic political cliche comment by statewide candidaes of promising to represent Tennessee from the northeast geographical extreme to the southwest extreme of Memphis (i.e., from Mountain City to Memphis). But the thunderstorms inspired Robert Houk to pen a partly cloudy/partly sunny column on historic gubernatorial dealings with the Johnson County seat. Had the governor kept his appointment in Mountain City, (Lt. Gov. Ron) Ramsey said, Haslam would have been the first sitting governor since the late Ned McWherter (a Democrat) to visit Johnson County.
That might not be entirely correct. Mumpower recalls then Gov. Don Sundquist (a Republican) stumping for him in Johnson County on Oct. 31, 1996.
Another Johnson County resident also told me he vaguely remembers former Gov. Phil Bredesen (a Democrat) showing up for a meeting in Mountain City early in his first term.
Regardless of who was the last governor to visit Mountain City, it’s safe to say getting there is not always easy. This is something the late Gov. Frank Clement (a Democrat) discovered in the late 1950s when he became extremely carsick while traveling the winding road from Shady Valley to Mountain City. Clement was so delighted to finally reach his destination that he announced the next time he traveled to Mountain City it would be on a four-lane highway. The two-term governor was never seen in Mountain City again, and Johnson County is still waiting for that four-lane highway.
(Note: I have previously heard the same story attributed to two other Democratic governors – Jim McCord and Gordon Browning (a Clement rival). But I suspect Robert’s recounting is more reliable.)
Ramsey (who has his own white-knuckle story about flying into the Mountain City airport during a thunderstorm) said Monday that Johnson County may never get a four-lane highway, but believes the county could see an improved two/three-lane highway connecting it to Interstate Highway 81 in Virginia within 10 years. He said the Tennessee Department of Transportation is moving ahead with environmental studies of a plan to improve State Highway 91 to the Virginia line.