Johnson Co. residents speak with TDEC officials

By Lesley Hughes
star staff
lhughes@starhq.com

  Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials made an unrequited visit to Johnson County Thursday night to hear citizens comments and questions about the possibility of High Mountain Holsteins, LLC., a dairy version of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, locating on Dug Hill Road.
   Hundreds of residents filled the Johnson County Middle School gymnasium and asked questions about what agency is responsible for regulating the CAFO and maintaining water quality, especially in Roan Creek.
   Despite telling audience members that the decision of approving the Class II CAFO permit has not yet been made, TDEC Chief Engineer and Manager of Permits, Saya Qualls, twice referred to the CAFO as "the dairy that's coming into the community."
  A major concern for some citizens involves the storm water construction permit issued to Maymead Farms, which is leasing the CAFO land, and the Notice of Intent plan filed by the dairy farm. The plan calls for a manure lagoon to be located over an existing wetland. Dan Eger, of the Division of Water Pollution Control, said the "small wetland is 50 feet long and 10 feet wide" and a stream flows about 500 feet away. But he did say the division has an alternative for the planned lagoon.
  One woman asked six officials if they would live next to a CAFO. All six agreed and said, "If it is managed properly, then the answer would be yes." Qualls added in her answer, "I could be a CAFOs best neighbor or worst enemy" and emphasized the importance of the dairy farm having "a very good plan and a very good design."
   Several citizens described the local landscape and the frequency of area-wide flooding. One citizen said, "Generally, this area has a lot of flood problems. In the last three years, we have had two floods. What happens to the lagoons and all this manure when one of these floods comes along?"
  Qualls and another water official said the lagoons are designed to contain the manure and to handle a 25-year, 24-hour flood, or six inches of rain in 24 hours. Citizens were assured that during a flood, High Mountain Holsteins, LLC. is not allowed to spray liquid manure to ease the containment in the lagoons.
  Qualls said that everything TDEC does revolves around "making sure the water is safe and clean. Tennessee does not have the authority to regulate private wells."
  She added, "nor can we authorize an activity that would contaminate any waters in the state. Contamination of subsurface waters would be a violation that would be subject to enforcement."
  One man offered his personal funds to hire an independent geologist to inspect the foundation of the site to ease fears and concerns of citizens about the location of the manure lagoons and where the liquified waste will be sprayed. However, the man was quickly told that the land was considered private property and the state did not have the authority to allow anyone else to inspect the land.
   One of the regulations allows the spreading of liquid manure sprayed as close as 30 feet from a stream if the terrain and slope of the land does not allow for runoff, according to one TDEC official.
   An opponent of this idea said, "You haven't lived here very long have you," referring to the mountainous region that the CAFO will be located in.