TDEC

Here’s what the state is doing in response to 2-year-old’s drowning at Cummins Falls

The drowning death of 2-year-old Steven Pierce has caused state officials to close off access to Cummins Falls. The boy was among dozens of people caught off guard by flooding at the park. Thirteen had to be rescued from the waters.

The death is the third at Cummins Falls in the past two years and has led to questions from a bipartisan group of state lawmakers about why the Department of Environment and Conservation had not yet followed through with plans to install a warning system at the park to alert visitors to rising water levels in the gorge.

Here is a memorandum prepared by Jim Bryson, the agency’s deputy commissioner, about plans moving forward.

MEMORANDUM

TO: David W. Salyers, Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

FROM: Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

DATE: June 12, 2019

SUBJECT: Cummins Falls Update

Responding to the Cummins Falls incident remains a top priority. The falls and gorge area are currently closed and will remain closed until we can evaluate the incident and review and implement additional safety protocols. The department will provide further notifications and updates as available.

Ongoing actions:

  • The After Action Report will be completed to investigate and document park policies and actions before, during and after the incident. From this report, additional measures may be identified.
  • Parks and Conservation GIS team has identified the watershed area for the region. See attached map.
  • We are currently talking to the National Weather Service to clarify watershed area that needs to be monitored continually and to agree on a new protocol for warning of potentially dangerous situations.
  • Flash flood warning signs will be posted at trailheads leading to the gorge.
  • An emergency procurement authorization has been secured to purchase and install a water flow monitoring system as an early warning system. It will be installed with all possible speed.
  • Parks has a funded capital project for a Visitor Center which will have the facilities for conducting safety programs. We are looking to implement a permit requirement that will help us manage the visitation and ensure visitors have attended the safety program before going down into the gorge.
  • The Visitors Center will be set up to have monitors for regular weather updates and the ability to receive notification from the flow meters that we are working with TTU to implement.

At a minimum, the falls and gorge area will remain closed until the department conducts a full assessment of the circumstances and considers and implements additional protocols to address rain events in the watershed area.

Legislator’s relative, others lose jobs in shutdown of Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn

Fewer than half the state employees who lost their jobs when the Fall Creek Falls State Park’s Inn and Conference Center was closed — months before its scheduled demolition to make way for building a new $30 million facility  – got new state jobs and some of those who did are paid less and face a much longer drive, reports Sam Stockard. Some are blaming state officials for poor planning.

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Haslam appoints deputy commissioner as new TDEC chief

Press release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today named Dr. Shari Meghreblian as commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) effective May 1. Meghreblian has served as deputy commissioner for the department since 2011, overseeing TDEC’s environmental regulatory programs.

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Legislators vote for state takeover of coal mining regulation from feds

Following a four-year push by Tennessee’s coal mining industry, both the House and Senate have now approved legislation to have the state Department of Environment and Conservation assume oversight of the industry from the federal Office of Surface Mining.

The House approved the bill (SB686) on Monday on a vote of 69-20 while the Senate gave assent 25-4 back on March 12. The House added an amendment that will send the measure back to the Senate for anticipated concurrence.

Tennessee surrendered oversight of coal mining – called “primacy” in the industry — to the federal government 34 years ago. Sponsors Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Rep. Dennis Powers (R-Jacksboro) say Tennessee is now the only coal-mining state in the nation that doesn’t operate its own program of issuing permits and enforcing regulations.

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Martineau exits as TDEC commissioner; joins real estate development firm

Press release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) Commissioner Bob Martineau will return to work in the private sector in May.

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‘Complete rebuild’ of Fall Creek Falls State Park lodging approved

The Haslam administration has received approval from the State Building Commission for its plans to rebuild the guest lodging at Fall Creek Falls State Park, reports the Time Free Press.

The plan is to tear down two existing facilities and build a single inn with about 85 rooms along with a new restaurant and conference center at the 26,000-acre park, long considered the “crown jewel” of Tennessee’s state parks system, on the Upper Cumberland Plateau. The work is expected to take 1 1/2 to two years.

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Cumberland County, TDEC have a dam dispute

The Cumberland County Commission is refusing to pay a bill from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for inspection of a small dam, reports The Crossville Chronicle. The initial 2016 fee for inspection of Breckenridge Dam was $500, but that’s grown to $3,536.29 with penalties and interest.

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TDEC hides data on low-level radioactive waste from public

Excerpt from a Tennessean report:

Ten years ago, when Murfreesboro residents learned the state had approved the dumping of low-level radioactive waste at a local landfill, a fierce community backlash swiftly put an end to the practice.

Today, Tennessee citizens have no way to find out how much low-level radioactive waste is going into other landfills.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, has wiped that data from its website and said it is confidential.

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TN meets EPA particle pollution standards statewide

News release from Department of Environment and Conservation

NASHVILLE – The entire state of Tennessee is now in compliance with federal air quality health standards for particle pollution, also known as particulate matter or PM2.5.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday in the Federal Register finalized its official redesignation of all of Anderson, Knox, Blount and Loudon counties and the remaining part of Roane County as “attainment,” which means the areas now meet federal particle pollution standards. These areas were the last remaining areas in Tennessee to achieve the designation.

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Haslam administration abandons state park privatization plans

Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau told a state legislative committee today that Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is abandoning plans to privatize operations at Tennessee state parks, reports the Times Free Press. He said TDEC’s focus will now be on using more than $100 million previously approved for state parks to begin addressing decades of ignored capital needs.

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