TDEC fines TDOC for pollution by two prisons

In a case of one state agency penalizing another, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation recently fined the Tennessee Department of Correction for stream pollution near the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Lauderdale County and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex north of Chattanooga, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Potential fines in the TDEC order total $457,806. That can be reduced or eliminated the TDOC restores the streams – the Hatchie River in West Tennessee and a tributary of the Caney Fork River in Bledsoe County — and wetlands damaged by the pollution and outlines other environmental-restoration projects.

Issued last month, the order came more than two years after an environmental-watchdog group, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, filed a complaint alleging pollution problems at the West Tennessee penitentiary, located on Green Chapel Road, just off Tenn. 87 between Henning and Fort Pillow State Historic Park.

Renee Victoria Hoyos, executive director of the group, voiced satisfaction at the TDEC order. “I’m surprised because it’s hard for the state to enforce on itself, and they don’t like to do that,” she said.

The West Tennessee facility logged more than 200 violations of its pollution-discharge permit between June 2013 and May 2014, and inspectors found critical components were not operating, the order says. A total of 64 violations — involving excessive levels of suspended solids, ammonia, E. coli bacteria and other contaminants — were reported between 2014 and September 2016.

The penitentiary discharges into the Hatchie, which is one of the longest unaltered, free-flowing rivers in the Lower Mississippi River Valley and is home to numerous threatened and endangered species.

…The Bledsoe County facility’s wastewater-treatment plant discharges into a creek emptying into a tributary of the Caney Fork River, a popular recreational stream. Between January 2014 and September 2016, the correctional complex reported 85 violations of its permit resulting from excessive nitrogen, phosphorous, ammonia nitrogen, oil and grease and other waste constituents.

The water-treatment plant serving inmates, meantime, logged numerous violations of standards involving trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids and other contaminants.

…Spokeswoman Neysa Taylor said in an email that the Department of Correction “is aware of the consent order issued and has been working closely with the Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) on a corrective action plan.” The violations at the West Tennessee facility have been corrected and the penitentiary now is in compliance, she said. At the Bledsoe County complex, the department has outlined improvements to correct the problems, and the drinking-water system will be transferred to a local utility district.

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