The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Feedbag (80)

From fungi to trees, Smokies life gets back on track five years after conflagration

News Sentinel: Forest life blossoms five years after devastating Smokies wildfires

Researchers are tallying recovering species and noting some surprises five years after deadly wildfires tore through Great Smoky Mountains National Park and adjacent communities, according to News Sentinel science writer Vincent Gabrielle.

Fire-dependent species such as the table mountain pine are seizing new land as a result of the wildfires, and some scientists have been surprised by the proliferation of chestnut saplings. Those saplings are the progeny of remaining chestnut root systems, though few if any survive to maturity. The chestnut was largely eliminated from the American landscape more than 100 years ago by a blight that eliminated one of the most productive mast species in the Southern Appalachians.

Scientists are also intrigued by the reappearance of certain fungi decimated by the 2016 fires, which originated near the Chimneys and ultimately spread up Bullhead and then down into Twin Creeks and the surrounding developed communities. Fifteen people were killed and thousands of structures destroyed.

A lot of Smokies habitat is fire dependent, but few wildfires have been allowed to burn in the backcountry over the history of the park. The fire and its aftermath provide researchers a unique opportunity to determine the effects the fire had on the natural landscape and accompanying plants, fungi, trees and animals.

 

Knox County increases penalties for littering with fines going to illegal dump cleanup

The Knox County Commission in November voted to approve an ordinance further criminalizing the act of littering in Knox County, according to Hard Knox Wire.

According to the new measure, anyone caught littering could be fined up to $500 for the offense, depending on the amount and type of trash involved. Convicted offenders may also be sentenced to up to 160 hours of trash-pickup duties.

The provision also gives Knox County citizens the right to remove trash from rights of way at their own discretion

Littering is already illegal under state law, but the new ordinance allows Knox County to levy its own punishments. For instance, all money collected in the enforcement of the new ordinance will be placed into an illegal-dump cleanup fund maintained by the county.

Clemson University honors Smokies chief for conservation excellence

Superintendent Cassius Cash 2021

Clemson University awarded Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Cassius Cash the Walter T. Cox Award for conservation excellence for his dedication to preserving the natural resources of the most visited national park in the United States.

The Clemson University Institute for Parks, in conjunction with the George B. Hartsog Awards Progran, bestows the annual honor "to recognize individuals who demonstrate exemplary leadership in the field of conservation," according to a news release from the park service.

"The Walter T. Cox Award recognizes park administrators who exemplify Dr. Cox’s distinguished career in education and public service. Superintendent Cash was one of five individuals recognized this year alongside other national and state park leaders." 

The institute said it gave Cash the award because of his "sustained achievement, public service and leadership in conserving and managing public lands. including the most biodiverse and most visited national park in the U.S."

In acceptance of the award, Cash acknowledged the difficulties faced by managers of wild lands and other public conservation resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Leading staff in providing high-quality services and protecting resources during the pandemic, coupled with an extreme rise in visitation, has been challenging,” Cash said in the release.

“I’ve been inspired by our staff, partners, and communities as we work together to care for the park and to continue to welcome people to this space for rejuvenation and healing. It is an honor to be recognized for this work.” 

Visit Clemson Institute for Parks for more information about the award and a full list of honorees.  

TVA project manager pleads guilty to falsifying reports

 

Hard Knox Wire: Failure to disclose financial conflicts could put TVA manager in prison

A former senior project manager at the Tennessee Valley Authority could spend up to five years in federal prison after he admitted to falsifying financial disclosure reports over several years.

TVA is the largest public electricity provider in the nation and is in the midst of a fraught effort to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon output.

James Christopher “Chris” Jenkins, 60, of Chattanooga, entered a guilty plea on Friday to one count of making a false official statement, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hard Knox Wire reported.

He was accused of failing to disclose personal financial information during a conflict of interest probe, among other charges. 

 He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years plus up to three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced in March by U.S. District Court Judge Travis R. McDonough. 

FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Carrico said the case was an example of the bureau’s commitment to fighting corruption. 

“There is zero tolerance for those who exploit their official position for personal gain. It erodes public confidence and undermines the Rule of Law,” Carrico said. “We want the people we serve to know the FBI along with our law enforcement partners will hold those accountable who betray the public's trust.”

 

Report: Sen. Joe Manchin, a holdout Democrat on climate-change legislation, is a "coal baron"

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The Guardian: Manchin monkey-wrenches climate change legislation because he's made millions off fossil fuels

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democratic linchpin for game-changing climate legislation proposed in a budget bill as part of the Biden administration's plan to provide aid to families as well as give a boost to efforts to reduce global warming, has thrown a now-infamous wrench in the works. 

He has vigorously opposed key parts of the climate legislation included in the 2022 budget bill. Per the Guardian, it's simply because he and his family have made a fortune off coal extraction in the relatively impoverished state of West Virginia and elsewhere.

"Financial records detailed by reporter Alex Kotch for the Center for Media and Democracy and published in the Guardian show that Manchin makes roughly half a million dollars a year in dividends from millions of dollars of coal company stock he owns. The stock is held in Enersystems, Inc, a company Manchin started in 1988 and later gave to his son, Joseph, to run," according to the Guardian.

 "He has already effectively succeeded in stripping the bill of its most powerful climate change provision, a program that would have rapidly shut down coal and gas-fired power plants and replaced them with wind and solar power," according to the New York Times.

Big South Fork seeking information on vehicles dumped in Blue Hole

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The National Park Service and officials with Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area are still looking for those responsible for dumping derelict vehicles in a remote part of the park known as Blue Hole.

Park staff found two vehicles and a boat illegally discarded in a section of the park closed to traffic. The junk was discovered Aug. 26 and staff and rangers had to pulled from other projects to clean up the mess.

Park staff recovered an abandoned vehicle, UTV, and boat from the Blue Hole section of the park that appeared to have been dumped in separate incidents.

“The resulting cleanup pulled staff away from planned trail work and public safety duties. Additionally, illegally dumping trash and other items create a negative visitor experience for those hoping to enjoy the serene natural beauty of Big South Fork NRRA,” said Superintendent Niki Stephanie Nicholas in a press release.

"Visitors are reminded that abandoning property in the park is prohibited by federal law."

Anyone with information concerning these incidents is encouraged to contact the NPS at 423-223-4489 or leave a confidential message on the Resource Protection Tip Line at 423-569-7301.

The 24-hour tip line allows callers to remain anonymous.

Anti-nuke nun jailed after Y-12 protest dies at 91

News Sentinel: Nun who served time after Oak Ridge weapons protest dies in Pennsylvania

Sister Megan Rice, who along with two others were prosecuted by the federal government after breaking into the Y-12 nuclear weapons complex in Oak Ridge, died of congestive heart failure Oct. 10 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

Rice, a member of the order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, penetrated the secure perimeter of Y-12 in July 2012 along with two other Catholic activists for prayers and protests outside a bunker containing uranium, according to the Associated Press via the News Sentinel. The incident prompted numerous inquiries about the security of Y-12 and put the inherent danger of nuclear armament in the media spotlight.

The trio was charged with felony sabotage but served only two years of their federal prison terms.

"While testifying during her jury trial, Rice defended her decision to break into the Oak Ridge uranium facility as an attempt to stop “manufacturing that...can only cause death,” according to a trial transcript.'

“I had to do it,” she said of her decision to break the law.

“My guilt is that I waited 70 years to be able to speak what I knew in my conscience."

Permafrost is a ticking methane bomb

Smithsonian: In Russia, even rocks emit greenhouse gases

The melting Siberian tundra north of the Arctic Circle released millions of tons of methane last year as regional temperatures rose to 11 degrees (F) above average.

Methane has a shorter effect than carbon dioxide on global atmospheric change but is still 70 times more potent than CO2 in its overall global-warming potential. Its accelerated release on such a vast scale represents an immediate challenge to restricting overall global warming to less than 3 degrees (fF) by the end of the century, which scientists agree is necessary to prevent dramatic climate change. Methane’s potent global warming potential is why many conservationists oppose the use of natural gas as an energy source.

But in Siberia, even the rocks are emitting methane. Scientists were surprised to find that limestone exposed by disappearing permafrost itself generated high levels of methane. Tundra fires have also accelerated the release of methane and other gases, and have come at great cost to the Russian government and the rural inhabitants of the vast region.

That means economical and practical means must be developed elsewhere, at least, for methane management.

But according to the United Nations Economic Council for Europe:

“Despite methane’s short residence time, the fact that it has a much higher warming potential than CO2 and that its atmospheric volumes are continuously replenished make effective methane management a potentially important element in countries’ climate change mitigation strategies. As of today, however, there is neither a common technological approach to monitoring and recording methane emissions, nor a standard method for reporting them.“

ORNL's comprehensive mapping of built environments aids disaster response

Compass: ORNL mapping effort will aid rescue, risk assessment

Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists spent five years mapping virtually every structure in the U.S. and the data is bearing early fruit as it is used for response to disasters such as hurricanes and severe floods. 

Mark Tuttle and Melanie Lavardiere, the team leaders of the project, have mapped "virtually every single structure in the United States and its territories," Compass reports. 

The information is used by disaster responders from the FEMA level and down. During a hurricane, for example, authorities can focus response efforts on the most vulnerable areas using the building-mapping database. 

The database can also be used by insurers to charge rates more according to risk, and for structures covered under the National Flood Insurance Program, as is already happening.

But the data is most valuable for saving lives and determining the most likely location those lives will have to be saved. 

"After disaster strikes, the data can give a rapid indication of the scope of the damage and point responders in the right direction to assist in the recovery. Using the powerful computers available at ORNL, the team can process data quickly — producing in a matter of hours work that used to take months — and get it into FEMA’s hands for analysis," Compass reports.

Another slice of the wild preserved in Cumberlands

Knox News: Nearly 12,000 acres added to Skinner Mountain preserve on the Cumberland Plateau

The Conservation Fund and state wildlife and forestry officials reached a deal to conserve and manage thousands of wild acres in Fentress County.

The expanse was previously held by an out-of-state speculative investment company likely originally tied to timber companies.

The Cumberland Plateau and escarpments have been increasingly recognized for their biodiversity along with the Smokies to the east beyond the Tennessee Valley. The Cumberlands are along a songbird and fowl migration route, and host a niche population of mature timber, mosses, lichens, fungi, mammals and amphibians. Elk were reintroduced a decade ago, and black bears have begun to range across the Cumberlands and their base.

The area is pocked with caves and sinkholes, some containing petroglyphs and other carvings from previous populations.

"On the Cumberland Plateau, the key to maintaining biodiversity is to retain as much natural forest (both managed and unmanaged) as possible," a forestry expert told the News Sentinel's Vincent Gabrielle.

The Foothills Land Conservancy has also helped protect thousands of acres along the plateau and its escarpments in recent years.

J.J. takes a bus down Electric Avenue

884E1F2D 2A2F 4F68 A15E 80F9458D1FB0Hard Knox Wire: City takes media and politicos on a spin aboard KAT's newest electric bus

The city demonstrated and offered rides aboard the Knoxville Area Transit's new electric buses at Caswell Park on Thursday. The city and KAT plan to acquire a total of 18 electric buses as part of a plan to reduce the city's carbon emissions by 80 percent over the next thirty years. Five of the buses, built by Canada-based manufacturer New Flyer, have arrived.

“In the United States, transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and consequently climate change. Transit has the power to change that,” city transit director Isaac Thorne told Hard Knox Wire.

“By drawing new people to consider transit, reducing reliance on cars, opening up opportunities, and providing sustainable mobility choices, transit can make cities more livable, make the air cleaner, and help meet our challenging but achievable climate goals,” he said.

The city plans to have 18 electric buses representing 26 percent of KAT's fleet in regular operation by the end of next year. Another 41 percent of the existing fleet are hybrids, according to KAT.

The Knoxville Utilities Board is installing multiple chargers to service the electricity needs of the new fleet.

The new buses will undergo multiple trial runs before they hit the road with public passengers in January, probably along the Sutherland and Magnolia routes.

"KAT’s fleet of 71 buses carry around 3 million passengers each year on its 23 bus routes and three downtown trolley routes. There are 1,150 bus stops scattered throughout the city, and bus routes come within a half-mile of 80 percent of the population," Hard Knox Wire reported.

“Today marks a dramatic milestone for Knoxville – this is a major step on our path toward a more clean and resilient future for our children and grandchildren,” Mayor Indya Kincannon said in a news release from KAT.

“These high-efficiency electric buses are an investment in clean air, in healthy neighborhoods, and mobility for our residents."

Deadly natural disasters have ravaged hardscrabble Knoxville for generations. Covid-19 takes the cake.

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Hard Knox Wire: A brief history of Ktown's worst natural disasters

The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.

Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.

History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past. 

 

Dozens of oil spills tracked in Gulf of Mexico nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ida

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Washington Post: Thousands of reports spill in about pollution following Hurricane Ida

It was a perfect storm of imperfect planning that led to southern Louisiana's prominent role as both a producer and transporter of fossil fuels -- and its vulnerability to storms such as Hurricane Ida.

Ida pitched one of the highest hurricane gusts (175 mph) ever recorded in the U.S. when it came ashore at Port Fouchon. Its storm surge also inundated and destroyed both residential neighborhoods and refineries, pumps, pipelines and petroleum storage facilities associated with the high-dollar, polluting petrochemical complex of southern Louisiana.

The Coast Guard is tracking 350 documented oil spills that have occurred since Ida's violent arrival on Aug. 29. Overall, the Washington Post reported "the Coast Guard has received 2,113 reports of pollution or contamination in the waterways to date, with plans to follow up on each.

"The most significant incident so far has been the oil spill off Port Fourchon, in a lease area known as Bay Marchand Block 5," the Post reported.

The Gulf Coast and gulf itself are littered with thousands of miles of abandoned pipelines and imperfectly capped wellheads. Ida ruptured many, but this is a common headline every time a hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast. It just seems to be getting worse.

Park service seeks public input on regulation of Smokies helicopter flights

A public input session has begun as part of a joint effort between the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Park Service to establish limited helicopter tour routes over Great Smoky Mountains National Park along with protocols geared to reduce the environmental and visitor impact of the flights.

The flights are already occurring, and have been for years; park service officials said in a news release that 946 flights per year would be allowed under the Air Tour Management Plan, in line with current levels of helicopter tours conducted each year by two operators outside the park.

The park service and FAA plan a virtual public meeting on the proposed tour routes at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 16. Public comment is accepted through Oct. 3, and can be entered into the record at the Smokies Air Tour Management Plan website.

"Great Smoky Mountains National Park is among 24 parks of the National Park System developing air tour management plans in cooperation with the FAA," park officials said in a press release.

"The agencies hope to complete all air tour management plans by the end of August 2022. The schedule is part of a plan approved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the agencies to comply with the National Parks Air Tour Management Act of 2000 within two years."

Abrams Falls and motorcycle crash claim two lives in Smokies area

Abrams Falls

Two people died while on outings in the Smokies area.

One man drowned at the base of Abrams Creek Falls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the other was killed when his motorcycle veered off Foothills Parkway into a drainage ditch, according to the National Park Service.

In Friday's incident, Stephen Musser, 73, of Roswell, Georgia, was pushed under while swimming beneath the falls at about 2:15 p.m. His body, which was entrapped in debris under the surface, was recovered about seven hours later by divers from the Blount Special Operations Rescue Team. 

Park officials warned visitors about the risks involved in entering park waters, noting unexpectedly strong currents and sieve-like debris common in streams and rivers.

Sixty people have drowned within the national park over its 85-year history; 10 of those have perished near Abrams Falls, according to the park service.

Rangers also responded at about 11:35 a.m. Saturday to a fatal motorcycle crash on Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley.

Park officials said David Birdsong, 57, was heading south at mile marker 24 when he lost control of his motorcycle and left the roadway. He was pronounced dead while en route to a hospital.

Rangers said speed appeared to be a factor in the crash.

Birdsong was the fourth motorcyclist to die on the parkway or in the national park this year.

Car crashes account for 40 percent of fatalities along the parkway or in the national park. Twenty percent of those fatalities involve motorcycles, national park officials said.

Respected environmental reporter Jamie Satterfield leaving Knoxville News Sentinel

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Compass: Unknown if Jamie Satterfield's exit tied to impassioned, personal pleas she made to Anderson County Commission

Jamie Satterfield, a journalist known for her aggressive coverage of the deadly TVA coal slurry spill in 2008 in Kingston and other environmental problems related to coal ash and its storage, is departing the Knoxville News Sentinel at the end of the month, Compass reported in its daily newsletter.

The News Sentinel declined comment on her departure; she did too -- until Sept. 2.

Satterfield's byline was always a comfort to see because you knew you were reading something written by someone who not only knew how to tell a good story, but how to do it with intelligence, talent, passion, accuracy and grace.

In addition to her award-winning environmental reporting, mainly focused recently on the dangers of coal ash after at least 50 workers perished after coal-spill remediation efforts in Kingston, she was a keen crime reporter who could tell a great, if ultimately sad, story.

Satterfield is a native of Gatlinburg.

The News Sentinel's highest-profile reporter will depart the paper Sept. 1, Compass reported.

Her departure follows a heart-felt address to the Anderson County Operations Committee during an August meeting in which she implored them to shut down a playground where Duke University researchers concluded there was coal ash toxicity. The exchange was captured on YouTube, according to Compass.

"During the meeting, Satterfield went to the podium and identified herself as a News Sentinel representative. She touched on the toxins in coal ash, criticized TVA, talked about the diseases afflicting the former workers and called on the committee to take action," Compass reported.
 
“'You all can protect children, starting today, and you can hold TVA accountable,'" she said, choking back tears. Twice during her nearly eight-minute address, she said she would probably be fired for speaking out."
 

It was an apparent breach of journalistic etiquette and ethics for a seasoned, traditional news reporter who is expected to be a dispassionate observer.

Climate change brings historic rains and ruin to Southern Appalachians and Middle Tennessee

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Washington Post: Devastating Middle Tennessee floods latest consequence of climate change

Training thunderstorms dumped 17 inches of rain within 24 hours last week in Middle Tennessee, causing a cascade of runoff that led to localized flash flooding of creeks and rivers that killed at least 20 people and destroyed the small town of Waverly. That amount of rain, which a climatologist said had a 1 in 1,000 chance of occurring, would set a record for the highest amount of daily rainfall recorded in the entire state.

A lesser-noted flood of the Pigeon River just over the state line in Haywood County, North Carolina a week ago killed at least five people and destroyed homes and property as the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred moved over the region. The towns of Canton and Clyde were particularly hard hit. A rain gauge in Cruso recorded nearly 15 inches of rain in less than three days, according to the Smoky Mountain News. Nine inches fell within a 24-hour period.

Deadly floods in Germany and the European lowcountry this summer that killed 200 people were also attributed to climate change.

A warmer atmosphere holds exponentially more moisture, so such intense rainstorms will increase in coming years as climate change reshapes the Earth, scientists told the Washington Post.

"It’s yet another example of how climate change has loaded the dice for disaster, experts say. The floods that people lived through in the past are no match for the events that are happening today. And what in 2021 seems like an unprecedented catastrophe may by 2050 become an annual occurrence," the Post reported.

The flooding threat promised by a warming planet is exacerbated by continuing urbanization and inadequate public stormwater infrastructure. More impermeable surfaces means more runoff.

Tennessee Theatre latest major venue to require vax proof or test result for entry

The Tennessee Theatre announced Monday it will require proof of inoculation against Covid-19 or a recent negative test for the virus before entry into the historic, storied theater on Gay Street in Knoxville. The theater will also require that all audience members be masked. The new rules are effective immediately.

The theater said in an email that increasing rates of infection in the Knoxville area and elsewhere in the country — predominantly in the Southeast — prompted the public-safety decision.

”Because of this, the Tennessee Theatre is enacting some new (Covid) protocols to allow us to continue presenting events while doing our best to keep our audiences safer and healthier.“ The rules will be in place at least through Halloween, according to the theater.

”While we take these necessary steps to remain open and serving the community while providing a safer environment for all, we ask for patience and understanding as we continue to navigate a challenging period in the Tennessee Theatre’s 93-year history.”

The negative test must have been administered within the preceding 72 hours.

Some upcoming shows and events at the Tennessee Theatre into October include this week’s screening of the Goonies; three Knoxville Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Series performances; the Righteous Brothers; and an Alton Brown appearance.

 

State’s fight against Asian carp scales up

WATE: Commercial fishing pulls out 10 million pounds of exotic carp from Tennessee River system

If you never thought there’d be an Asian carp commercial fishery in Tennessee waters, you were wrong.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Asian Carp Harvest Incentive Program has yielded 10 million pounds of the exotic fish since 2018, the bulk caught downstream on the Tennessee River system at Kentucky and Barkly reservoirs. The fish has been spotted as far upstream as Knox and Anderson counties.

The Tennessee Valley Authority and TWRA are experimenting with acoustic barriers to prevent further upstream spread of the fish, which compete with native fish for food and habitat.

“There are four types of Asian carp: bighead, silver, black and grass,” WATE reported. “Experts say the species threatens to disrupt aquatic ecosystems and starve out native species due to their ability to out-compete native species for food like plankton.”

So what do fishermen do with 10 million pounds of carp?

It can be sold to wholesalers for distribution abroad and also makes for really good fertilizer.

In face of crushing drought, feds cut Colorado River water use for first time

NYT: Arizona farmers first affected but more cuts likely in future

The Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage Monday in Lake Mead, a huge reservoir below Hoover Dam that lies along the Colorado River, a historical, natural and national landmark and economic engine that ultimately provides water to seven Western states.

It was the first such dire Level 1 declaration since construction of the reservoir, the largest in the Colorado River impoundment system, in the 1930s. The surface of Lake Mead is projected to soon reach about 1,000 feet above sea level; it's only at about 35 percent capacity, the New York Times reported. Lake Powell in Utah is also at historically low levels.

In an example of drought affecting areas beyond the Colorado basin, a California reservoir, Lake Oroville, near the site of the huge and destructive Dixie Fire, recently dropped below levels suitable for pumping water.

Arizona stands to lose 20 percent of its allotment of river water because of the federal restrictions. Many farmers and others have said they will have to drill for groundwater, itself a resource of concern.

The river provides water to 40 million people in seven states across the West from Wyoming to Mexico, which has a say in how the water is distributed before it reaches the border. Increasingly low-level flows are due to reduced runoff from sparse rainfall and snow packs reduced by worsening drought linked to climate change.

An Audubon Society representative on the board that governs the distribution of the river water foresees more cuts, some of which are predicated on protections of natural habitat and wildlife. “Once we’re on that train, it’s not clear where it stops," she told the Times.

A lot of aquatic life is now swimming, crawling, balling and growing in a weird pharmaceutical stew

The Revelator: Residual drugs largely unfiltered by existing wastewater plants

Aquatic species around the world are exposed to at least 600 types of residual drugs, ranging from anti-inflammatories to antidepressants, and it’s not fully understood how these chemicals will ultimately affect marine ecosystems.

Some research indicates that a species of crayfish is emboldened by antidepressant compounds in the presence of predators, lessening its flight response. Scientists have also noted the presence of pharmaceuticals among invertebrates, as well as seaweed.

More work is needed to further document the effects of the chemicals on the behavior and reproduction of aquatic life, but people can temper the introduction of pharmaceuticals in the first place by never flushing medications down the toilet or any other drain, and checking in on the filter technologies in place at their local wastewater treatment plant. Some advanced carbon filters can successfully remove pharmaceuticals from wastewater before it’s released into the environment.

News Sentinel: Anderson County ball fields built atop TVA coal ash

News Sentinel: Toxic ash fill at Claxton ball field uncapped and unsealed

Tennessee Valley Authority used a mix of coal ash and dirt for fill during construction of a playing field that was later leased to Anderson County and the local Optimist Club for public use, reported Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

She had earlier reported an adjacent playground was contaminated by coal ash byproducts, including heavy metals and multiple other toxins. The contaminants likely originated from coal-ash piles at the nearby Bull Run Fossil Plant. 

Anderson County and the Claxton Optimist Club operate the playground and sports fields, which are still owned by TVA.

The playground was built about 20 years ago, during which time coal ash disposal was lightly regulated. The disposal of coal ash from facilities such as Bull Run coal plant, which will be closed by 2023, has proven a major environmental problem and challenge for utilities across the country.

United Nations climate report: We are in dire straits and it's getting too late

Washington Post: Carbon dioxide levels at highest point in 2 million years

A United Nations climate report authored by 34 people mining 14,000 scientific studies concludes that substantial climate change and its effects are now largely unavoidable but nations, municipalities and individuals can still take steps to minimize the consequences as much as possible.

Here are some key points from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report:

— Human-caused global climate change is an irrefutable fact. Now the debate is what we do about it.

— Few if any signatories to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord met their pledged reduction targets.

— At current emissions rates, the Earth will have heated to or beyond 2.7 degrees (F) above pre-industrial levels by the 2030s.

— Hurricanes, cyclones, droughts, heat waves and other weather anomalies will worsen.

The report comes as many present disasters linked to global warming unfold around the world. The second-largest wildfire in California history burned in the drought-stricken state; Greece dealt with historic wildfires; and Germany and the European Lowcountry reeled from an unprecedented rainstorm that destroyed entire towns and killed more than 200 people. Another heat wave is supposed to arrive in the Pacific Northwest this week.

Summers are getting hotter. Your lifetime is proof.

NYT: Database allows you to track the local increase in 90-degree days every summer since your birthday

If you were born in Knoxville in 1970, it got hot in the summer, sure. But you and your parents could expect temperatures to exceed 90 degrees only about 37 days a year, generally at the height of summer, according to an interactive database from Climate Impact Lab.

But if you were born in 1985, there were an average 44 days per year when the temperature rose above 90 degrees. Now there are about 63 such days each year in Knoxville. I think you can see the pattern here. 

To use the climate-change database, simply key in your birthdate (it goes back to 1960) and locality and you will see how summer temperatures (as measured by the number of daily high temperatures at or above 90 degrees) have steadily tracked upward over the course of your lifetime.

(If you have any doubt as to how this affects you, check your utility bill).

Knoxville-area transportation planner maps region’s most dangerous roadways

Compass: TPO mapping will hasten safety fixes

A map compiled by the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization denotes the most dangerous intersections, streets and roads in the Knoxville region.

Transportation planner Ellen Zavisca crunched crash and related injury data to highlight the most dangerous roadway stretches in the region over 3.5 years, according to Compass.

The database will be updated with real-time data, and will allow a quantified approach to prioritizing safety improvements in the planning region. 

“One of the things that stands out is the major arterial roads tend to see more of these (serious accidents) even than the interstates,” Zavisca said, referring to commercial corridors like Chapman Highway, Clinton Highway and Kingston Pike," Compass reported.

“Because those are the roads that have this, unfortunately, really unsafe combination of high speeds, high volumes, and just a lot of access points,” Compass reported.

“(The) ... map shows the location of 2,326 traffic crashes in the Knoxville region that resulted in a fatality or serious injury between January 2016 and June 2019,” according to the TPO website. 

“There were 321 crashes involving a fatality, and 2,005 serious-injury crashes.

“Every 13 hours in our region, someone experiences a fatal or life-altering traffic crash,” according to TPO.

Tour de France champion will build bikes in Knoxville

WATE: Greg LeMond will manufacture and sell bicycles in Knoxville

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond christened a new bike shop in Knoxville this week accompanied by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon. 

LeMond has been researching and integrating carbon fibers into his bikes for a few years, but the Knoxville shop will sell electric bikes along with other bicycle styles.

“LeMond moved to Knoxville in 2016 and has a goal to build and sell bikes in the city and by the end of 2022, he plans to be making all of his bikes in East Tennessee,” WATE reported.

“The store is selling a range of bikes including road bikes, mountain bikes and electronic bikes. LeMond also stated that Tennessee has some of the best bike riding in the country.”

The store is on Deermont Lane in Knoxville. 

Report: Children exposed to coal-ash pollutants in Knoxville-area playground

News Sentinel: Playground near TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant contaminated by coal ash

Testing by independent Duke University researchers indicates a playground in the Claxton community contains dangerous levels of coal-ash byproducts.

The playground is near the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bull Run steam plant, which has historically used vast amounts of coal to produce electricity and stored the resultant coal ash in huge landfills near the facility on Melton Hill reservoir near Oak Ridge. The plant will be decommissioned within two years, but questions remain about how TVA will handle the tons of remnant coal ash produced over the lifetime of the plant.

Duke University researchers sampled soil from the site, and results showed high levels of heavy metals and other toxins typically present in coal ash.

TVA maintains its testing has not detected harmful levels of contaminants in the area, but the News Sentinel’s Jamie Satterfield, who was been relentless in her investigations of TVA coal-ash policies and the disastrous Kingston coal slurry spill of 2008, noted that “There are no human health guidelines, however, for substances like coal ash that combine many toxins or radioactive metals.”

Welcome to the wilderness: Knoxville celebrates its range of outdoor amenities with park dedication

Inside of Knoxville: City dedicates Urban Wilderness Gateway Park

Mountain bikes ripped through ribbons July 23 as city officials, designers and outdoor aficionados marked the opening of an impressive entrance to the city's 500-acre Urban Wilderness. The "ribbon-cutting" had been delayed for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The park is at the terminus of the James White Parkway, which once was planned to slice through what eventually became a regional recreational and environmental asset five minutes (by car) from downtown.

"Phase 1 investment built the park’s infrastructure: neighborhood connections, roads and greenways, lighting and utility installation. The most visible part of Phase 1 is the Baker Creek Bike Park, which was dedicated in August 2020," according to a news release from the city.

"Phase 2, beginning in Fall//Winter 2021, will see construction of the adventure playground at Baker Creek Preserve, restroom facilities, shade structures and picnic areas, as well as new play features and gathering spaces."

Alan Sims has coverage of the event on his excellent Knoxville-centric blog.

DOE moves ahead with plans for radioactive waste dump on Oak Ridge Reservation despite concerns about its ultimate holding power

Oak Ridger: Landfill moves ahead, for now, for DOE demolition debris in Oak Ridge

Hellbender Press contributor Ben Pounds has a great piece in the Oak Ridger about a long dispute over a plan to bury low-level nuclear onsite in a greenfield on Department of Energy property in Oak Ridge. Over the years, many such contaminated materials were typically transported to off-site storage points, namely the western U.S.

Detractors of the plan worry local landfill membranes and safeguards could ultimately fail or be compromised, leading to a surge of low-level radioactive materials and associated contaminants, into the surrounding area and its water tables. Most of the debris slated for storage comes from the demolished legacy buildings of the Oak Ridge Reservation, originally built as part of the Manhattan Project atomic weapons program during World War II.

“DOE released a Draft Record of Decision Monday, July 12, which goes over some of the aspects of this proposed landfill and environmental issues related to it, as part of the process to get approval from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation,” Pounds reported in the Oak Ridger.

“Kim Schofinski, TDEC deputy communications director, stated her agency is currently reviewing the document and its revisions, which could take around 120 days.”

Come get up close with a corpse (flower) at UTK

KnoxNews: Welcome to Rocky Top, Rotty Top!

A seldom-seen corpse flower is about to burst forth in bloom following a 20-year sleep — presumably not in a casket and not at the Body Farm — at the Hesler Biology Building at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

A previous faculty member got the plant two decades ago, but this is its first blooming cycle, according to the News Sentinel. It has been nursed along by current greenhouse director Jeff Martin — in someone else’s office, of course. The plant only blooms about every 10 years, if not more infrequently.

Members of the public are invited to come partake of the odor and revel in sheer stank in the next several days. 

“A 2010 study by Japanese researchers attributed the plant’s smell to a combination of chemicals that smell like cheese, sweat, garlic, decaying meat, rotten eggs and more,” according to the News Sentinel.

But it’s not just about the smell: The plant produces the world’s largest flower and is endangered in the wild. Pollen from this corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum — you can suss out the literal definition yourself) may be used to pollinate other endangered corpse flowers, which are native to Southeast Asia. 

The odor is an evolutionary pollination mechanism to attract flies and other insects that are attracted to the smell of rotting flesh.

Approval of 180-acre subdivision in Strawberry Plains is sign of things to come

WBIR: Knox County planners approve massive subdivision over community concerns

Knox County planners last week approved the concept plan for a 180-acre, 400-home subdivision off Ruggles Ferry Pike in Strawberry Plains on steep, rugged rural land in East Knox County despite community concerns about the impact of the development on the natural features and infrastructure of the area.

Compass Knoxville reported Innsbruck Farms subdivision would be one of the county’s largest housing developments, but it met all requisite zoning codes and planning requirements. 

“The development met all zoning requirements and conformed to the county’s East Sector Plan, leaving planning commissioners little choice but to approve the project. The decision disappointed area residents concerned about preserving the rural nature of the Carter community,” Compass reported.

“This is the latest development in the county’s ongoing struggle to expand,” according to WBIR reporter Katelyn Keenehan. “Knox County is in need of 40,000 homes in the next 30 years to meet the increasing population. Innsbruck Farms is just the beginning.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists keep an eye on endangered fine-rayed pigtoe mussels in Little River

Daily Times: Biologists keep a close eye on imperiled mussel populations in Little River and beyond

The Little River in Blount County just west of Great Smoky Mountains National Park hosted just one of five known fine-rayed pigtoed mussel populations when federal officials placed the mussel on the Endangered Species List in 1976. 

The Daily Times in Maryville reports that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now conducting a regular five-year review of the mussel's status. It is one of at least 12 mussel species in the river, which has its headwaters in the Great Smoky Mountains and flows through Townsend on its way to its ultimate destination: the Tennessee River. Little River is the main source of water for an expanding Blount County population.

Native mussel populations face the same threats as many non-game fish in the Southern Appalachians. Oxygen is depleted by sediment plumes, which also smother fish eggs, and many mussels rely on small fish to reproduce.

“Reproduction depends on host fish. During the larval stage the young are stuck together in a packet that resembles the prey of shiners and minnows, which is how they become attached to the fish gills or fins to grow for a few weeks,” the Daily Times reports.

Forest Service bans camping on Max Patch for two years after nonstop deluge of visitor problems

Citizen-Times: Festival-like atmosphere on famed bald led to massive litter, waste and wildlife problems

They trampled warbler habitat restoration areas. They left behind tons of cheap camping equipment. They failed to properly bury or transport human waste. They left their vehicles parked willy-nilly on an access road, impeding the ability of emergency vehicles serving the surrounding areas. They ruined it for the rest of us.

Now Max Patch is closed to camping and other restricted uses for two years, Pisgah National Forest authorities announced on July 1.

Over the past decade, the bald in Madison County, North Carolina with 360-degree views of the surrounding Appalachians experienced stunning overcrowding and misuse, with some areas resembling jam-band festivals at times.

The Appalachian Trail traverses the bald, which was home to vital projects to restore wildlife and vegetative habitat. Now visitors are subject to numerous and pointed restrictions, and failure to abide by the new rules could bring tickets and fines.

The restoration could be a long process.

Report: South Knoxville white supremacist committed suicide while showing child how to shoot a handgun

Hard Knox Wire: Racist leader’s death in Knoxville was by suicide

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office concluded that Craig Spaulding, 33, took his own life on April 8 on Belt Road in South Knox County.

The death, originally reported by Hellbender Press via Hard Knox Wire, was initially attributed to an accidental gunshot wound.

“Spaulding was a self-described white nationalist, which means he was a member of a group of militant white men and women who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation,” Hard Knox Wire reported.

He regularly organized groups to spew hate at people participating in LGBTQ or Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

“White supremacists under Spaulding’s leadership have been operating in the area and traveling to events outside of East Tennessee for several years, such as the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.”

Hard Knox Wire reported that Spaulding was showing a son of a friend how to shoot when he abruptly and purposefully shot himself in the head with a .25 caliber Ruger. His blood-alcohol content at the time was approaching three times the legal limit, according to autopsy reports.

Many Southern Appalachian communities still have no running water

Washington Post: Water scarcity persists in poor communities

The digital divide is a serious issue between rural and urban America, but some 2 million people in rural America even lack access to piped, clean water and plumbing, according to a study from the U.S. Water Alliance.

Some of those communities are in Southern Appalachia. This Washington Post article describes a man in McDowell County, West Virginia, not far from the VIrginia Blue Ridge, who fills two 200-gallon tanks each week from a creek down the mountain from his house to provide wash water for his family. He uses a pump, and hose on loan from a local fire department.

Politicians and local utilities have promised for years to extend water utilities to such underserved, largely poor, areas. Much like the promises of broadband elsewhere, they have not delivered.

Scientists and engineers will examine potential role that rising sea levels contributed to Florida condo collapse

Washington Post: Sea level rise will be investigated as one possible factor in Florida condo collapse

There is no direct evidence yet that increased subsidence on a Florida barrier island caused by rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion contributed to the devastating collapse of an ocean-front condo complex near Miami, but the possibility will be examined in coming weeks and months.

Rising sea levels threaten seaside properties on an increasing scale, undermining the unstable land on which they sit and further contributing to erosion of steel and concrete.

In the case of Champlain Towers South, developers used fill from denuded mangrove stands to support the 12-story building, which was built in 1981.

“Land subsidence is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the surface when material that supports it is displaced or removed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Erosion and the disappearance of groundwater are two of several factors that cause it,” the Washington Post reported.

A least one engineer has said the collapse could be related to a structural problem, not subsidence. The investigation continues, as does the search for bodies.