Maury Co. citizens win first victory as House committee approves Duck River protection bill
Cheers erupted in the chambers of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday when the committee voted 11-6 in favor of expanding Class II Pastoral protections for the Duck River following weeks-long rigorous debate.
Packing the committee chamber in the Nashville Cordell Hull building, dozens of Maury County citizens, advocates, business professionals and elected leaders showed up in droves — wearing green buttons and special T-shirts — to support the bill.
Maury County attendees threw their hands in the air, cheering and applauding as the final vote was announced.
More:Maury Co. farmer, officials battle to protect Duck River as House considers scenic status bill
Maury County citizenry wrote over 1,000 letters to legislators in support of the bill.
House Bill 0447 will designate the Duck River a scenic and agriculture area extending from Industrial Park Road in Maury County to the Hickman County line. The bill would prohibit development, other than agriculture, to be established within certain boundaries of the river.
Maury County leaders hope the bill will serve as an added layer of protection to the Duck River, keeping the waters pure for drinking and recreation.
Rep. Scott Cepicky, R- Culleoka, sponsor of the bill, and river advocates have been fighting for the legislation since last fall when developer Trinity Business Group filed a permit application with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to reestablish a solid waste landfill near the river at the former Monsanto Company chemical plant site last summer.
The former Monsanto property is now a Superfund site overseen by the federal government and state through a mandatory decades-long cleanup protocol to guard against hazardous runoff or leachate.
TBG, a Baton Rouge Louisiana company founded by Sid Brian, has owned 1,330 acres of property on the Monsanto plant since 1986. Brian's attorney Tom White of Tune, Entrekin & White, P.C., staunchly argued Wednesday that Brian holds property rights to establish a landfill at the site, which was previously grandfathered.
Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, along with a few other dissenting committee members expressed concern about trying to settle a "property rights issue" at the state level.
“For me, this is more of a property rights issue and a battle locally than [here],” Richey said during discussion.
However, a majority of the committee members sided with the citizens of Maury County and Cepicky in their efforts to protect the waterway from future pollution, landfills and other unwanted development.
Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, said he would support the bill even though questions linger about local establishment of the landfills and ordinances surrounding it.
"There are lots of questions, but if I have to er, I am going to er on the side of the people," Hardaway said.
Maury County constituent Dan McEwen, local real estate broker, maintained that the fight is not just about thwarting a landfill but about the long-term ecological health of the river — one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world.
"We have been working to make the Duck River a scenic river on this side of town," McEwen said. "We are thinking about two to three generations down the road. We have wanted this to happen for a long time. It’s not about just one issue."
Although questions remain about whether the bill’s passage will ultimately stop the landfill proposal from being approved at the plat in question, Maury County leaders are hopeful.
A portion of the acreage owned by Brian has supported a long-dormant landfill at the ex-Monsanto site.
Other regulations are also at play such as the existing state statute commonly referred to as the "Jackson Law," adopted by the city and county, which requires an applicant to seek city and county approval before a landfill can be built. TDEC representatives also confirmed that even though TBG filed permits with the state, the state's approval or disapproval cannot supersede city and county land use regulations and restrictions.
Meanwhile, Maury County Mayor Sheila Butt led the establishment of the Maury-Marshall County Solid Waste Board, which will meet about issues related to the establishment of landfills and the handling of waste in Maury County and beyond.
Three permits submitted by TBG to build an “eco” park with solid waste processing, including a tire shredder and construction waste shredder are pending under the purview of TDEC.
The bill will next be heard by the House Government Operations Committee.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Maury Co. citizens win 1st House approval to gain Duck River protections