Wilson County residents push back against state efforts to approve limestone quarry

Farmers who live nearby the quarry fear contamination in the wells and ponds they rely on for water

By: - July 14, 2021 5:01 am
A controversial quarry near farmland in Wilson County was ordered to stop work after beginning blasting without a permit. (Photo: Wilson County)

A controversial quarry near farmland in Wilson County was ordered to stop work after beginning blasting without a permit. (Photo: Wilson County)

Marsha Midgett and her husband have been raising livestock on family land owned for generations in east Wilson County, but she now worries that the state’s steps toward approving a permit for rock mining quarry may put the future of their farm in jeopardy.

The Midgetts rely on wells for drinking water. Ponds on their property provide water for livestock. There is no city water available.

With the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, poised to issue a water discharge permit to Heritage Materials to operate a limestone rock quarry nearby, Midgett is among a dozen residents who are forcefully pushing back.

“How can we be assured that with the blasting, drilling and mining, we will still have water and the mining will not disrupt that?” she asked TDEC officials Tuesday evening in a public meeting to provide feedback on the permit.

TDEC officials offered reassurances: There are roughly 185 limestone quarries in Tennessee. There is no proof that any of them damaged water supplies or local aquifers.

Wilson County officials oppose the quarry and issued a stop-work order in December, citing Heritage Materials for doing and stormwater runoff violations. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is proceeding with permits anyway.

But none of the dozen residents who spoke in opposition to the mine appeared convinced.

The mine is a sore spot in the community, lying just north of Interstate-40 near the border with Smith County in Watertown. County officials oppose the mine.

County officials issued a work-stop order in December after residents were taken surprise by blasting at the site. The company was cited for zoning and stormwater runoff violations of local rules.

The mine isn’t zone for a quarry under county zoning rules, Wilson County Planning Director Tom Brashear wrote to TDEC. Instead it is zoned for agriculture and residential purposes. The county has since filed suit to against the company.

The TDEC permitting process continues to go forward.

Heritage Materials requires a surface water discharge permit from the state. State officials on Tuesday said local zoning and planning rules do not supersede the state’s permitting process.

Jack Pratt pressed TDEC officials over environmental rules that say that runoff from quarry mining can contain pH levels, measuring the alkaline in the water, between 6.0 and 9.0.

“How do you grow a crop at a 9?” he asked.

“I’m not a farmer,” Daniel Conger, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System manager for TDEC.

“Well, I am,” Pratt said. “I think you need to talk to people who’ve experienced this before and tried to make a living off it.”

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.