A locked gate keeps trespassers out of the former Monsanto plant property in Maury County, which Trinity Business Group proposes developing for a regional waste center. (Photo: John Partipilo)
A bill to protect a stretch of the Duck River in Maury County from industrial development, including the looming prospect of regional landfills, advanced in the Legislature Wednesday after a tense and occasionally rowdy House hearing.
The bill, by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Howenwald, would designate a portion of the Duck River a Class II scenic river — a class that prohibits development for two miles on either side of a waterway.
The bill was introduced this year after local pushback against controversial plans by Louisiana-based Trinity Business Group to build a regional waste complex with two landfills on 1,300 acres adjacent to the Duck. The property is a federally designated Superfund site as a result of years of toxic deposits left behind by the former Monsanto Chemical Company.
The Duck River is the source of drinking water for large swathes of southern Tennessee, a key resource local farmers rely on, a recreational destination and is nationally recognized for its biodiversity and clean water.
Wednesday’s House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee was packed with supporters for the bill — occasionally gaveled into silence as they cheered speakers in favor of the measure — as lawmakers weighed competing arguments over property rights of the Superfund’s new industrial developers versus the environmental concerns of community residents.
“As you can tell it’s a tough decision up here,” said Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville. “My main concern about all of this is I want to keep the Duck River clean just like everybody else. I want to make sure we’re not messing over somebody’s property rights at the same time. I just feel like why get the state involved in this? It looks like to me there are enough stopgaps and guards to do this in Maury County and Columbia.”
Rep. Bryan Richey, a Maryville Republican, called the measure a “weaponization of a Class II designation of water” to circumvent the processes already in place for business owners to work through regulations at the county level and with state environmental regulators over their ability to move forward with the waste complex plant.
And Tom White, a prominent Nashville real estate developer attorney hired by Trinity, signaled the state could face a lawsuit if it enacted the scenic river measure, barring his clients from moving forward with their plans. The company’s arguments are based, in part, on state law that may grandfather them in to use the property as a landfill.
Nevertheless, lawmakers voted 11-6 in favor of the bill, which has already been approved by the state Senate. It will be heard next in the Government Operations Committee. A date for that committee hearing has not yet been set.
“I drive by a landfill every day when I go home. I live on the Tennessee River,” Rep. Greg Vital, R-Harrison said.
“But in the last 20 years what started out as a small landfill has expanded. It has not added to the value of our community,” he said. “I wish the foresight had been there, and I wish we had the ability to speak up 20 or 30 years ago and find a better location for that, because we do need to find a balance for that. I would appreciate your continued focus, members, on the river as a resource for Tennessee and not just one individual property owner in this case.”
The meeting’s final few minutes grew increasingly tense. First there was an effort to amend the bill with a watered down version offering no protections from landfills that was put forth then defeated. Then an effort to postpone a final vote on advancing the measure failed too.
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