Tennessee officials want to amend a legal complaint over rock mining to seek additional damages now that mining has continued in the Cumberland Trail State Park for more than 18 months.
The request to amend the state’s initial complaint says Hamilton County Chancellor Frank Brown’s ruling last year not to grant an injunction against mining except on the narrow Cumberland Trail itself — as well as the subsequent wait through the appeals process — allowed unnecessary damage to park property.
“Since the court’s temporary injunction order of April 2007 only protected the trail proper, extensive damage has been caused to the state’s surface estate on that portion of the park property on which this court allowed defendant to continue its harvesting activities unimpeded,” states the motion, filed in the case brought in February 2007 by Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper Jr. and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke.
The mined rock, known as Tennessee mountain stone, increasingly is used for decorative landscaping and home building.
Sharon Curtis-Flair, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, declined comment, noting the case remains under litigation.
The attorney for the mineral rights owner and miners, Chattanoogan Rick Hitchcock, also would not comment.
But the chairman of the Cumberland Trail Conference, a private park support group that funds trail building but is not part of state government, was pleased with the request.
“There’s just an awful lot of damage. It looks very much like a strip mine,” said David Reister. “When I think about it as being a state park — if they did all that damage, it certainly makes some sense” to seek damages.
In August, when the Tennessee Appeals Court sent the case back to Chancellor Brown, jurists said the mineral rights owner had the right to mine minerals from beneath the property, but not the right to damage the surface property.
Since rock mining is a strip-mining process and can’t be done by tunneling beneath the surface, the state now wants to seek recompense for all of the mined area.
A hearing is set on Nov. 17 to hear the motion.
The case began early in 2007 when Cumberland Trail Conference workers and state officials discovered a portion of the Cumberland Trail near Soddy-Daisy had been destroyed by rock miners hired by the mineral rights owners, Elmer C. Hill and Lahiere/Hill Partnership in Destin, Fla.
The property is owned by the State of Tennessee and is part of the 300-mile long Cumberland Trail State Park.
The state, saying more than 450,000 acres of public and private property was at risk, sought an injunction in Chancellor Brown’s court to stop the mining anywhere on state property. Chancellor Brown ruled in favor of the mineral rights owner, restricting the mining only within 25 feet of the Cumberland Trail itself.
Earlier this week and on the heels of the case being returned to Chancellor Brown, a group of outdoors and environment organizations — Save Our Cumberland Mountains, the Sierra Club and Mr. Reister’s Cumberland Trail Conference — filed a motion seeking to intervene in the rock-mining lawsuit.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...