Tennessee: Polk votes to post warnings on Ocoee

Tennessee: Polk votes to post warnings on Ocoee

January 17th, 2009 by Ron Clayton in Local Regional News

BENTON, Tenn. - Polk County commissioners on Thursday voted to post signs along the Ocoee River warning river users of possible contamination from a recent release of sludge by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution calling for notices at all entry points, such as rafting put-ins and fishing sites, warning people not to use the whitewater area until tests are completed for lead and other heavy metals.

The resolution states commissioners' belief that TVA made a "deliberate and untested and unevaluated release in the Ocoee River."

Commission Chairman Greg Brooks said the county acted to protect itself from potential lawsuits.

"The idea is to warn people against possible ingestion of water and even death," Mr. Brooks said. "There is a definite possibility that contamination could be a problem."

Rafting outfitter Lance Luke said posting signs is "premature" since no test results have been released. Ocoee Outfitters President Carlo Smith said the state, TVA and the U.S. Forest Service are studying the situation and he would welcome additional monitoring of the river.

Mr. Smith said he expects any possible problems to be resolved by the time the rafting season begins in March. But he said putting up danger signs if no danger exists could hurt river users.

Cherokee National Forest spokesman Terry McDonald said federal officials probably would meet with the county before any signs are posted on federal property.

Tennessee Valley Authority officials are working toward any remediation efforts needed to resolve problems in the river, but so far no test results are back concerning water conditions.

The mud was released when TVA opened a low gate at the No. 3 dam during a repair project downstream at Dam No. 2. The release killed fish and inundated sidewalks at the Ocoee Whitewater Center and the 1996 Olympics course. Later, heavy rains washed most of the residue into Parksville Lake.

The resolution does not state who would be responsible for acquiring or posting the signs.