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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Retired Walden's Ridge engineer Anthony Wheeler makes a point during a presentation about abandoned coal mines in the area.

Future development on Walden's Ridge poses potential environmental and fire hazards due to scores of abandoned coal mines in the area, a retired local engineer and scientist said Thursday.

Anthony Wheeler, who says he lives adjacent to a proposed controversial grocery store development in Walden, told about 75 people at a meeting he has concerns about the project, particularly the building of a fuel center.

"Don't let the pie in the sky hide the coal in the hole," he said at the Bachman Community Center.

Wheeler said there's a coal seam that runs in the area and caution is required when it comes to future development.

"If a fire starts, people will have to run for their lives," he said.

Chattanooga attorney John Anderson has proposed the grocery store project for Taft Highway and Timesville Road in Walden, and it won Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission approval last month. Walden officials are expected to take up the matter next week.

The Planning Commission, despite stiff opposition, endorsed the proposed $15 million development and the 43,000-square-foot store along with small shop space in what Anderson said would create a town center for Walden.

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A proposal for a grocery store in Walden won the OK of a Hamilton County planning panel on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. / Rendering by Franklin Architects

Anderson, who lives in Walden, has said he has heard the concerns held by some about the old coal mines and air shafts in the area and possible fire.

The attorney, who wasn't at Thursday's meeting, has said there are other developments going up on the mountain and they're unaffected by the mines. The 15-acre Lines Orchids location where his project would go has been a commercial site for decades, he said.

Wheeler said during a nearly 45-minute presentation that he has reached out to the Regional Planning Agency about the mines, which were dug early last century over a period of decades. He said the planning group told him that any safety hazards would be addressed during the permitting process and encouraged him to talk to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

Wheeler said TDEC told him it doesn't have any regulations covering coal seam hazards.

"We're in a position of defending our community based on what they're proposing," he said.

Not all at the meeting said they were opposed to the project involving the unnamed grocery store.

Richard Graham, who lives in the town of Signal Mountain, said he would have preferred that an earlier proposal had been approved for a Food City store for Signal. That town council last year defeated that plan amid opposition.

Graham said he wants Walden officials to OK the latest proposal.

"I hope Walden does," he said.

But, Ward and Sally Crimmins of Walden said they oppose the development. They said they know Wheeler and of his concerns about the coal mines.

"He has concerns about the stability of the property," Ward Crimmins said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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