Residents in and around Calhoun, Tenn., are uniting to fight a proposed limestone quarry two miles outside city limits on the banks of Oostanaula Creek.
Residents concerned about the quarry, which is being built by Cleveland-based East Tennessee Materials Co., crowded Monday night into a McMinn County Commission meeting. Some also met Thursday evening at Calhoun Elementary School to discuss what the quarry could do to the surrounding area.
The reasons for opposition, residents say, include the noise, dust, debris and earth movement from blasting and possible groundwater contamination, air quality issues and damage to surrounding ecosystems.
They're especially concerned, they say, with Oostanaula Creek, which is expected to receive at least some mineral runoff.
"I think there's just so many gray areas that haven't been explored," said Brenda Gossett, who is building a house near the quarry site. "Not all questions have been addressed, and that's kind of why I think the community needs to group to determine what the concerns are."
Proponents of the site, who include the excavating company and local officials, have been assuring residents that all environmental guidelines set forth by the state will be met. Tax dollars and job creation are good things for the community, they add.
"Anytime there's progress in this economic time we have, it's very exciting for anyone," Calhoun Mayor Gary Barham said. "It would be more families that are going to get fed."
A permit filed with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation concerning the runoff into the Oostanaula Creek indicates the quarry initially will create 10 jobs and provide $65,000 in annual tax revenue.
Since the quarry is outside the city limits, the taxes would go to McMinn County. But the site is within Calhoun's urban growth boundary, which means the city could work on annexing the site as it develops, Barham said.
Send to: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Attn: Public Notice Coordinator
3711 Middlebrook Pike
Knoxville, TN 37921
Gary.Mullins@tn.gov or 865-594-6035
"It may cost the city more to annex than it would be to not," he said.
Water from the Oostanaula Creek flows a little more than one mile from the quarry before merging with the Hiwassee River. Some residents have said quarry debris could affect the habitat of the hellbender salamander, a disappearing amphibian in the United States that calls portions of the Hiwassee home.
Hellbender researchers from the Chattanooga Zoo and the Tennessee Aquarium say that, if there are hellbenders in that portion of the river, their habitat may be changed in a way that halts their ability to reproduce.
They explained, though, that there hasn't been any hellbender research done in that area.
"There's a lot of that area that still needs to be surveyed," said Rick Jackson, a hellbender keeper at the Chattanooga Zoo.
TDEC is encouraging citizens to send in their comments and concerns regarding the quarry and, in mid-November, the department with hold a public hearing.
"We'll take those comments once the comment period ends and move forward from there," TDEC spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said.