A local environmental group says it has worked out a new settlement to an old pollution problem in northeast Knox County. That is where large piles of leftover material from an old mining site have been polluting Flat Creek in the Mascot community.
The 118 acre plot of land is filled with a moonscape of tailings from an old zinc mine operation. The mine operated without any environmental regulations and the abandoned material has been washed directly into Flat Creek by heavy rains for decades.
The current property owner, Mine Road, LLC, has never operated a mine and did not create the problem. However, the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) threatened to sue the owners last year unless the problem was fixed. TCWN announced this week an agreement has been reached to remedy the problem.
"When you buy a property, you buy all its liabilities. Those tailings
are full of heavy metals, arsenic primarily. This stream flows into the Holston
River and the Holston flows into the Tennessee River," said Renee Hoyos, TCWN Executive Director. "We get our drinking
water from the Tennessee [River]."
Hoyos said the owner has settled the issue by agreeing to build barriers to stop the runoff. The plan also puts the site under Clean Water Act regulations in the future.
"Once hearing they had a problem on their property, [the owner] stepped right
up to fix it. This is a public health issue and it's getting cleaned
up, that's the good news," said Hoyos.
Mack Walker has lived and worked in Mascot since 1960. Walker said a remedy to the runoff problem is long overdue.
"It washes down beside the railroad track and goes right into the creek," said Walker. "People used to fish down there all the time. So much of that stuff goes into the creek that it settles on the bottom and makes the creek too shallow to fish. I'm glad they're going to clean it up. I'd like to see it cleaned up."
Hoyos said restoring the site and implementing all of the remedies will likely take a few years.
"We have all the confidence in the engineering firm the owner has hired to fix this. We know it is going to get cleaned up. We think the owner of the site would have cleaned it up a lot sooner had the state made him aware of the problem," said Hoyos.