Conservation groups ask Tennessee to revoke gravel mine permit on the Duck River

Volunteer Sand and Gravel constructed an illegal rock quarry on the banks of the Duck River. (© Byron Jorjorian)

On behalf of a number of conservation groups, SELC sent a letter asking the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to revoke a Clean Water Act permit for an illegal rock quarry on the banks of the Duck River.

Volunteer Sand and Gravel constructed a quarry on the banks of the Duck River despite lacking a required permit from the Tennessee Valley Authority. During a series of storms in March, the Lower Duck flooded, predictably breaching the berms of the mine site and causing  a release of sediment that TDEC said resulted in “an observable and potentially objectionable color contrast in . . . the Duck River.”

TDEC issued a notice of violation to Volunteer after receiving a complaint about the discharge, but Amanda Garcia, director of SELC’s Tennessee office, said that was not enough.

“The Notice of Violation is an inadequate response to the harm being caused by this mine’s demonstrated inability to comply with the terms of its permit,” said Garcia. “The recent flood event makes clear that the site’s wastewater treatment system — a slurry pit — would offer zero prevention of similar discharges during future flood events.”

The quarry is located on a stretch of the Duck River designated as an Exceptional Tennessee Water because it contains critical habitat for endangered mussels and other federal and state-listed species.

Photos of the illegal mine site taken during the spring flood event—on March 31, 2021 and April 3, 2021—clearly show that the flood waters from the rain events overtopped the berms that are intended to separate Volunteer Sand and Gravel’s mine site from the Duck River, and a plume of discharge can be seen entering directly into the river.

“Given Volunteer Sand and Gravel’s violation of its permit, the high likelihood that a future flood event and violations of narrative water quality standards will occur, and the biological importance of the site’s downstream waters, TDEC should immediately terminate or revoke the company’s permit,” said Garcia.

SELC sent the letter on behalf of Harpeth Conservancy, Hurricane Mills Mining Opposition, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife.

Residents concerned about the impact of this illegal quarry can send a message to state legislators and the Tennessee Water Quality Board at savetheduckriver.com.

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