The Tennessean

Fight to Save Lick Creek

Travis Loller | ASSOCIATED PRESS

PRIMM SPRINGS – Greg Deen and his family have farmed along Lick Creek in Middle Tennessee since shortly after the Civil War. The children of Vange Johnson’s large extended family were baptized in the creek. Bea and Neil Jobe, now in their 80s, no longer grow tobacco irrigated with creek water but still get their drinking water from a nearby well.

Their Hickman County homes and farms lie just beyond Nashville’s sprawling bedroom communities, but the city’s rapid growth is starting to be felt here. In early January, a small sign appeared on the side of the highway stating a utility in the next county planned to use their creek to dump wastewater from a new sewage plant. The utility says the plant is needed to support development and bring jobs. Residents worry the scheme will destroy aquatic life; contaminate wells, springs and crops; and increase flooding.

“In Hickman County, one of the major resources is water – good, clean water,” said Mike Weesner. His 255-acre horse boarding farm runs along 3 ⁄ 4 miles of Lick Creek.

“The fishing is excellent. The water is excellent. I would not be afraid to drink out of it right now,” he said.

The rural county of just under 25,000 people prides itself on its natural beauty and promotes outdoor tourism, especially fishing and paddling in its rivers and streams. Lick Creek is designated an “exceptional water” of the state, and it flows directly into the Duck River, considered the most biodiverse river in North America.

Water treatment plants primarily remove solid waste and nutrients – like nitrogen and phosphorus – and kill bacteria, but they are generally not designed to remove other potentially harmful substances like chemicals, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals.

The Water Authority of Dickson County already operates three wastewater treatment plants in fast-growing Dickson and Williamson counties, just outside Nashville. Those plants are nearing capacity and the streams they discharge into are “effluent dominated,” so unlikely to be approved for more wastewater, according to an engineering report. A new Hickman plant would discharge up to 12 million gallons a day of wastewater into Lick Creek, which has a low flow of less than 9 million gallons a day. The vast majority of the wastewater would come from surrounding counties.

“This is not an attempt to infuse development. It’s an attempt to use us as a cheap dump,” County Commissioner Austin Page said at a recent community meeting.

The neighbors have banded together to stop the plant under the banner of Friends of Lick Creek. Rodes Hart, one of the leaders, said he thinks the utility hoped to get the project approved before most people were aware of it.

“They wanted to dump it down the poor people of Hickman County’s throats,” Hart said. “It can be extremely difficult to stop something like this once a draft permit is approved.”

The Water Authority of Dickson County did not respond to phone and email messages requesting comment.

Lick Creek winds for miles through a deep hollow of cedar glades and sycamore shoals in the community of Primm Springs. The area was first developed around 1830 as a summer resort with hotels, a dance pavilion and a spa where visitors could enjoy the mineral waters, believed to have curative powers. The valley is filled with small farms. Some go back several generations while others were purchased more recently by wealthy Nashvillians looking to escape the city.

The utility’s engineering report says discussions with community leaders “have been ongoing for several years, and all agree that this project is necessary for the continued growth of the area,” but many local leaders say they were blindsided.

The Hickman County Commission passed a resolution Feb. 28 stating the project was developed with “no input” from residents or commissioners. They have asked the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to delay any permitting for at least six months to allow them time to study the proposal.

At an overflow meeting of the Friends of Lick Creek in late February, TDEC Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Environment Greg Young took fire from unhappy residents.

In addition to water quality, some said they were concerned a new sewer line would invite irresponsible development because the county lacks zoning or a long-term development plan. Others worried about the sheer volume of water that would be dumped into the stream, saying periodic flooding already destroys crops and threatens drinking water from wells and springs.

Young said he was “just getting up to speed” on the issue. He promised, “We’re going to be pumping the brakes a little bit to better understand the situation.”

Although opponents are organized and well-funded, they still face an uphill battle. TDEC has already approved a study that found the new plant is the utility’s only feasible alternative to accommodate growth. The alternatives study is a necessary step toward getting approval to degrade the water quality of a stream.

Residents said the study was written to support what the utility had already decided to do. For instance, it did not explore the alternative of returning the treated water to the large Cumberland River, where much of it is drawn from to begin with.

Neil Jobe grew up in neighboring Dickson County on Jones Creek. He saw the water turn “dingy” when Dickson first began using it to discharge wastewater from one of the plants the Water Authority now wants to supplement with the proposed Lick Creek plant.

“I saw the minnows die and the fish die,” he said. “When we moved to this remote place, we thought we were never going to be contaminated again.”

Hickman County Times: “Save Lick Creek meets with TDEC”

3/14/22

Save Lick Creek’s leaders announced last Wednesday that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will hold a public meeting in Hickman County, likely in late April.

Amanda Mathis, one of the organizers of the group, reported in a social media post that leaders of the citizens’ group met for an hour last week with TDEC Commissioner David Salyers and Deputy Commissioner Greg Young, who attended the meeting in Lyles on February 25.

Save Lick Creek has objected to the Water Authority of Dickson County’s proposal to construct a wastewater treatment plant that would release effluent into Lick Creek, and wants more information about it.

TDEC has authority over if and how the application will be approved.

Hickman County Times-County seeks more information very soon 

March 07, 2022

Danny Clark 

County commissioners have unanimously agreed to ask state officials for public hearing “as soon as possible” to provide accurate information about the Lick Creek project being proposed by the Water Authority of Dickson County.

The request is part of a broader resolution that asks the Department of Environment and Conservation to delay issuance of a draft permit for six months, to allow local study and discussion.

Commissioner Danny Clark proposed the informational hearing, prompted by discussions he had with two citizens.

“They don’t know whether to be for it, against it or indifferent,” he told the Legislative Body on February 28. “The need for accurate public information is necessary.”

The 20-0 vote added his amendment to the broader Resolution 20-13, which was then approved 20-0.

Mayor Mark Bentley forwarded the request on March 1. The department’s information officer, Kim Schofinski, said on March 3 that a public hearing “typically follows the issuance of a draft permit.

“TDEC is planning to conduct additional meetings with the public and WADC in the near future,” she said in an e-mail.”

“This is not a vote on the merits,” said Commissioner Lionel Barrett. “This resolution simply seeks at least to delay the issuance of any permit until the citizens of this county have the opportunity to review the content of the application.”

The Water Authority of Dickson County’s plan — to create a wastewater treatment plant and to release that cleaned effluent into Lick Creek — became public in January. That prompted the formation of the citizens group Save Lick Creek, which has held two public meetings.

Many of its members, carrying signs and wearing custom T-shirts, attended last Monday’s commission meeting.

“The residents have clearly here expressed a strong desire to have input,” said Barrett, adding that a permitting delay would not be a detriment to WADC.

Citizens, he said, have “the right to explore it.”

Commissioner Keith Nash, the resolution’s co-sponsor, said the resolution seeks to resolve “a lack of information,” enabling local citizens to “figure out for ourselves what we’re doing.”

The county government has no role in the permitting process itself.

Draft decision is ‘weeks away’ 

Official: Gov. wants a slowdown

March 07, 2022 By BRADLEY A. MARTIN

Cecille Allen (left with mic) spoke to a jammed-in crowd at East Hickman Community Center 

A decision to issue a draft permit for a sewage treatment plant that would deliver effluent to Lick Creek will not be made “in the next few weeks,” a deputy Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) commissioner said at East Hickman Community Center on February 25.

“Honestly, that’s coming at the request of the governor’s office,” said Greg Young. “We’re going to be pumping the brakes a little bit.”

Young said he was “listening and learning” at the Friday night meeting, which drew more than 200 folks to the community center. No one spoke in favor of Water Authority of Dickson County’s project application, which was filed with TDEC in January.

A draft permit issuance would cause a public hearing to be held at least 30 days later, with a 10-day written comment period to follow.

So far, TDEC has posted only the application, which is one source of frustration for those concerned about what the proposal would do to Lick Creek.

At the Save Lick Creek meeting, TDEC’s Greg Young tracked comments both pro and con about the Water Authority of Dickson County’s Lick Creek wastewater proposal. Positive comments, he said, were in the left column. 

The application is, however, enough to see that most of the wastewater WADC will send to the Lick Creek station will come from its plants in White Bluff and Dickson, which it says are reaching capacity.

Vange Johnson, whose family has farmland adjacent to the creek and called the waterway “a cathedral,” voiced a concern that she said her sister raised to her:

“Why do I want somebody else’s poop?” She was not the only one to ask that question.

“We do think that Hickman County has the capacity to figure out how to manage their own waste,” said Rodes Hart, an organizer of Save Lick Creek.

Organizer Amanda Mathis told the group that Save Lick Creek is working with several groups with experience in environmental matters. Those include the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, Harpeth Conservancy, Southern Environmental Law Center, and consultant Barry Sulkin.

A representative of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, who identified himself as Jim, said this group has “been fighting corporations and whatnot to keep rivers open, clean and accessible since 1966.”

Vange Johnson 

How to accomplish that — finding a solution for “placing wastewater in the most effective way,” as Bill Allen said during his prayer that opening the meeting — is the question.

Hart asked that those making comments during the meeting address the potential harm that concerns them as well as any benefits that might come from the wastewater plant and its release into the creek.

“The benefits that our farm will receive from this project, I have no idea,” said Cecile Allen, who reported that her family has had property in the area since 1826. “It seems like there is absolutely nothing.

“If it brings industry to Hickman County, good industry, that would be a positive thing because I would like to see all of our young people have jobs if they want them in Hickman County.

“But I fear that what it will bring is harm to the wildlife, to the fish, to the creek, to the water, to my spring water, to my neighbor’s well water. I fear it will harm us as a recreation. “

Zadok Johnson 

Ray Oakley said he and his dad farm 455 acres on the south part of the creek; it’s been that way for 139 years.

“We’re concerned about the additional flooding. As all of you property owners know, two- or three-inch flash flood, our fields are underwater. We grow 105 acres of row crops on Barren Fork and Lick Creek.”

He said any heavy metals that are released in the effluent would contaminate the soil “and it’s going to affect our livelihood.”

He saw nothing good coming from the WADC proposal.

“We’ll never have city water, so if it contaminates our well, which is only a few hundred feet from the creek, it’s anyone’s guess.”

Farmer Greg Deen, who has lived on the creek for nearly 60 years, was not happy about the possibility.

“As it stands right now, based on what we’ve seen, the line of this system will be coming right through our farm. We’ve already lost a good piece of it to Highway 7 so we’re not really thrilled about this, And as far as any benefit to it, I don’t see any at all.”

Lisa Morgan 

Johnson said her family’s roots on the “hilltop” of Lick Creek can be added up to 660 years, with farming, recreation, even marriage proposals and baptisms, centered around and on the creek. Her family’s pursuits employ more than 100 people, she said.

“I had a friend come up to me this morning and say, ‘Vange, the day you took me to the creek saved my life in those waters. I was going to kill myself that day.’ And she said, ‘You took me and it saved my life.’

“The people that surround it . . . we might look like farmers tonight and we might be looking like we’re a little bit uneducated, as some person said, but we . . . are wealthy in farm life and family and in the Lick Creek, some of us are New York Times bestselling authors. Some are lawyers and doctors, famous musicians. We’re not some low-life who don’t know what we’re talking about.”

Ray Oakley 

She introduced her son, Zadok, an organic farmer on 294 acres who preparing to seek a U.S. Department of Agriculture certification as an organic farm. The release of treated effluent into the creek threatens that, he said; “freaking out” is one of his reactions to the wastewater proposal.

“Holding to our high organic standards, we will no longer be able to irrigate holistically out of Lick Creek, thus completely destroying my personal farming operation,” he told those at the meeting.

Zadok Johnson said he already sells produce in neighboring counties “and some of the greatest restaurants in Nashville” as well “as thousands of pounds of healthy vegetables to cancer patients.”

His study of USDA National Institute for Food research indicates that wastewater plant discharge “may contain trace impurities” of drugs, anti-bacterial soap, cosmetics, shampoos and pharmaceutical, and personal-care products.

The organic farmer said he knows of 12 Lick Creek farms, involving 38 farmers and 4,193 farm acres.

Lisa Morgan, whose family has been here since 1969, focused on the developmental effect the wastewater project could have.

“We need to step back and realize that there won’t be a discharge on Lick Creek unless there’s a plant discharging it. If they decide to put a sewage plant in East Hickman County, they will be running lines with easement across all kinds of farms. . . .

“The county doesn’t have a plan to manage the developers who are going to barrel in here from other counties mostly, making money to go to counties — not Hickman — and they’re going to build and build and build.”