[Bristol-Birds] Kingsport brings its Meadowview plans and mitigation to BBC

  • From: "Wallace Coffey" <jwcoffey@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Bristol-birds" <bristol-birds@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2010 18:14:01 -0400

Bristol Bird Club members received insight to the
City of Kingsport's permit application to develop an
aquatic center, outdoor recreational area, parking and
roads upon nearly 19 acres of the long-standing
Meadowview wetlands and outstanding nesting and
migratory bird habitat.  

The area is located north of Meadowview Parkway, 
west of south Wilcox Drive and east of Horse Creek.  
The wildlife area was created 30 years ago by the 
Tennessee Ornithological Society, Watauga Audubon Society and the 
Tennessee Eastman Company on land owned by the company.

The permit application submitted by S&ME, Inc., for the city is for the 
proposed aquatics center and YMCA development.  The application 
states that they will be filling 18.7 acres of the 21.6 acres wetland on 
site.  Both ponds on the development site at Meadowview are to be 
filled for parking areas.
For decades, it was the only known nesting location of the Virginia Rail
in Tennessee until Bristol Bird Club members located one of the rails
with several new hatchlings in Quarry Bog, Shady Valley, TN in 2001.

Engineer Steve Robbins, who is employed by the city and was formerly
a project engineer with a consulting firm when the Meadowview golf
course and other facilities were developed in the early 1990's, is now
on staff with the city as a planner for the project.  Former BBC President
Rack Cross is his assistant and introduced him.

The city has proposed three mitigation sites along its greenbelt in the
Reedy Creek watershed which seems a variance from TDEC's usual
approach to require mitigation within the same stream watershed as
the project (Meadowview) which is being mitigated.  It will be of interest
to see how TDEC decides this strategy.

Robbins said the city had considered purchasing wetland mitigation
points from mitigation banks in possibly Greene County, TN or 
Johnson County, TN.  It has, however, opted to not buy mitigation
from a bank but carry out its own required mitigation projects on
city owned property.

Eventually, he said, Kingsport will put lands in the watershed into
conservation easements to give them permanent protection.

The city planned to install several small water pools on one of the 
mitigation parcels to, among other reasons, create water habitat 
(Virginia Rail a consideration here).  Reportedly TDEC is not
fascinated with the idea but has not yet opposed the concept. 
Robbins downplayed and dismissed the quality of habitat at much of
the Meadowview wetlands area, saying the wetlands value of that site
had been found significantly less than when development plans were
assessed 20 years ago.  He also noted that hardwood trees had
grown to 60 feet in height and that forested lands had changed the
ecological aspects of Meadowview.  He also eluded to the lack of
interest by the site owners for allowing public access to areas which
had been developed for public and wildlife use years ago.

Robbins repeatedly made reference to the fact that virtually all of the
considerations that would probably carry weight with regulators would
be water quality concerns and seemed to send the messages to the
audience that other concerns being expressed would carry little weight.

Nevertheless, he encourage BBC to make input to TDEC for whatever 
the group felt was needed and desirable.  He suggested it may even be
a factor in future efforts in regards to the mitigation projects.

It certainly is not clear that TDEC has such a tunnel vision of projects
but they are carrying out the requirements of both the federal 404 Clean
Water Act and state law.  The city's application meets the 401 provision
requirements of the federal act to meet water quality requirements, meet
certification and acquire a required permit for the project.

Of considerable concern was the original impression that the city would
be making extended efforts to provide not only wetland mitigation as
required by the federal 404 Clean Water Act, which also involves the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority, but
to enhance easy public access facilities and right-of-way.  The city is
now indicating it is meeting legal requirements of the laws and we 
heard little commitment assuring easy public access beyond the
greenbelt physical fitness/historic trail and random existing connections
to public right-of-ways and roads.  There appears to loom less convenient
viewing and short-distance access than naturalists had hoped.

The city is probably looking for the wrong off ramp in this journey, and
there is every indication that wildlife viewing is not significant enough.

Had the city felt otherwise, Robbins would have brought an encouraging
elevator talk about what is ahead for wildlife viewers (including birding)
and how the city will pledge to make it happen and cover all of their
bases.  To his credit, he did show a photo of a wooden bench and viewing 
portion of a wooden walkway or boardwalk similar to something we
see when birding at Bristol Virginia's mitigation wetlands area at
Sugar Hollow Park where BBC held the Tennessee Ornithological 
Society state meeting in 2004.

The Meadowview area has the potential to host such events in
the future with the convention center and hotel nearby but the city
is on the verge of discouraging wildlife viewing as a viable component
of its tourism and economic development.  Everyone else in the
region is facing into the headwind of such opportunity and Southwest
Virginia (and its Congressman) have recently funded enormous money
for wildlife viewing enhancement in the immediate region.  A   U.S.
Senator was in Bristol just a few weeks ago and commented during
public remarks at the influx of birding and wildlife viewing
coming to Virginia.

The money spent to open convenient access and viewing access
without having to walk long distances with heavy scopes along the
physical fitness/historic greenbelt is more than practical.  It is a
small and simple request that is both smart and wise.  The city would
never remember spending the money.

Kingsport is poised at the threshold of that opportunity but lack of
strong and public commitment beyond the YMCA Aquatic Center
(needed and important to the city and the region) may become
malignant and terminal for the city.  Torching wildlife viewing
and its significant tourism dollars is unwise.  Wildlife viewing is being 
rapidly and passionately identified and pursued across the region, 
state and nation in responds to federal surveys indicating its growth 
is greater than all other outdoor recreation activities, including gardening 
and golfing. 

Unexpected comments came when Robbins told BBC that City
Manager John Campbell is working towards an eventual goal to create
a greenway from Mt. Carmell in Hawkins County, along the Kingsport
Greenbelt, across Sullivan County to connect to Bristol Tennessee's
Steele Creek Park.  It had been earlier revealed that the greenway
could extend to the Virginia Creeper Trail in Washington County, VA.

Birders in the area have long noted the increasing use of wildlife
and recreational areas coming from tourism.  One campground at 
South Holston Lake has drawn birders from California, Alaska and
almost all eastern states to look for birds passing there.  It's access
is a project of the BBC.  

And, this week with NASCAR in Bristol and former President George
W. Bush in town to be the main speaker for a $10,000 (yes, ten
thousand) a couple ticket to a dinner at our local Olde Farm golf
course, reminds us all that we know what tourism dollars sound like,
look like and smell like.  For starters, consider $15,149,183 raised
in one day recently for Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia
when Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player played together
in Bristol to raised money for the school.  President Bush's fund
raiser will go to the school of law and school of pharmacy at Grundy.

Access, parking and wildlife viewing opportunities cost just pennies !

No one knows the value of a nesting pair of Virginia Rails but it is
probably considerably more than what Kingsport might save by 
ignoring an opportunity at the end of their mitigation rainbow.

We need to think creatively and clearly with commitment and promise!

Wallace Coffey
Bristol, TN

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