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Citizens Fight Strip Mine.

Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee

Tourism officials describe Fall Creek Falls as the crown jewel of Tennessee parks. This 18,700-acre park on the southern Cumberland Plateau has the highest waterfall east of the Rockies, majestic canyons, and clear streams.

But strip mining may tarnish this jewel. In the 1970s, the AMAX Corporation leased 100,000 acres of coal in the vicinity. Gradually, AMAX's subsidiary Skyline Coal Company has been creeping toward the park's watershed. Skyline has strip-mined a massive area close to the watershed and has left behind red-stained acid streams.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains, a thirty-year-old citizen's group, has submitted a petition to the Department of Interior, asking that the 66,000 acres in the park's watershed be declared "unsuitable for mining."

The Department's Office of Surface Mining (OSM) took nearly two years to review the petition and prepare an environmental impact statement. Meanwhile, mining progressed to the very edge of the watershed boundary.

In April, the OSM proposed to deny the petition and to allow mining within the watershed on a "permit-by-permit" basis.

"That is entirely inadequate. Judging potential environmental effects of individual permits will not enable OSM to see ... the cumulative effect on the park of mining the entire watershed," says Annetta Watson, a member of Save Our Cumberland Mountains's strip-mine committee.

"If Tennesseans and their elected officials don't start raising hell and a lot of it, this state could suffer irreparable damage to one of its most beloved treasures," The Tennessean in Nashville editorialized.

Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist opposed the proposal to allow mining. "The state believes OSM should perform another analysis of mining impact on the park," Justin Wilson, deputy to the governor, wrote OSM in July, promising that until then the state will follow "its own policies."

Skyline Coal Company pays $600,000 in local taxes and has a $2 million local payroll. President Jim Mottet claims the company pours $15 million into the area's economy.

The potential loss of that money has some politicians worried. "It would be a big impact to the economy if we lost them," Sequatchie County Executive Bill Harmon says.

Sequatchie County is the mining company's home base. To date, most of the coal extracted--and taxed--has come from within its borders.

But officials in neighboring counties seem more concerned about the future of the park and tourism.

"Tourism is essential to our economically depressed county," says Rita Pruett of the Van Buren County Industrial Board. "We're talking about $136 million in tourism dollars and 2,000 tourism jobs."

"If we're going to survive in this area, it's going to depend on tourism and places like Fall Creek Falls," says Landon Medley, a former Van Buren County commissioner. "It's all tied to clean water."

For more information, contact Gil Hough, Save Our Cumberland Mountains, 224 S. Main Street, Suite 1, Lake City, TN 37769. Or call (423) 426-9455.
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Article Details
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Author:WINFREY, CHARLES
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U6TN
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:480
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