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Dam plans jeopardize wild and scenic river.

A federally funded dam proposal threatens some of the most pristine waterways and rugged untouched scenery in the southeastern United States.

The Farmers Home Administration is aiding a local water district with plans to dam a major tributary of the Obed Wild and Scenic River. The plan would seriously disrupt the flow of the Obed, affecting downstream areas and wildlife.

"This proposal is a good example of waste of taxpayers' money. One set of government agencies will spend a lot of money developing and promoting a proposal for federal funding of an inappropriate project that another set will be forced to spend money analyzing and opposing," said Don Barger, NPCA Southeast regional director.

The Obed and its tributaries have cut dramatic gorges as deep as 500 feet as they flow through Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains. They provide some of the best and most challenging white water in the eastern United States. Much of the forested surrounding area is a state wildlife preserve. Inhabitants include bobcats, foxes, deer, and more than 100 species of birds.

Along with the Obed itself, the wild and scenic river designation covers portions of adjoining Clear Creek, Daddy's Creek, and the Emory River. It is on Clear Creek, which flows into the Obed, that the Catoosa Utility District hopes to build a dam and water treatment plant. The project would pull 1.5 million gallons of water from Clear Creek a day and create a 100-acre artificial lake. The project is to be funded by a $1,685,000 federal grant and a federal loan of the same amount from Farmers Home Administration.

The dam project could hurt tourism and white-water rafting businesses in nearby Morgan County. Another concern is its proximity to an underground vein of coal known as the Wilder coal seam. The Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining currently does not permit any distrubance of the seam, since the material overlying it has proven to be extremely toxic. If the material is disrupted by the project, it could release large amounts of acid and metal pollution for decades into Clear Creek and the surrounding area.

The National Park Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, as well as NPCA and local conservationists, have taken a stand against the dam. Barger said, "The Park Service was not even notified by Farmers Home Administration or the state planning office about this project. They found out about it from our local NPCA parkwatcher."

The wildlife agency "strongly opposes the project," it wrote to the state planning office in November. It noted that "Clear Creek is one of the finest fishing streams in Tennessee" and provides spawning ground for the rare muskellunge and habitat for river otters, a state threatened species.

By law, federal agencies are forbidden to assist dam projects that would "unreasonably diminish the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values" of wild and scenic rivers. The law also requires that the environmental impacts of projects receiving federal funds be studied in full. But the utility district has already decided that the project would have "no significant impact," a decision meant to be made only after an environmental study is completed. While Farmers Home Administration is planning to conduct an environmental assessment, EPA told the agency in March that it believes a more rigorous environmental impact statement should be prepared.
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Title Annotation:dam on Clear Creek, a tributary of Obed Wild and Scenic River
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1993
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