The Duck River, which flows from Normandy Lake through central Tennessee to the Tennessee River, is the most biodiverse river in North America, with over 151 species of native fish and 55 species of mussel. Eight of those species exist nowhere else on Earth, making them federally endangered. Less than 300 miles long, the river has a compact and very sensitive environment, especially to sedimentary pollutants.
In 2019, Volunteer Sand and Gravel, a quarry company, sought permission to mine on the river’s flood plain. Despite heavy local opposition, it received some permits for its operation, including from the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment. But it failed to acquire one from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has jurisdiction around the Duck River. Despite this critical lack, Volunteer began construction of its open-pit mining operation in 2020.
Four cease and desist orders from TVA have been sent and ignored since December. An email from Volunteer’s president Chad Swallows claims it never needed a TVA permit because the project allegedly “does not affect flood control.” It is on track to finish construction and begin actual mining in May.
Heavy March rains, however, flooded Volunteer’s construction site. Photos show the flooded site with plumes of light-colored water – sediment – flowing away from it, but Volunteer insists this is creek runoff, and has nothing to do with their site.
Environment watchdogs are critical of TVA’s soft-handed enforcement in this matter.
“TVA’s lack of enforcement in the face of Volunteer Sand & Gravel’s egregious and open disregard of the agency’s permitting authority calls into question TVA’s commitment to protecting the watersheds of the Tennessee River Valley,” reads a letter from the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. “TVA’s inaction sends the wrong message to other developers and mining companies….”