WCBA Provides Pro Bono Services

The Washington County Bar Association is to be complemented for its charitable work in 2009 benefiting area institutions and residents.
According to the WCBA, the association, composed of members of the legal community, performed the following pro bono activities (free services provided during the year “for the public good or welfare”):
• Participated in the state wide pro bono public service day known as “Justice 4-All” by volunteering legal services to low income individuals on April 4, 2009 at the offices of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. 
As a result, 43 people were assisted in more than 20 areas of law.  In addition to the lawyers who volunteered, the staff of LAET and several interpreters donated their time to this project.
• Held a Pro Bono Public Service day for a second time on Aug. 15, 2009, at the offices of Legal Aid of East Tennessee, during which 33 people were assisted in more than 10 areas of law and from which several attorneys agreed to accept pro bono matters for further assistance.
• Implemented a monthly legal clinic on the first Saturday of each month at The Good Samaritan Ministries to continue providing volunteer legal services to low income members of our community.
•  Formed the Committee to Develop Legal Assistance and through that committee created The Circuit and Chancery Court Pro-Se Clinic which is now functioning each month. 
Attorneys volunteer to appear in court on the scheduled dates of the program to meet with unrepresented individuals on the docket for assistance within certain parameters.   
In support of this program, the WCBA purchased a laptop with wireless capability, and a printer for use in drafting simple documents. 
• Participated in the Legal Aid of East Tennessee Phone-A-Thon in December 2009
• Created the C.A.R.E Campaign (Caring Attorneys Reaching Everyone). 
This charitable drive took place over a three month period. Each month was designated for gifts to be given to a recipient organization.  Over the course of the drive, the WCBA through donations from the members of the bar and their assistants:
* Donated the equivalent of more than 22,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank;
*Donated more than 1,500 pieces of clothing for children to the Salvation Army; and
*Donated more than 350 wish-list items for use at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.
Lawyers and the legal system are often criticized. Because of the sometimes controversial nature of legal work, the public does not always understand that these professional also seek to improve the welfare of the communities in which they live and work.
The WCBA’s efforts in 2009 remind us of the positive contribution to society this segment of the community can have. Kudos to those individuals who took part in these activities. We hope to see similar reports for 2010.

Mountaintop mining: “The science is irrefutable”

In such bitter cold as has held sway in our region these weeks, two cyclists (with a support vehicle) rolled into Jonesborough a year ago, our Town their first stop on the pedaling trip to Washington, DC.
University of Tennessee law student Sam Evans and Conservation Fisheries biologist Missy Petty would brave the season’s cold, and slick and icy roads to bring their concerns about mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, and a petition to end its stream-burial practice, to the new administration. The mountain-blasting method of coal extraction, having denuded thousands of ridgetop acres in neighboring states and covered hundreds of streams under valley fills, was headed for the Cumberland Plateau’s green mountains, their streams rich in fish and mussel species and exceptionally diverse of aquatic life.
That mountaintop mining harms streams and wildlife, economic vitality in mountain communities and their residents’ health had long been known. Assessments of many facets of it, by scientists from earth-study as well as social- and economic-study domains, had been made public in Environmental Impact Statement findings, in 2004. They had revealed hydrology scientists’ concern that the headwater streams, “collection points for all surface and groundwater within a watershed” were lost in this mining and, in the rubble and “spoil disposal” from blown-up mountains, “all water bearing strata [were] lost.” They had shown as much as one-third of the stream-generating acreage being lost in watersheds in affected mountain ranges, both fish species and benthic-creature aquatic species reduced, sometimes by two-thirds.
They had made plain the near irreversibility of forest and wildlife loss, though mined sites be “reclaimed”: such degree of compaction was necessary to stabilize slopes and prevent rockslides from mined sites that “the rooting medium,” lacking adequate aeration, nutrients and water “severely reduces tree growth.” They had noted lack of standardized methods to evaluate, and address in permits for this mining, heightened flooding potential that down-slope communities would face after removal of the mountains’ forests and their rain-absorbing soils.
But the administration, then, had loosened and “streamlined” the permitting rules, making MTR mining more widespread. The regulations of pivotal national environmental laws had been changed through executive directive or rulemaking. Federal wildlife scientists would not need to be consulted in permit review, the Clean Water Act’s “fill” rule changed to legalize stream burial, and its buffer-zone rule made discretionary in MTR mining.
Present on the National Mall on inauguration day, Mr. Evans no doubt was hearted by President Obama’s pledge to “restore science to its rightful place.” In a Science article this January 8, a group of internationally respected, U.S. experts on hydrology, engineering and ecology confirm the “severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop mining.”
They attest these to be pervasive and long lasting, mitigation ineffectual to reverse the damage from them, and the scientific evidence of its harm “strong and irrefutable.” The scientists’ urgent call for a moratorium on further MTR permits will be heard by the administration, one hopes, given its promise that science will inform policy, not policy bend the science.

Development plans for the wetlands meadow

A guest column in the Johnson City Press in November bore this headline: “Finding clean water could be a struggle in the future.”
Charles Moore, its author, pointed out the high rate of water violations across all states, through inadequate water-laws enforcement and “punishment” for dumping contaminants.
He pointed to the “uphill battle to reverse the damage to our water supply,” since ever more storm water runoff goes into the rivers through land development. This problem he characterized as one of “too much concrete and not enough grass.”
The Town of Jonesborough faces a stark example of this problem. A proposal before it would place a convenience mart and auto service establishment within a wetland meadow whose rainwater storage, and the streams emanating from it, are the lifeblood of the Persimmon Ridge Wetland.
They feed clean headwaters supply to Little Limestone creek, barely more than a mile downstream from the meadow. This inflow is badly needed in Little Limestone, which has suffered an overburden of pollution, unresolved by the Town, for many years.
We cannot create more water. We must preserve it and to maintain its life-giving purity. We must maintain the farmland, green landscape, forests and wetland meadows we still have, on which its origination and steady supply depend.
Yet every minute, per the Tennesseean in October, two acres of farmland are paved over in urban-sprawl development, Tennessee being in the top 10 states for such loss. The land-conversion trend in one county near Nashville, erasing fully one-fifth of its prime farmland within just five years this decade, could well mirror the losses in our own region if development-as-usual dominates over land-and-water conservation need.
Growing disruption of rainfall patterns through changing climate will also continue to put more stress on creeks, lakes, and water bearing strata, even as population growth heightens demands for water.
The loss of wells and springs in the Watauga Flats community, historically low water levels in the reservoirs, Gap Creek going dry for the first time in Elizabethton, Mountain City having to ration some water uses, all in this decade, should be heard as alarum bells. The last years’ severe drought was followed this year by excessive rains, often in downpours causing flooding disruption and damage in and around our town.
Even the small part of the meadow’s wetlands that would be destroyed through the development might be that tenth-acre flood barrier loss the Town could come to regret in the future.
Not least, as well, is the matter of esthetics and preservation of the view shed to Persimmon Ridge.
Said Robert Johnson, among the conservation movement leaders around President Roosevelt, in 1910: “The first thing a man does [when able to] is to invest his money in some form of beauty. He settles in a town mainly because it is beautiful, and he is all the happier if his home can command an attractive natural view.”
The Town should consider the nearby homeowners’ investment in this, and all Jonesborough citizens in regards this development proposal.

Two New Year’s resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough

Last week it was suggested that Washington County’s New Year’s Resolution should be the installation of clean utility water to all residents.
This week two New Year’s Resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough are suggested: (1) proceed with increasing the town’s sewage treatment capacity and (2) deal fairly and openly with town residents in solving the community’s traffic problems.
Good news concerning the sewer system was reported to readers of the Herald & Tribune in a front-page article on December 1, 2009. The news story written by Assistant Editor Kate Prahlad was titled: “WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES: Town sewer plant in compliance with state.”
To review, the Town faced fines up to $400,000 after Little Limestone Creek ran black with untreated sewage plant discharges. A Commissioner’s Order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) reviewed the nearly 40 violations a month that were taking place.
The TDEC capped discharges into the creek at 500,000 gallons a day, a figure still in force. As of the date of this editorial, the number of violations has been cut to only a couple of month and State Agency spokesman Tisha Calabrese-Benton says Jonesborough is in complete compliance with the department’s enforcement order.
Town Administrator Bob Browning credits the following steps leading to compliance by Tennessee’s Oldest Town – facing problems with sewage settlement in the second stage of treatment, a new interceptor line was installed.
This dramatically cut the amount of water flowing into the treatment plant during storms by 100,000 to 200,000 gallons a day.
Steps permitting Jonesborough to maintain the proper amount of oxygen within its sewage system were also helped by retrofitting blowers that put air into settlement basins and plans were completed for a supplemental air system.
The Town has also invested in telemetry to allow it to know the operations of each of the 34 pump stations along the sewer line without having to physically inspect each station.
The steps mentioned in the preceding paragraph merely maintain a system that needs a major improvement.
The plant’s discharge needs to be moved from Little Limestone Creek to the Nolichucky River.
Prahlad reported: “As the town grows, it will have to deal with more sewage, but it can’t expand its connections until it has capacity to deal with more sewage, but it can’t expand its connections until it has the capacity to deal with more gallons per day. Unlike Little Limestone, the Nolichucky River can handle more than 500,000 gallons per day.” The story further stated “…last month the plant was averaging 710,000 gallons a day.”
In our opinion and in view of what is at least a positive Water/Sewer Reserve Fund balance, aggressive action should be taken now to move the discharge line to the Nolichucky River.
The BMA should also consider what additional steps need to be taken in improvements to the existing sewage treatment plant.
This newspaper has received more “Letters to the Editor” concerning treatment of the owner of Five Points Grocery than on any recent topic of interest to Jonesborough residents.
Without again reviewing the options available to the BMA, it is our opinion that the topic should again be addressed.
No construction is currently underway at the site, and an alternative in the form of the installation of traffic lights at this congested and dangerous intersection is available to planners and the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Likewise, improvements to Jackson Boulevard in connection with access to the Mayor George P. Jaynes Justice Center of Washington County need to be explained to residents.
While meetings with property owners, public hearings, and change orders to accommodate the wishes of residents take time, in the long run these efforts usually result in positive changes and favorable community opinions.
A more sensitive approach to traffic concerns is suggested to Town officials in today’s comments without placing blame on any individual for oversights in the past.
These are two suggestions on Resolutions for the Town of Jonesborough during 2010. Hopefully, officials will take appropriate action on both of them.