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Environmental Court in works

Washington County Attorney John Rambo knew one of his priorities after accepting the full-time position would be setting up the county’s new Environmental Court.
When members of the Legal Services Oversight Committee asked for an update during their Feb. 5 meeting, Rambo said he and Mayor Dan Eldridge had met with Glenn Rosenoff, director of local planning for the First Tennessee Development District, and research is being conducted on how Environmental Courts are operated in other state counties.
“In the meantime, we can fill out a civil warrant for General Sessions Court since the Environmental Court will be a part of General Sessions,” Rambo said.
Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford said he doesn’t want the responsibility to fall to his office. “This is a county problem that has never been funded,” he said.
The Zoning Office website offers an online form for residents to file a complaint, but Rutherford thinks a centralized location should be designated to accept complaints so his office, county commissioners and the Legal Services Office don’t have to be bothered.
Rambo thought a system to confirm complaints that have been received would be helpful, and Commission Chair Greg Matherly suggested a hotline similar to the Litter Hotline now in place.
Rambo agreed to work on some ideas.
The Washington County Commission requested a private act from the General Assembly to create a Part III of the Courts of General Sessions a year ago and approved the act during the May 2012 meeting. Part III will be referred to as the county’s Environmental Court.
The request was in response to appeals of case overload from Judges Robert Lincoln and James Nidiffer who said the more than 20,000 cases they hear each year prevent them from spending more than a few minutes with each person.
The growth of Washington County and the additional responsibilities, such as zoning, to the judges’ caseloads were other arguments for the position.
Commissioners appointed Robert D. Arnold as General Sessions Judge, Part III in January. Arnold will serve until Aug. 31, 2014, and thereafter a judge for Part III shall be elected for a full eight-year term.
All of the General Sessions Court judges will hear Environmental Court cases regarding violations of any county ordinance or resolution relating to health, housing, fire, land subdivision, building or zoning.