Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Metro Water's public relations specialist is no longer relating to my email requests for info

If you have been following the month-old, unfolding controversy around Metro Water Service's plan to bury toxic debris and contaminated soil 300 yards from the Cumberland River and next to Salemtown/Germantown, I do not have much to report.

I do not have much to report because after a string of email responses to my requests for information about the project, media communications specialist Sonia Harvat seems to have stopped replying to me altogether. (On a side note: CM Erica Gilmore's office is still not really offering me any insight on what she is doing about this either).

My last email was sent a week ago and I was fairly specific in my request for information (CC'ed to CM Gilmore):

Ms. Harvat:

So, MWS employees have measured the amount of chemicals or contaminants that could be running off the pile during every rain event since the pile was created 9 years ago? Including weekends and holidays? Is there written analyses or other documentation on that monitoring?

In your interview with Demetria Kalodimos you indicated that you did not know to what degree the pile was contaminated with petroleum even though construction workers told her that almost 100 loads of dirt from the pile had already been dumped into the incinerator basement. Have tests for levels been conducted in the weeks since that interview aired? If so, who has conducted the tests?

I noticed today that dumping is continuing in the new MWS landfill and that heavy machinery has also cut down the size of the petroleum-laced dirt pile. Is the dirt from the pile once again going into the incinerator basement with the debris or is the dirt being hauled offsite? If the dirt is going into the basement-landfill, is your agency testing to make sure that the dirt does not first need to be remediated for high levels of petroleum? Do you have documentation on those tests?

Was the private company that originally was supposed to deal with the petroleum-laced dirt pile paid for services they did not render? If so, is Metro Water making any effort to get those payments back or claim damages for failure to follow through since 2004?

Mike Byrd

I'm just your average dolt with common knowledge about landfills and pollution, but I was hoping that Metro Water could explain to me how they can be sure that the contaminated stuff they are dumping down the street from my house is safe when contained in a basement, capped in a way that is reminiscent of Love Canal. I have the distinct impression that they prefer I just go away and let them dump as they intended to: quietly and with no blowback.

Are the Mayor's board appointees not supposed to express opposition to the Mayor?

Twitter exchange between two local reporters:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Modeling "the best" at Stand for Children?

Stand for Children is widely acknowledged as an organization that consistently takes stands at odds with the the public school teachers who serve our children. They are a major player in the school reform movement, and the Tennessee branch sat silently by last September when the state education commissioner Kevin Huffman punitively defunded Metro Schools. But they have never missed a beat hammering away at teacher performance as the cause of poor student outcomes while ignoring the socio-economic conditions at home that crush opportunities for children.

Stand for Children Tennessee blogged a post today hailing Commissioner Huffman's plan to lash licensure to perceived performance. For the time being I'll set aside the questions of judging teacher performance without reference to causal factors outside the classroom and of forcing educational missions into business-oriented frameworks for which reformers like Huffman have a knack.

What caught my eye in the SFC policy analyst's blog post were several grammatical errors that did not themselves embody excellence.


I try not to pick on people about grammar. Goodness knows, I make my own mistakes on that score. But when education reformers with reputations for attacking teachers in general and teachers unions in particular mar their own writing with grammatical mistakes (even as they presume to prompt teachers on how to be "shining examples" and "the best and brightest"), I am bound to point out the hypocrisy. If you demand modeling "the best" for our kids, then you better set an example yourself in your written demand.

There were other problems beyond an errant misspelling in the blog post. How about a glaring sentence fragment in the original?

The Department has recommended that several changes be made to the teacher licensure structure to not only streamline the system, but raise the standards in the teaching profession. These changes hope to ensure that obtaining a teacher license

[sic] Currently, the system for licensing teachers has a few flaws.

Again, I do not usually play the grammar monitor. I tend to prefer to be charitable about such errors because I understand blogging is sometimes a difficult activity. And frankly, debating ideas is more interesting to me that grousing over grammar.

My criticism is ultimately not about correct grammar, it is about the holes in Stand for Children's agenda: I cannot let slip the poor paradoxes of purist organizations that claim to demand excellence from people, many of whom are dedicated to serving our children even under impossible conditions.

Karl Dean will not spare a dime to move toxic debris out of my neighborhood, but he can afford to hand a TV show $500,000

One of the hallmarks of Mayor Karl Dean's two terms at the helm of Metro government has been to dole out corporate welfare and subsidies for private companies even as he has complained that he simply does not have the money to fund Metro services the way they should be funded.

So, of course, Mayor Dean now wants to give the taxpayers' revenues, our money, to the ABC network's prime time soap opera, "Nashville", which has threatened to take its toys and go home to the west coast and in order to film the second season there if the Nashville will not give it a hand-out.

And who blinked first?

Mayor Karl Dean has ... agreed, on behalf of Metro, to provide a $500,000 cash grant for the production of the show, something that Dean’s office has previously referred to as advertising the city can’t buy ....

“With beautiful scenic shots of our landscape and the portrayal of our unique music scene, more people, without a doubt, are visiting our city and spending their money here because they’ve seen this hour-long commercial for Music City that airs every week during primetime,” said Dean, in a prepared statement. “The city’s investment in Nashville this season is a recognition that this show benefits our local economy and is opening doors to further grow the film and television industry here.”

Entitled to Metro entitlements?
Money cannot buy that kind of advertising until it does buy that kind of advertising.

It would be one thing if the Mayor said, "I am going to take the subsidy that I usually pay the Chamber of Commerce and I'm going to give it to ABC producers to sweeten the incentive for doing the logical thing: coming back to Nashville to film a show called 'Nashville'". But no. He obviously does not see our revenue base as a trust that helps neighborhoods, that sustains the community, that bolsters the quality of life.

Mayor Dean sees our resources as fiat to exercise his own personal privilege to pass out corporate welfare wherever he sees fit. Companies are allowed to draw on the dole that is supposed to go back into building up our infrastructure and generating programs directly benefitting Nashvillians.

I wonder what fraction of $500,000 it would take to clean up Metro Water's toxic landfill near Salemtown? Karl Dean does not seem to see the fitness in that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Salemtown's neighborhood association votes unanimously to oppose Metro Water's new landfill

Salemtown Neighbors president Freddie O'Connell told me earlier this evening that the association approved a motion to express opposition to the new North Nashville landfill Metro Water Services is putting on our doorstep. The group plans to send letters to Metro officials (including the Mayor's Office) and other area neighborhood associations asking that the toxic incinerator debris and contaminated soil be hauled out of our community. This is the first organized community opposition to the rationalized dump that I am aware of. I am pleased that my neighborhood is attempting to demand the right thing and advocating for public safety.

At least he acknowledged that AMP bus rapid transit is leaving North Nashville behind

North Nashville's working class won't be thrown any BRT bones, while East Nashville workers will enjoy some of the transit crumbs from Amp:
“Yes, people in parts of North Nashville are being left out of it,” [East Nashville CM Scott Davis] told The City Paper the following day. “I’m not arguing that. But we have to remember that it’s also helping low-income residents in my neighborhood that are along the [route]....”

“We forget those low-income people along that route have been left out of the conversation,” he said. “They work over there off of West End. And they don’t have some of the glamorous jobs, you know? A lot of them are in the maintenance part, or they’re working in the boiler room at Vanderbilt.”

If they’re driving to work, Davis said, many of those people struggle to pay the cost of parking. For many who use the current bus system — which must work its way through car traffic that The Amp, with its dedicated lanes, will avoid — getting off the job and making it to a day care, for instance, to pick up a child before extra charges start to kick in is a challenge.

“Not everyone low-income and in trouble hates The Amp, it’s just that they can’t make it to a 3 o’clock meeting or a 4 o’clock meeting to let people know,” Davis said.
I will not dispute the point that there are folks among East Nashville's working poor who will benefit from the exclusively east-west corridor. And I don't blame a CM for voting in what he perceives to be his constituents' interest. If only North Nashville council members had attempted to assert North Nashville's best interest instead of sitting quietly by when the Amp vote came before Metro Council.

What I do find fault with is perpetuating the perception that this corridor maximizes benefits for the masses of Nashville's workers or at least strikes a balance between the transportation needs of the working class and the profit motives of businesses to the west. Amp will subsidize the tourist industry with cheap transit for visitors and it is going to provide some attractive infrastructure improvements for West Nashville neighborhoods that do not need them as much other others.

I also find it curious that none of the low-income residents whom CM Davis claims it would help were interviewed for this news story. Regardless of the anecdotes, I would like to see hard numbers on how many of the working poor are going to benefit from this project vs. how many might be helped if it went farther north. Will more Vanderbilt undergrads take Amp to party Downtown and around East Nashville's Five Points than Vanderbilt workers ride it to work in boiler rooms?

Part of the problem here is that we are constantly promised that the more we spend on the tourism industry, the more will flow down to average Nashvillians in the form of infrastructure. With Amp, infrastructure suited more to the hotels, restaurants and venues that serve tourists seem to be replacing that promised to all our communities.

"Customer service" as in "Don't accuse customers with legitimate concerns about their safety and water quality of being terrorists"

If the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has not damaged its reputation enough by approving questionable landfills (like the one near Salemtown), misleading the public about safety risks or releasing post-catastrophe test results not quite as revealing as others, now comes word via one of their bureaucrats that criticism of TDEC's handling of our water sources may lead to being branded "terrorists":

In an audio recording ... TDEC Deputy Director of the Division of Water Resources Sherwin Smith says, “ ... you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered, under homeland security, an act of terrorism.”

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said in a written response to questions that Smith regrets his choice of words.

“The department is working to address this issue, and to provide broader customer service training for all employees,” Lockhart wrote.

Aside from TDEC's rather feeble attempt to repair the department's marketing strategy to its "customers" (which seems really just more of the same foolishness) how is Mr. Smith keeping his position while falsely accusing Tennesseans with valid concerns about their water quality of being terrorists? And terrorism has come to mean so many things when attempting to quash dissent, that it means nothing at all:

Anything is an act of terrorism, even complaining about water quality. If the state disagrees with the public's assessment that the water is so hard it's best consumed with a chisel and a fork, they're now on The List and should know that any attempts to board a plane in the future will require a full-blown molestation of their person and carry-on luggage. 

I realize that because they are bureaucrats, government officials can often go on absorbing these embarrassments with an wavering sense of job security, but eventually the hubris and intimidation has got to catch up with them, even in a red state.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

It's all-hands-on-deck for the Mayor's "Neighborhood Challenge" today, but how "environmentally conscious" does Karl Dean really want us to be?

With Mayor Karl Dean waltzing his big-ticket Metro budget items past the passive Metro Council once again, today he turns to the perennial afterthought in his 6-year administration: neighborhoods.

Keeping neighborhoods in their place: a subsection to the CEO

The official invitation to the Mayors Neighborhood Challenge Kickoff Event promises prizes for the best performance by volunteers:

Join Mayor Karl Dean, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, Metro departments and other community groups at the Music City Center to kick off the Mayor’s Neighborhood Challenge! Similar to the Mayor’s Workplace Challenge, this is an opportunity to evaluate how green, healthy and involved your neighborhood or community group already is, learn how to improve, and earn points for both as you compete with other neighborhoods. There will be prizes for first place in each category.

How green is your landfill?
How "green, healthy and involved" we are in the neighborhoods? I do not know whether my neighborhood association is participating in this, but it would be ironic if they are since the Dean administration is about to finish a landfill of carcinogens and fuel contaminants on our doorstep. Yet, the Mayor's Challenge is promoted as an event to make us more "environmentally conscious",  even as the Mayor ignores calls to stop polluting the environment around Metro Water Services outside Salemtown. My message to Karl Dean: "I am sufficiently environmentally conscious, Mr. Mayor, and I expect you to end the dumping here in North Nashville and haul the debris out."

In my opinion the Mayor wants us to focus on volunteering to pick up some trash or to report codes-violating neighbors (through the NOTICE program) in order to give us false hope and to ignore real environmental problems like Metro Water burying toxic debris 300 yards from the Cumberland River. That landfill happened without any feedback from the community. We cannot even report Metro Water to Codes through the NOTICE program, because Codes approved the dump without taking the community into consideration. In that context, reporting neighbors to Codes for their violations looks like small-potatoes and divide-and-conquer. How can dumping old tires or garbage on private vacant lots be worse than burying heavy metals below the water table on public land?

How healthy is Metro's toxic dump?
Mayor Dean has been banging the drum of about how we should be living our personal lives (his enduring focus on us getting healthy is a prime example), and ignoring our reservations about his policies, programs, and practices inconsistent with healthy living. But wait. Today he is buying more of our voluntarism with promises of prizes for the neighborhood that shows out the best. How voluntary can it be if people are prompted by prizes? Can healthy living be sustained on the promise of swag and block parties?

Many local organizations inside and outside Metro government, beyond neighborhood groups, are responding to the Mayor's call for all-hands-on-deck. The Neighborhoods Resource Center, which claims to "organize residents to obtain more power" (even when it seems to run silent on Metro polices that discourage popular power) is a "tool" in the Mayor's "kit". I am not kidding: the Mayor lists organizations, including the NRC in his "toolkit". Other organizations are promoting the Mayor through social media:

When organizations choose to stand with a powerful municipal executive, they will not stand with communities when the latter are casualties of municipal policies that are anything but "green, healthy and involved in the neighborhoods". No wonder Hizzoner needs to give away prizes in order to entice average citizens to this event.

UPDATE: Head of Mayor Dean's campaign war room Office of Neighborhoods, Courtney Wheeler, added a tweet to the stream on the Mayor's Neighborhood Challenge:

In related news, I received an email saying that Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association indeed plans to accept Hizzoner's challenge.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Metro Water claims to monitor runoff of their shrinking petroleum pile while they continue to fill their basement with toxic debris

Nothing now seems to be stopping Metro Water from landfilling incinerator debris and possibly contaminated soil a block or two outside my neighborhood and on the Cumberland River watershed. With military-like efficiency they are moving this dumping project toward its end and burying dreggy remnants underground. And there is no observable resistance.

I took the following pictures yesterday. In the first one, the pile of dirt excavated a decade ago from the biosolids facility site and put on a parking lot for remediation of hazardous levels of petroleum--with no explanation of where the fuel came from--is being moved by construction crews. All the vegetation that was growing on it is gone and the hill is shrinking.

What's left of the petroleum pile, 06/20/2013

In the second photo, construction crews have recommenced filling Metro Water Services' new landfill (an old basement) with incinerator debris. And there are fresh piles of fill dirt. It is fair to gather (until I hear otherwise) that the dirt is coming from across the street, from the petroleum pile.

The landfill, 06/20/2013

After a long wait for answers to my questions about the storm drain at the foot of the petroleum pile--and I did confirm it is a storm drain, which means it runs straight to the Cumberland--Metro Water officials replied to me that indeed, runoff from the pile "may drain in that direction". They also claimed that MWS employees monitor the runoff during rain events. Employees "grab" a sample "at each outfall". Then they "visually inspect" the sample for "oily sheens, cloudiness, coloring, and odor". MWS insists that they have found no signs of fuel contamination in the runoff from the pile. They also maintain that the weeds and trees growing on the pile would have showed signs of distress if petroleum were present in high amounts.

I am just a layperson but this strikes me as a rather unscientific means of testing for petroleum in stormwater runoff. And the claim that they have tested an overgrown pile abandoned on a remote lot during every rain event for a decade defies common sense.

The clock seems to be running out on this contest. Council member Erica Gilmore is traveling all of June, and she never got back to me in May before she left about this problem. When I contacted the person in her office that her vacation notice said to contact, I had to send two emails to get the clipped, nebulous reply that they are "communicating by phone" and doing so "with representatives". Yeah, I have no idea what that means.

In the meantime, there remain unanswered questions:

  • If the dirt going into the landfill is from the petroleum pile, has it been tested for levels of fuel?
  • Was the private contractor paid ahead of time to remove the petroleum pile in 2004? If so, what is Metro doing to get that money back to avoid taxpayers from having to pay for removal twice?
  • Did Erica Gilmore ever follow through with her commitment to try to get money to haul debris out?
  • Why is Metro allowed to dump debris underground on public land when private developers are not allowed to do the same? Why is Metro Codes allowing this? Why is the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods not standing up for my neighborhood on this one?
  • Why is Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association sitting this dance out?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

AMPscam: in the absence of studies "presume" the studies

And "forward" ain't "northward"
Because of family illness, I did not have a chance to watch Metro Council proceedings on the Mayor's budget proposals last week live. Yesterday, I started going back and watching the video from the last meeting. I was particularly interested in CM Josh Stites' amendment for bus rapid transit that would have required a study of alternatives to the Mayor's Office selection of West End be included as part of the bond resolution.

The amendment had received a good amount of media attention, which is likely one of the reasons it also was opposed by 3 different CMs before debate was cut off prematurely. The points expressed against the clause were all feeble. Peter Westerholm trotted out, as if on script, the same tired talking points he has in the media. Jason Holleman, who said he shared some of Stites' concerns, argued that he received assurances that Mayor Karl Dean would consider alternatives in the future and that we should place trust in those assurances.

But the weakest tea of all came from CM Jerry Maynard, an at-Large who often self-styles as a North Nashville representative. In his comments to council lawyer Jon Cooper and then to CM Stites on the amendment, Mr. Maynard ran interference for Hizzoner:

Cooper: [I]t's included in the initial bond resolution as part of the project to be funded.
Maynard: If we pass this, what impact will it this have?
Cooper: If MTA has already done such a study, then that would satisfy [Stites'] clause ... [MTA] would have to answer that, but if funds have already been spent for that study and they don't need to do that, then they could show that they have already satisfied that part of the study.
Maynard: Based on the comments that I've heard from [Mr. Ballard] and others, that they have looked at other routes and determined that West End would be the best place to start. I think you could presume that a study has been done of alternative routes and I would aks if CM Stites would withdraw his amendment.
Stites: If [studies] have in fact already been done it would be best to leave the amendment in; and then, if the studies fulfill or meet the amendment then it would move forward

Plainly, all CM Maynard had to do if he wanted to put to rest the question of whether West End is the best alternative is hold the alternative analysis up and refer to the sections that considered options like Charlotte Pike or Gallatin Road. Why not simply read MTA's conclusions, if they exist, to the council? Instead, CM Maynard lectured those with honest questions to "presume" that MTA has done the studies absent any transparent data.

Either the data on alternatives to West End doesn't exist, it is being hidden from the public or all of the Mayor's supporters are willing to jettison transparency and openness in government in the name of placing blind faith in both Karl Dean and MTA. In any one of those scenarios the principle of informed consent has been violated.

So, Jerry Maynard sowed seeds of doubt toward an entirely even-handed, fair proposal, and then North Nashville CM Walter Hunt called for the question, effectively terminating any more debate on adding alternatives analysis as a requirement of the bond resolution. Despite the fact that the Mayor's BRT/AMP plan excludes North Nashville from access to the transit cash that could roll in, none of the North Nashville CMs present--not Matthews, not Harrison, not Langster--raised any questions about alternatives. They all seem to have acquiesced to the Mayor's Office, as has a majority of the council, which voted down Josh Stites' attempt at fairness.

The final report on BRT assumes the West End corridor from beginning to end. The "Alternatives Evaluated" sections only consider alternatives in modes of transit (for instance, light rail vs. BRT) rather than alternatives in corridors considered. The only consideration given to other areas for BRT are for speculative, future possibilities that will no doubt compete with one another. There is nothing to suggest that Charlotte Avenue or any other North Nashville corridor will get consideration over say, connecting the east-west corridor with 21st/Hillsboro to Green Hills. The absence of any consideration in the final report of other corridors further underscores the probability that the analysis is not open to public discussion (and Metro does not make access to this limited report easy, charging a chunk of change to acquire it).

And one more thing. CM Bruce Stanley's earlier comment (in a different context) that a number of council members have been kept in the dark on BRT/AMP sustains my perception that the Mayor's supporters have not been on the up-and-up about the viability of all options. It seems that even council members are voting on this initiative from a position of ignorance or a tacit acknowledgement that the deal was done on arrival. Even its council supporters can only refer to nebulous faith and presumption absent any hard data. That is no way to serve the public on such an important question concerning so much money.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Because people do not live, work, or recreate in North Nashville

Last night East Nashville CM Peter Westerholm toasted to possibly bringing sexy new bus rapid transit infrastructure home to his constituents:

“[West to East Nashville] is an area that does have lots of housing, a lot of residents do reside in this area who use transit. You already have active transit users in this area, you have places of work, you have places of recreation, of entertainment — all the metrics that experts use to determine where transit projects should take place.”

And what transit toys did the North Nashville's council members bring home to us?

UPDATE: Via Mike Peden, below are the numbers that the Mayor intends to spend on bus rapid transit, east-west.

I.D. Number: 13MT0007
2013-14 $49,000,000

I.D. Number: 13MT0006
2013-14 $10,000,000

I.D. Number: 13PW0016
2013-14 $38,400,000

And in North Nashville:

I.D. Number: 13MT0011
2013-14 $4,840,000

Notice that the cost for streetscape designs alone--that is design stuff like planters, landscaping, lights (likely with expensive underground power lines), attractive seating, art, etc--starts out at $38.4 million for phase 1 and continues up in the final design. There is no "design" component mentioned with the measly $4.8 million he sets aside for North Nashville BRT altogether. The cost of the east-west buses alone more than doubles what the Mayor says he intends to spend on North Nashville BRT.

It does not appear that the North Nashville council members brought much home at all from last night's budget "fight" (a term I use loosely, given the general lack of backbone in the Metro Council).

Monday, June 10, 2013

Oh, yes. The Mayor's Office finally tips its hand on North Nashville's new landfill

Karl Dean has an annoying habit of taking credit for the positives and foisting the negatives on his agencies while pulling away from the blowback. However, the Mayor is essentially the CEO of Metro Government. Anything proposed by Metro agencies is properly vetted so as not to cause surprise or egg-on-the-face. That's the fact, Jack. His staffers need to hear that posing as if beholden to water services on that which the Mayor has already signed off insults the intelligence. The Mayor supports landfilling heavy metals and petroleum in North Nashville because environmental agencies allow his administration to get away with standards below what they plan in other parts of Nashville in order to save money.

The Nashville Scene contacted the Mayor's Office, which predictably insisted that everything is fine because Metro Water tells them everything is fine:

The mayor's office tells the Scene it has "been assured" by Water Services "that they are following all necessary protocols set forth by the environmental protection agencies."

That may strike Germantown neighbors as cold comfort, though, since the city keeps citing as a positive that the incinerator-burial plan has been approved by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation — an agency whose questionable regulation has come under fire from all corners of the state .... Most recently, in April, Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy ruled that TDEC Commissioner Robert Martineau approved permits for a landfill near a residential neighborhood in Camden, Tenn., without sufficient evidence local authorities had followed laws requiring public notice and local approval. To North Nashvillians, that might sound discomfortingly familiar.

Greeniness: Hizzoner poses with a solar panel.
Or not. It may not strike Germantown neighbors as cold comfort because, according to the Tennessean's clipped coverage of this metastizing problem, Germantown does not care what is going below its water table, otherwise they would naturally mobilize against it.

On Twitter, reporter Steven Hale clarified his Germantown observation when I brought up the Tennessean's blanket statements about the neighborhood. His point was that Germantown neighbors probably would not be satisfied by TDEC approval when they find out about TDEC's actual record. I have to admit, I get more appalled myself the more I hear about TDEC's track record on permitting unhealthy burials elsewhere. So, how can we have the same faith that Metro Water bureaucrats place in TDEC?

But TDEC's actual record? That is something else Tennessean reporter Bobby Allyn conveniently omitted in his kowtowed newspaper article on Metro's landfill plan.

Postscript: going back over my old notes, I rediscovered that this is not the first time I've questioned reporter Allyn's objectivity and fairness.

Music City?

Boot-$cootin' Yee-Ha!
We are in the middle of the huge wealth machine for the local business community: the CMA Music Festival. The amount of money this event brings in is so big that even the most catastrophic flood in the history of the city was not allowed to delay its 2010 opening less than a month later. And in fact that year's event and the revenues it generated were promoted in many ways as resources the city used to recover.

In spite of the wealth that CMA has produced since the flood, other music venues seem to be on life support. But can we be known as "Music City" rather than just "[Country] Music City" with these recent mishaps?

  • Bank of America foreclosed on the widely acclaimed Schermerhorn Symphony Center, striking many as beat down of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, which has not received adequate financial support (for a city of this size) in recent years. Nashville's upper crust lusts over the old Downtown thermal site for a publicly-funded amphitheater locale for outdoor symphony performances. But the embarrassing realities at hand have gone national even as the Mayor submits his latest capital budget. Symphonic music in Nashville is on the ropes, but does Music City care? 
  • The business community and Mayor's Office responded anemically to the international scope of the National Folk Festival, which arranges 3 year stints in host cities. September 2011 was the event's first year in Music City; it became the last year of the festival. What a wasted opportunity to have been able to host the 75th anniversary folk festival this year. Instead, Nashville will be known as "The City Where the Folk Festival Died".
  • The long-delayed building of the National Museum of African American Music has set adrift from its logical home on Jefferson Street, the nerve center of African American musical history in Nashville, to the prospect of a nebulous co-existence in the old Nashville Convention Center with the House of Blues. Will a narrow, commercialized focus on African American music in a Downtown oriented towards the country industry bring any more money or audiences in? Or will it just be backwatered and forgotten if it does ever materialize?

A different kind of treasure.
Museums, special events, and symphony halls are often more trusts supported by the community without regard to whether they shake the money maker or not. They provide living milestones for remembering where we have come from and touchstones for expressing values (sometimes more profoundly than money). I fear that Metro politics is so entwined with the power of money that our leaders let cultural icons die or rust away when the latter do not maximize the dollars. There is a place in cities for large-scale events that draw obscene amounts of bling (like CMA). But there is wealth to go around and to certify that less popular, but no less important musical traditions have mediums in a place that lays claim to the title, "Music City".

Friday, June 07, 2013

Update on Metro Water's petroleum pile and chemical dump

Thanks to those of you sending me emails offering to share costs of an injunction against Metro Water for risking our watershed with chemical debris and petroleum-imbued soil. While the resources look like they could be there via donors-to-the-cause, I am not willing to take time away from my family to mount an injunction as the only named plaintiff without a lawyer. Many of you know that my wife is about to start chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. Our 4th grader is going to need me, too, through this difficult time. Taking on a Metro agency in the courts by myself would not be realistic or prudent.

Organizations need to get involved in this, and frankly I'm surprised that they have turned a blind eye to the potential fouling of a major middle Tennessee water source.

I'm not expecting much from Germantown's association since they came right out in the paper and said they do not care what MWS is putting in its new landfill. Salemtown Neighbors has been curiously mum on the question. I understand that the mission of Cumberland River Compact is to focus on education and helping individuals do things on their own (rain gardens and stream clean-up) to enhance the watershed, but I cannot fathom why they might not at least express support for those of us who oppose a landfill 300 yards from the Cumberland. The North Nashville Political Forum has not issued any responses. The locally influential Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship has not given this problem any of its attention. The NAACP has also been silent. And as much as she makes a point of issuing public statements in response to various Metro actions, Sharon Hurt, Director of Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership (JUMP) has not said a word about this. This problem has not even come up for discussion on the Nashville Neighborhoods elist, which is predictably consumed with bus rapid transit (North Nashville problems rarely get any attention there, despite recurring expectations that I blog about West Nashville problems). Associations representing developers, realtors and business owners are practically invisible.

And yet, any change, whether prompted by the Metro Council or by the courts, is going to require the help and resources of organizations, not just individuals. These organizations will rue their current decision to sit on the sidelines in the future when studies start unfolding of higher incidences of cancer in the area around the landfill or when someone accidentally digs up something toxic that Metro Water buried decades earlier like they still do around Love Canal. Speaking of Love Canal, it was the homeowners association president there who ignored criticism that she was overreacting to clay-capped chemicals that were not believed to be a problem. In the end, her opposition made the federal government's tighter restrictions on dumping a reality. I just cannot believe that Metro Water Services and the Mayor's Office can get away with burying any carcinogenic debris or soil so close to neighborhoods and Nashville's major river 35 years after Love Canal.

Likewise, I just cannot believe that so many in this growing community choose to stick their heads firmly in the sand as the chemicals are being dumped and buried with faulty oversight.

In the meantime, I am getting no responses to my emails to Metro government for action on the new landfill. Metro Water is not responding to my last email asking them to clarify where the drain right next to the petroleum pile leads. After an initial response of opposition to the landfill, CM Erica Gilmore is not corresponding with me about any work she might be doing on this matter. Add that to her failure to get back to me 3 years ago about dark residue around the area's greenway at MWS.

After two weeks of this story gaining traction, responses and outcry seem to be dying down. That is good for the bureaucrats at Metro Water who want to sneak this problem through. It is bad for those of us in the community who will have to suffer the consequences of their irresponsibility.

Irony across the street from the new MWS landfill.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

An entirely reasonable conclusion: AMP would drain resources from North Nashville transit

I have been watching with interest the debate on the Nashville neighborhoods elist about the proposed bus rapid transit line down West End. At one point neighborhood leader Jennifer Pennington tries to pin down Metro Transit Authority executive Jim McAteer on the question of ridership, which transit leaders and boosters of the Mayor's "AMP" plan seem to dance around every time I'm paying attention to what they say:

Futuristic visions, no matter how grand, must not ignore the needs and wants of the current tax payers, period.

The highest ridership and need for public transportation is North Nashville. Federal funding is supposed to look at need, and in West Nashville, those who "ought to" use BRT/AMP don't want it and don't need it. Those who need improved transportation will likely get worse than what they have now, as funding from MTA gets funneled to BRT/AMP.

One of the lessons some of us learn about municipal politics (and particularly about Metro politics in the last few years) is that allocation of resources is a zero-sum game. What is spent in one place has to be taken from some other place when the annual budget is seeing increasingly smaller returns. So, I tend to agree with Jennifer. The casualties with the building of BRT/AMP will be riders who stand to gain from it were it not in West Nashville or at least not so far into West Nashville in order to run rapid transit northbound. Funding to support North Nashville ridership will be at risk with the new project because there are only so many resources to go around. "AMP" will be the new baby; other lines, the tired, old stepchildren.

Metro seems to be hurtling toward dropping $7.5 million on BRT/AMP in order to leverage $75 million from the federal government. Prospects are just as good that--if the federal dollars do come through (a big if)--that future administrations could just continue to divert more money into transit upgrades to the east-west line as a nod to the symbolics of mass transit without substance for North Nashville and its shrinking benefits. Running bus rapid transit down Charlotte Pike makes more sense due to service to greater potential ridership, but Charlotte is not nearly as sexy or as marketable as is the West End-Vandy "brand".

Finally, notice that Mayor Karl Dean refuses to make any promises to North Nashville about transit upgrades on the horizon. I'll wager he does not because he will not want to be accused of breaking those promises in any future run for higher office. AMP could be his signature transit project with which to campaign (with an assist from Washington DC). He has doubled down on West Nashville by ignoring the need for and refusing commitments to similar transit upgrades in North Nashville.

While I generally support quality mass transit, I cannot support BRT/AMP as it stands with no firm commitment to points north. There is little in this plan for us.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

You are so Nashville if you give Midtown's new residents a $3,000,000 fitness center and Salemtown's new residents a cheap landfill

While we here in the North End are forced to abide a new clay-capped carcinogenic landfill via Metro Water, look what more affluent Midtown gets to enjoy: an expensive new fitness center at the Sportsplex.

The fitness center project comes on the heels of several proposed projects that will bring hundreds of new residents to Midtown. Southern Land Co. is building the six-story Elliston23 apartment and retail project at 2300 Elliston Place. Developer Tony Giarratana and an equity partner recently acquired two parcels at Elliston Place and 21st Avenue with plans to build apartments.

“When the sportsplex was completed, a fitness center was an afterthought,” said Tim Netsch, planning superintendent with Metro Parks.

 “It’s always been very popular, but small. Midtown is going to continue to grow with higher density and more residential. We thought it should be a priority to provide a new facility.”

West Nashville stands to get both bus rapid transit (with not a single guarantee for the future of lines along Charlotte Pike or in North Nashville) and a new fitness center to stay healthy, as if those people cannot already afford their own transportation and physical trainers. As if this were more than throwing money at sexy signature projects that Nashville does not need.

What do we get? Something else Nashville does not need: Metro Water's waste products buried along our watershed.

I'm sure Karl Dean's apologists will insist that Metro should pay for amenities for the bold and beautiful class along West End first, so that the wealth can fan out from there and trickle down to the third-class citizenry in North Nashville. Likewise, I can hear them insist that heavy metals and fuel contaminates have to be stored somewhere, and it sure won't be next to brand new brick-and-mortar projects along our city's western border.

Where has the stormwater runoff from Metro Water's toxic petroleum pile flowed in the last 10 years?

News that Metro Water Services has allowed fuel-contaminated soil to sit on a parking lot near my home for the last decade (and has now started to bury that soil underground nearby) got me to wondering where all the run-off from that soil went over the years. I have strolled the Downtown Connector Greenway that runs through the plant for as long as it has been open and I remember seeing a ravine and a drain near the parking lot where the pile is kept.

Look at the photos I recently took below that move progressively closer to the drain. The pile of petroleum soil sits but a few yards uphill from the drain at the bottom of the ravine. Where does the drain carry the stormwater from the parking lot? If it is a storm drain, it goes straight to the river. How much petroleum has been washed out of the pile and into the Cumberland River (assuming it is a storm drain) in the last 10 years?

Petroleum pile on the left in the photo; ravine on the right.

Ravine below the treeline; petroleum pile behind treeline.

Ravine with drain, downhill from petroleum pile.

If this is a stormwater drain, it goes to the river.

Again, I do not know for fact whether the drain that captures the pile's stormwater run-off carries the water straight to the Cumberland, or whether the water is contained below ground and remediated before it is sent to the Cumberland. If it is untreated stormwater, Metro Water has likely been polluting the Cumberland for 10 years by allowing the soil to stay heaped on the parking lot beside the ravine.

The situation would be better if the drain leads to some form of containment tank that keeps the untreated water from flowing to the Cumberland. Except that it would not have been better in May 2010. The photo below show that the ravine was inundated with floodwaters that come right up to the foot of the petroleum pile. If the drain leads to containment, that containment was overwhelmed by rising floodwaters and whatever was in it likely came out.

May 3, 2010 aerial photo of flooded ravine, inundated drain.

Metro Water has so many storm drains in the area, and I'm betting that the ravine was designed to send stormwater straight to the river. If that is the case, I hope that MWS has been monitoring the levels of uncontained petroleum that likely would have also spilled from the contaminated soil it allowed to remain for so long exposed during rainy periods.

CONFIRMED: It is a storm drain, and hence, runs to the Cumberland River, which is a stone's throw away.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

I'm sort of forced to imagine that all the time. I live near Metro Water.

"Imagine what you would do if your neighbor's toxic waste was seeping into your home."

-- Dr. Bill Paul, Metro Nashville Department of Health Director

One of my problems with Karl Dean's administration is that he has spent his last two terms harping on how fat and chain-smoking and sedentary we are in Nashville and how we need to get out and exercise, as if we are all just a bunch of Xbox-addicted, reefer-mad preteens who eschew the playground for the couch-potato lifestyle. As if he were the model of physically fit BMI for the rest of us. As if he did not have other things he could be fixing, like say, unresponsive Metro government. Instead, of embracing the grueling decisions of governance that fall on those strong leaders whom we admire, Karl Dean has allowed corporate donors to fill in his agenda while he has embraced the easy rule of the "bully pulpit" while morally browbeating the personal shortcomings of individual Nashvillians. Guilt trips are working diversions from the challenges of running a metropolitan government.
I'm inspired.

If you read the rest of Dr. Bill Paul's May 31st Tennessean editorial (beyond the first sentence quoted above) you will see that it is another Deanastic lecture against personal choices to smoke and the lack of a personal choice in second-hand exposure to smoking. However, the first sentence could also apply to the recent risk that Metro Water services puts on surrounding communities by generating a new landfill to dump PCBs, lead, arsenic and petroleum, polluting the watershed and raising cancer risks. Plain and simple: it is a Metro agency's willingness to expose us to risk we did not choose on Mayor Karl Dean's watch. But while the Deaniacs make no bones about prompting individuals to feel guilty over personal responsibility in health issues, the Mayor's Office never, ever bullies agencies, organizations or businesses who behave irresponsibly in endangering public health.

I wonder what Dr. Bill Paul has to say about exposure to toxins and carcinogens where no smokers are present? The newspaper that carried Dr. Paul's op-ed never defies the will of the Dean administration. So, I'm not holding my breath for a Tennessean opinion piece by Dr. Paul or any of the editors against landfilling carcinogens in high-density urban neighborhoods, because they have Hizzoner to appease.

But Dr. Paul should know that I can imagine quite vividly the very distinct possibility that my neighbor's toxic waste might seep into my home as well as the homes of a lot of people around here.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

One I could submit to "You are so Nashville if ..."

Dean atop his monument to visitors and tourists
                        Photo source: Nashville Underground Radio
You are so Nashville if

... you make green roofs for the tourists to enjoy but poison your watershed and neighborhoods with toxic landfills to save some money