Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More neighborhoods line up against Metro Water Services' new landfill on the Cumberland River and MWS defends itself again

While attending the Salemtown Neighbors meeting this week, I found out that more neighborhoods than the news media has divulged are questioning Metro Water Services' scheme to bury toxic materials in a landfill outside of Salemtown. According to the association, the Buchanan Street and Historic Buena Vista associations have joined Salemtown in opposing the chemical dump. Historic Germantown, Inc, which Tennessean reporter Bobby Allyn reported was not concerned about North Nashville's newest landfill, is said to be taking "a hard look" at the problem in the wake of Salemtown's expressed opposition.

While SNNA leaders also reported that Council Member Erica Gilmore has been working on a solution to the problem, I have no evidence myself to support that. Like has been her past pattern on my expressed concerns about environmental inequities in North Nashville, she has been generally unresponsive to my email pleas to stop the dumping and to fund removal of the debris.

MWS PR specialist Sonia Harvat eventually got back to me earlier this month in defense of her employer's dump in light of questions I asked her about testing frequency, procedure, and holding private contractors accountable for wasting taxpayer money. She wrote:

Metro Water Services staff monitors the outfalls, per TDEC requirement, once a quarter during a qualifying rain event - this could include events on holidays and weekends. As described in the previous email, the monitoring consists of grabbing a sample at each outfall and visually inspecting for the presence of potential contaminants, such as oily sheens, cloudiness, coloring, and odor.

Work has begun to characterize the large mound of soil removed from the biosolids construction site. The protocol, approved by TDEC, calls for soil to be segregated into piles of approximately 240 cubic yards. Multiple on-site tests are conducted on each pile to indicate the area containing the highest potential for petroleum contamination. A sample is collected from the portion indicating the highest potential and sent for laboratory testing. If the lab test indicates the sample is below the level of concern then the contractor may transfer that pile to the demolition site to be used for backfill in the basement. The results of the testing will be compiled into a report.

The material that had been placed in the basement prior to characterization has since been tested and is below any level of concern.

The contractor for the biosolids facility is responsible for testing and proper disposal of material associated with the project. Metro only has a contract with the prime contractor and not the subcontractor performing demolition. Therefore Metro holds the prime contractor responsible for proper testing and disposal, and the contractor must hold his subcontractor responsible.

So, MWS conducted the most minimal, compulsory monitoring for chemicals running off a dirt pile that itself had, according to tests, already shown high levels of toxins. If we take Metro Water at their word, in the past decade they conducted roughly 3 dozen tests of runoff from a previously characterized toxic pile into the Cumberland River watershed.

That may satisfy red-state TDEC, but it does not satisfy me because I live near it. It should not satisfy you, regardless of where you reside, because the Cumberland is your river, too.

The part about contractors and subcontractors strikes me as bureaucratic double-speak and question evasion. I mean, is Ms. Harvat's point that we paid taxpayer dollars to someone who paid someone else to clean up the contaminated soil and if someone else does not cough it up, then Metro Water is absolved from getting taxpayer dollars back? Or if Metro Water did hold the primary contractor responsible and got taxpayer dollars back, then why did she not just tell me straight up, "We got the money back from the contractor", regardless of what they got or did not get from the subcontractor?

It's a simple question: did Metro get us our money's worth when it paid the contractor to have the contaminated soil at the water treatment plant cleaned up? Why can't I get a straight answer to the simple question?

I am pleased that my own neighborhood association stepped up to spearhead the collective opposition to Metro Water's new backfill landfill. Too bad Metro government got in front beforehand of the controversy that they tried to avoid by quietly dumping their mess. Too bad the Tennessean colluded with Metro Water to broadcast the perception that nothing was amiss with dumping in North Nashville. Now our community has hard work to do to beat the injustice.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


I speak for many (reporters, politicians, parents and citizens) when i say that there is nothing scary about your drunk rage.
-- Nashville charter school founder Ravi Gupta reportedly
to school board member Will Pinkston

An aside to this unpleasantness: in 2011 I received an email from a prospective charter school founder who expressed incredulity that Mr. Gupta could come to Nashville, straight from law school with no educational management experience, and gain approval for Nashville Prep so easily with so many "inconsistencies" and "biases" in the selection process. Perhaps assisting powerful Democrats David Axelrod and Susan Rice helped the process along.

I have made clear on this blog that I am no fan of Mr. Pinkston, but Ravi Gupta showed beaucoup gall in this debate, which makes me wonder whether the ease of his ascendance in Nashville has gone to his head.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shamelessness and joblessness

Granted, the Tennessean made a campaign contribution to the PR effort designed to produce a favorable vote for Mayor Karl Dean on the Music City Center, but did reporter Michael Cass really have to end a piece on a North Nashville march against joblessness with the Mayor's talking points on the jobs the new build provided?

It was bad enough that Cass just repeated Hizzoner's spin while leaving out news that the Music City Center lost a court case in which Metro officials blocked out the addresses on lists of construction workers preventing a union from evaluating Karl Dean's claims that jobs would go to locals. And never mind Music City Center's shoddy method of counting the employed by merely counting the people who signed up for safety training beforehand. I do not only read perceptions that the Mayor's projects do not provide the jobs promised in the news media beyond the Tennessean, but I hear it in community meetings I attend and urban talk shows I listen to.

So, yes, it is bad form to report half-news as news simply in order to put Karl Dean on the right side of the joblessness issue. It is not like he literally rushed out to be a drum major in this march.

But to detract from organized dissent over joblessness by shilling once again for a Mayor who does not care about North Nashville community development or social justice is shameless. Cass's report should have ended closer to where he conveyed Brenda Gilmore's meeting with the Mayor. That's the most Karl Dean should have figured into the story.

Michael Cass should explain his decision to portray--unequivocally, mind you--the Mayor as an effective break on the joblessness that marchers believe is a chronic problem. Otherwise, the Mayor's communications director should have been listed as a contributor to this story.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Further evidence of Mayor Karl Dean's benign neglect of North Nashville

Last spring we learned of the plan to move The National Museum of African American Music away from its logical and spiritual home on Jefferson Street and Rosa Parks Boulevard to the old Nashville Convention Center. The failure of NMAAM organizers to leverage funds was blamed.

Now comes news that Mayor Dean is including NMAAM in his call for developers for the culturally neutral convention center.

Was Karl Dean behind this move--ill-fated for our North Nashville neighborhoods--all along? We know CM Jerry Maynard, who often follows Hizzoner like a colt behind its mare, was enthusiastic about moving what could have been a catalyst for smart growth to Downtown. So, I'll wager that this plan was hatched in the Mayor's Office, which no doubt views the important Jeff St. intersection more as turf for fast food, gas pumps and predatory lenders than positive, community-oriented institutions.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013


More like: "moving for whom?"
I am grateful for the opportunities to meet some great leaders since moving to North Nashville ten years ago. Because our kids attended the same public school here, I have had more occasions in the past year to enjoy conversations with two such leaders, Sekou and Tene Franklin. I was impressed, but not at all surprised today to find Sekou's thoughtful, timely, and honest response to the Mayor's transit plan. A number of us have expressed frustration that the bus rapid transit project leaves our community behind in favor of subsidizing and further skewing West Nashville growth. But few of us are as adept as Sekou is at drawing out the nexus between a historical context of prejudice and contemporary transit decisions:

Since last year, community leaders have asked the Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to extend the Amp route to North Nashville, which has one of the largest concentrations of blacks in the Mid-South region. North Nashville also has a historic tie to unjust transportation policies, most notably the Interstate 40 development that dislocated scores of residents, churches and businesses in the 1960s.

Many North Nashville neighborhoods are under-resourced and need better transportation options. The community also has a high number of hospital workers, renters, senior citizens, disabled residents and college students, all of whom could benefit from an Amp stop. However, MTA officials rejected pleas for an Amp terminal in North Nashville in the initial phase of the project. This snub could lead to a system of transportation apartheid in which some communities receive the bulk of transit investment — in this case, more than a $1 billion for neighborhoods in the Amp corridor — while others such as North Nashville are rendered invisible.

In February 2011, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sent a civil rights team to Nashville to assess whether the MTA was following federal civil rights law. The two-day visit occurred during the initial phase of the Amp design. In their visit, the FTA officers were shown routes in West, East and Southeast Nashville. Yet, for unexplainable reasons, the MTA did not allow them to visit North Nashville. This was yet another example of how communities such as North Nashville are treated as if they are invisible.

That last paragraph is galling. It is shameful that transit leaders intentionally ignored North Nashville on the question of lawful access to transit. It also casts a pall on the arguments of east-west corridor supporters who say they honestly believe West End is a better choice without any reference to MTA's shoddy treatment of North Nashville on a question of civil rights.

The shameless roll out of an east-west rapid transit corridor is the extension of the historic injustices that do not disappear with new generations leaders. While some local progressives attempt the tortured logic of scolding the Mayor for wanting to govern "the fun parts" while absolving him of responsibility for extending the time-honored, sanctioned neglect of North Nashville, Sekou Franklin reminds us that this BRT transit policy, in doing nothing to break from an infamous tradition, is the natural extension of that tradition. The link is not so easily severed just because Mayor Karl Dean is an odds-on jolly for taking down a Republican in a hypothetical run-for-office.

No degree of public relations can cover up the wounds reopened for some in North Nashville. You can pat your progressive self on the back all you want about supporting transit and helping some boiler room workers exit West Nashville faster at quitting time to access the same slower, lesser infrastructure they know all too well along points north. But liberal preening will not alter the reality that AMP extends Nashville's legacy of unequal development, and it serves disproportionally white, affluent communities before any other.

As such, it is transportation apartheid. Sekou calls it out for exactly what it is.