Monday, May 31, 2010

Courthouse elite on billboard baron's guest list

From left to right, Finance Director Rich Riebeling, head Metro tax collector Charlie Cardwell, Metro Clerk John Arriola, and the Mayor's dapper deputy Greg Hinote enjoy a back-slapping good ole (boy) time at a recent fish fry sponsored by influence-peddling business leader Bobby Joslin. For his patronage of Metro big shots, Joslin (who is also a power broker with the Nashville Business Coalition) enjoys an appointment to the Airport Authority. But you can bet Metro executives show up when Bobby adds them to his guest list, even when flood recovery is less than a month old.

Local environmentalist learns of flood fuel spill in North End, takes soil samples toward solutions

I received this e-mail 5 days ago from one of the sisters who own ASK Apparel (emphasis mine):

Hello Mike --

I wanted to let you know that I took some soil samples today from along the North End Greenway (in the general vicinity of January Environmental at 91 Van Buren) and from Morgan Park to have them analyzed for heavy metals / organic pollutants. I was clued in to the spills there through your website -- thanks.

I am doing a project called re:seed that will open at Blend Studio on Saturday, June 5th (more info at Basically, I am asking people to help identify sites affected by floodwaters and then scatter seedballs of remediating and soil-building plants (sunflower, mustard, cilantro and soil-building red clover) on them.

I am running soil tests on (at least) six different plots that I have identified that seemed to have some sort of chemical / pollutant spills - the North End Greenway and Morgan Park are two of the sites. I'm going to run follow-up tests once the growing season is over to see what impact (if any) growing the phytoremediating plants has had.

I am approaching this more from an art perspective (getting people involved in their immediate surroundings and in acts of restoring their community), and I recognize that just scattering seeds isn't going to be enough if there is a serious chemical contamination problem. However, there's not a lot of research on on-the-ground, "grassroots" phytoremediation, so this is also an opportunity to see if these sort of efforts actually help to improve soil / remove contamination.

All the results from the soil tests will be posted on the website, but I'll also make sure to send them to you directly as well, if you are interested.

Going by the greenway today, I was really struck by how much dust is still around -- the wind picked up and dust was blowing everywhere -- and by how strong the smell of sewage and petroleum still is :-(

Also, I am not sure if you are aware of this, but there are a series of EPA reports on the Tennessee floods:

The reports enumerate some of the sites where spills were identified, and make for some interesting reading.

Thanks for your informative posts! Hope all is well.

warm regards,
alesandra bellos

Friday, May 28, 2010

Where in the world is the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods?

That is Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods Director Billy Fields in blue standing in the Office of Emergency Management talking with Mayor's Office staffer Toby Compton (in orange) among others. I cannot tell whether they are discussing emergency management or the handicap of pro golfers competing in the tournament broadcast live on the OEM monitor on the wall. If the tournament is the Byron Nelson Golf Classic, this photo was taken last week.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Packed angry room tonight dealt with Music City Center domino falling on urban core neighborhoods

I confess that when I arrived at tonight's community meeting on the relocation of the Greyhound bus station from the Downtown core to 11th & Charlotte, my feelings were tempered and cool. My lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with a lack of priority about this insulated and hushed-up move. Instead, it had to do with the fact that I've been waving red flags for months about dominoes bound to fall in the wake of the Music City Center; so, I wasn't shocked or surprised Metro's top-down, insulated habits of ruling over locals rose up to bite nearby North End neighborhood Hope Gardens. The transitional and blighted businesses Downtown have to go somewhere now that the new convention center is going up. We broke ground and bought the fallout.

However, I do not think that I was prepared for the abrupt confession by a Metro Planner that the move is permitted because of the Downtown Code (DC), which Metro adopted this past February. The DC was intended to be an expression of progress set out by the community in the 2007 Downtown plan. It was intended to remove obstacles for builders in order to develop "vibrant neighborhoods" that attract more people to live and work Downtown. I was incensed in this meeting, as I sensed others were, that Planning and the Convention Center Authority (CCA) were using the relative freedom granted in the DC as a loophole to drive the Greyhound terminal relocation through.

In my opinion the planner was so busy justifying the adherence of the relocation to the letter of the DC that she could not see the violation of the spirit of the code. The CCA was hard pressed by its failure to place the terminal on Murfreesboro Road because of shrill opposition. However, one Charlotte Avenue business owner suggested that sign kingpin and Metro backroomer Bobby Joslin had something to do with discouraging the move south, closer to his little empire. CCA spokesperson Holly McCall chimed in that the latitudes of the DC did not extend down Murfreesboro Road. A local resident retorted that Hope Gardens was being punished for attempting to be more progressive in helping formulate the DC than Greyhound opponents further south.

My frustrations failed to be allayed by Ms. McCall, who admitted that they never bothered to inform the local community that they were signing a contract with Greyhound for 11th & Charlotte because they were not required to. (Yes, to my bitter surprise, the contract has already been signed; so, effectively no other regulations can be mandated). But I was also just as frustrated with some in the audience who seemed shocked that no neighborhood representatives were on CCA. How many keep themselves willfully ignorant about the insular process Mayor Karl Dean uses to appoint boards and committees? Why do neighbors continue to assume that they can support Courthouses pet projects like Music City Center and that they have any control at all over the hyper-local repercussions of construction?

I appreciate that neighborhoods like Hope Gardens, Germantown, Buena Vista, and Salemtown are going to band together now to work to close the Downtown Code loophole that could allow such Music City Center fiascoes to spread north to Jefferson Street. I appreciate that Grayhound promises to work with neighborhood leaders to make sure the blight and crime associated with the terminal does not build. But where was the vigilance a few months ago when the convention center was just a concept? Surely, neighbors didn't believe that Music City Center was going to be all fairies and waterfalls like the Music City Center Coalition wanted us to believe. One of the items on the bill of goods we bought was an open door for the Courthouse culture to twist a well-intended building regulation into a cynical tool for selfish ends.

All anyone has to do is consider the fact that the Mayor's Office was invited to tonight's meeting. Karl Dean sent no one. No one. This was a meeting tailor-made for the empty shell that was once the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. Yet, the Mayor could not muster anyone from that do-nothing department. Before you buy the line that the Mayor's Office cares about the concerns of neighborhoods, consider this important North Nashville meeting that received nothing beyond its benign neglect.

Last, but not any less deflating, was acknowledgment that the CM for this district, Erica Gilmore, had known about the relocation and the lease signing for some time without informing her constituents. This is beyond befuddling. It is something we came to expect from Gilmore's predecessor, Ludye Wallace (who happened to be there tonight while she was not). While CM at-Large Jerry Maynard attended and spoke, he seemed at a loss when addressing Ms. Gilmore's knowledge and support. All he told us was that he was aware that "certain government officials" knew about the contract with Greyhound. A few days ago Erica Gilmore sent a personal statement to relocation critics, and then later she issued a second one that looks formulated by communications staff jargon hounds.

I left the meeting more disillusioned and annoyed than when I entered it the realist. It amounted to Metro-crafted insults on top of what I see as the community's self-inflicted injuries. It may have been an important community meeting, but it was not a good one for me. I could be getting too old for these confidence game confabs. The one redeeming quality is that the Courthouse showed how low it is willing to stoop with the Downtown Code. In the future none of us around the urban core should be caught off guard by the scope of this particular depravity.

IMPORTANT MEETING TONIGHT!! On Greyhound Bus terminal relocation northwest of Downtown

From this morning's Hope Gardens e-list:
Time: May 27, 2010 from 6pm to 7pm
Location: First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill 625 Rosa L Parks Boulevard

Hello all,

If you haven't heard, we are getting the greyhound bus terminal in our area. Many of us oppose this and have been working to get rid of the terminal. Supposedly the terminal will only be there for 15 months (too long in my opinion, but not permanent).

That said, we've learned our lesson about trusting the nashville government. Last year we were promised that our children would always have the option to go to the Hillwood cluster (good schools) over our zoned school district (bad schools). They lied to us. We do not have that option. So we need to make sure they keep their promise that this is only temporary.

We believe this is a very undesirable thing to have near us. Murfreesboro road residents felt the same way and defeated a relocation to their area last year.

John Shenk has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with the government agencies responsible for this secret move (no one was told / consulted about the relocation of the terminal. -- though Erica Gilmore knew she did not tell any of us). The media will be there. We need you there. We need as many people to come as possible to show strength & solidarity in our numbers.
On a related note, I've left a message with Joe Cain at MDHA to call me in order to request a copy of the lease between the Convention Center Authority and Greyhound. This lease should be public record. I'll keep calling Mr. Cain until I get a response, and I'll go over to MDHA later if I have to.

Yesterday's urban rainbow

Got some photos of last evening's rainbow that appeared on the heels of a thunderstorm Downtown. One is posted on my tumblr page here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Still no word on toxins dumped on North End greenway during historic flood

I believe that these young trees on the Downtown Connector and Magdeburg/Morgan Park Greenways show evidence that some chemical or fuel substance washed across the park land with the flood. These rings, rising as high as 3 feet on some trees, are traces to me that raise questions about whether the Greenways are actually safe to use (click on photos to enlarge).

I've tried to find out from Metro government officials if tests were conducted to identify toxins might have flooded from industrial East Germantown on May 2 and 3, but I cannot get a direct answer.

CM Gilmore's weekend e-mail about Greyhound terminal move

An anonymous commenter sends the following letter reportedly sent by CM Erica Gilmore last Saturday when the controversy over the Convention Center Authority plan to move Greyhound to the northwest edge of Downtown was growing:

From: Erica Gilmore
Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 20:35:34 -0500
Subject: Greyhound Bus

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

I would like to thank those of you who have called me or sent me an e-mail in reference to the Greyhound Bus station that will be located on Charlotte Pike.

First, I would like to say that I would never do anything to hurt our community or to jeopardize our safety. However, I find what we sometimes think things are simple when in fact they are never simple.

Yes, I had prior knowledge of the Greyhound bus station going temporarily on Charlotte. It was my understanding that the facility is temporary until the permanent station can be built. Secondly, it is my understanding that the Greyhound station will be unable to remain permanently in the area because of zoning that was provided for the Gulch and that it doesn't fit with the overall plan for the Gulch.

Several questions have been brought to me today that I am working to find answers to them immediately. The first is how long is temporary and the second is where will the permanent location be. Please know that I believe the questions are important to all of us and have sent out an e-mail and that I have called Crossland and Greyhound for this information. Because the location had been changed several times, at first Greyhound said that they were moving to the location temporarily and then they were not, and now they are. It has been a little unclear.

Please know that I will follow up with an e-mail to provide answers to these questions as soon as I have them. Thanks once again to those of you who trust that we are working together and that I am here for you and that I speak on your behalf and would not do anything to harm the community.

Most Respectfully,

ES Gilmore
I am troubled that the council member could have known of the Greyhound move but did not communicate it with neighborhoods before it hit the press on Saturday morning. Granted, she is not required to given that the move does not involve a zone change, but given the blight and crime associated with the Downtown terminal, community response deserved more of her consideration, in my opinion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CM Erica Gilmore says she supports the community but she also supports controversial Greyhound relocation

With her own neighbors in Hope Gardens going ballistic and the nearby Salemtown association considering joining the opposition to the move of the Downtown Greyhound bus terminal to the northern Gulch area, District 19 council member Gilmore issues the following press release by e-mail a little over an hour ago (the emphasis on the Music City Center's part in this controversy is mine):

Gilmore Supports the Community More Safety and More Transparency

Council Lady Gilmore supports the community-Charlotte Pike should not be a final destination for Greyhound. In an e-mail released two days ago, Holly McCall, who represents the The Convention Center Authority, said "That the Convention Center Authority/MDHA recommended the lease for 13 months" for the Greyhound bus station. The Convention Center Authority is the governing body that made this decision assured Gilmore and constituents via e-mail that the lease is a gap-stop which means that it is a temporary location; and that Charlotte Pike is not the final destination.

The decision made by the Convention Center Authority was based on several factors: 1) it already fits into the allowed zoning for the commercial district,the fact that it already permits the zoning without needing any special variances or special use permits 2) As it was a car dealership, it proved economically efficient to retrofit for the terminal, and it is also close to interstate access, an important feature to Greyhound.

Gilmore believes as Nashville moves forward that transit is an integral part of the city's success and that businesses such as Greyhound should seize the opportunity to provide such a high quality service to citizens so that they can view the business as a part of the solution to the city's needed improvement for transit services, versus a safety hazard. "Unfortunately, because of citizen's perception of the business, they view it as a drain on the city when in fact if both the city and Greyhound would partner, the two could really offer some innovative high quality transportation to the residents of Nashville," said Council Lady Gilmore.

Additionally, Gilmore believes since the government has done such a good job in many areas of keeping the citizens informed, transparency still can be improved upon even when there are not zoning changes required by the Metropolitan Nashville City Council. "We must still find ways to keep our constituency informed with public notices through the various departments and agencies when there are no required zone changes, or special variances. We must get the message to our citizens that they are welcomed-we want their involvement.

Additionally, the different arms of government must work together in a coordinated effort through their City Councilmembers to make sure that citizens remain involved and informed. When permits are pulled for a Councilmember's district, the Councilmember should receive a notice even if it does not require special zoning or variances," said Council Lady Gilmore.
I'll look back through my e-mails but I do not remember receiving anything from the Convention Center Authority on this move. This episode supports public perceptions that Metro government led by the Mayor's Office refuses to be transparent to the community about decisions that affect us.

Any initial thoughts on Ms. Gilmore's support for both the community and the Greyhound terminal?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Music City Center fallout close to their neighborhood angers some Hope Gardens leaders

Music City Center construction effectively moved the blight and crime of the Greyhound bus out of Downtown and sandwiched it between the Fisk Area/Gulch/Hope Gardens neighborhoods in an abandoned car dealership.

Hope Gardens leaders expressed anger yesterday on the neighborhood e-list after finding out about the plans through the news media. They are also organizing to fight the move:

We have just learned that the work going on at the corner of charlotte & 11th (Map) is going to be the new location for greyhound.

Though this is just a "temporary" relocation -- temporary may be a year or years. They are spending $500,000 on the remodel and plan to occupy as of June 2nd.

Other communities have banded together to make sure that this did not happen in their neighborhood, one such example is Murfresboro, which is NOT a very nice area. See this article:

And the reason is obvious, they got their canned cleaned last time, so they SNUCK this in.

We are meeting tomorrow at 11AM at the community center to stop this.

Our strategy is 4 fold:

1) Political : rally the neighborhoods & gulch residents to stop this
2) Legal : file an injunction
3) Media : get the media to shed light on the fact that our community did not have a voice in this at all
4) Economic:
- Crosland must clean up all 24 acres that they have in preparation for this nuisance
- They need to remove foliage, manicure, remove any "hiding places" where crime elements will be harbored and add lighting
- Contact the owner at the Velocity building (where there is very little occupancy) and get them on our side
- Get businesses around that are to turn against it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A West Nashville neighborhood needs your help

In the Robertson-Urbandale-Nations neighborhood, an industrial site landowner has been buying up residential properties and now wants to convert an entire block to industrial land-use, including having Metro abandon an alley so that he can swallow up the remaining houses.

Neighbors are organized to stop the rezoning from residential to industrial and they ask for other concerned Nashvillians' support by signing their petition. As you can see by the photos of the neighborhood residences compared to the hard-core industrial site above, rezoning would only spread blight further into the community.

If the rezoning is approved by the Planning Commission in June and later approved by the Metro Council, a precedent will be set that could encourage the business owner to eat up other residences in surrounding blocks and eliminate alleys to consolidate everything into big-box blight.

This West Nashville neighborhood is fighting for their quality of life, community character, and home values just like the rest of us would if we faced unchecked commercial growth where we live. Please support these folks just as you would like support if in their position. We could find ourselves facing the same challenge some day while asking them to return the favor.


2010 Nashville flood: birdseye impact on Salemtown

Now that Metro has made the May 2010 Nashville flooding maps public, we can compare the Army Corp of Engineer's inundation projection map from a few years ago to Metro's actual illustration.

2007 ACofE map of North End areas that could be flooded with a dam failure upstream
(click on image to enlarge)

2010 Metro map of flooded North End areas outlined in red
(click on image to enlarge)

The Corps map projects up to 15' over flood stage, while the May 2010 flood reached 12' above flood stage, so the maps seem consistent to me.

I have not seen any local reports on how high the crest got to the top of the MetroCenter levee (in fact, there has been no local coverage on the condition of the levee outside of some unexamined reports that engineers pronounced it safe to allow people back into MetroCenter). I assume that the reason MetroCenter did not flood more after the initial weekend rain event was because at 12' the river could not top the levee. On Sunday, May 2 a MetroCenter business owner told me that he had been on the levee and estimated the river to be about 6 feet from topping. The local Fox News station in MetroCenter showed footage on May 3 of their portion of the levee eroding from inside. The river did not crest until Monday night after MetroCenter was evacuated (jump to some photos of the river up against the levee on the morning of May 3).

While the 2010 flood did send a few Salemtown residents scurrying for higher ground and caused many of us some anxious moments at the prospect of evacuation, 3 more feet of water would have headed up farther into the center of the neighborhood if the 2007 maps are accurate. The lesson: it is imperative that our community support all efforts to maintain the dams upriver, especially Kentucky's Wolf Creek facility was could pose disaster for us more catastrophic than the May 2010 flood.

Here is the Metro photo of the sections of Morgan Park and Salemtown flooding as the stormwater sewers to the river backed up toward us.

It looks like it was taken in the afternoon before police shut down 4th Avenue, North, 3rd Avenue, North, and Hume Street (jump to a later photo taken at closed down Hume and 4th intersection later that evening closer to crest).

For many of us this was too wicked close for comfort.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Salemtown house fire tonight: short smart phone video included

A suspicious-looking fire roared to life in the back of an empty home on the 1600 block of 5th tonight around 8:30 or 9:00. Half of the house looked engaged, but firefighters seemed to have it under control soon after they arrived. Fire trucks lined the entire block.

Nearly everyone I spoke to watching the blaze was realistic about the chances of arson, given that the house was old, rundown, and had been on the market for a long time. Other possibilities mentioned by speculating onlookers: squatters or teenagers. Look forward to any future arson reports that might come to us in a neighborhood meeting.

UPDATE: the Fire Marshal interviewed some neighbors and the house owner; one person reports that the Fire Marshal said that the fire was started in the middle of a room in the house on the floor and that it does look like arson.

The Mayor sees something in the Metro Police that we don't

Karl Dean decides to take on Ronal Serpas now that the latter has left for New Orleans. Or maybe he has more strategic designs on police crime stats. More at local knowledge.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 Nashville flood relief: agencies lose cool, get defensive over coverage criticism

When facing community criticism for uneven coverage across hardest hit flood areas in each sector of Nashville, beleaguered non-profits would do best to acknowledge the criticism, admit that attention should have been equally distributed, and assure places like North Nashville that they will work harder to avoid the impression of neglect in the future. However, disaster newby Hands on Nashville did not handle recent criticism of its response gracefully.

"We feel like the process has been pretty good," said Brian Williams, president of Hands On Nashville. "Obviously, when there is a disaster of this scale, you're not going to make everyone whole immediately."
Let's hope that Mr. Williams was quoted out of context, because this is a ridiculous statement that represents a personal attack on North Nashville communities that sat back and watched while efforts focused on wealthier, whiter communities before they got some. It also reflects a callous indifference to the historic neglect that North Nashville faced while Metro resources streamed to points west.

Of course, no one in their right mind expects a small non-profit saddled by the Mayor's Office with the Herculean task of responding to relieve county-wide suffering in the wake of a 1,000 year flood event to "make everyone whole immediately." That was not even the criticism lodged. What some of us do expect is that Hands on Nashville put boots on the ground as quickly in North Nashville neighborhoods as the did elsewhere. Maybe that means less attention in more westward affluent neighborhoods during peak volunteer times. Or maybe it means earlier proactive efforts to tap into northward community leadership networks instead of coordinating a kick-ass social media campaign that recruits thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends for the organization's future.

Either way, Hands on Nashville did not redeem itself by responding defensively to community criticism.

While disaster veteran Red Cross did a little bit better in responding to criticism by saying that it would not be satisfied until it heard from all people saying they feel neglected, its CEO said that he was satisfied with agency response. That comes across a more benign discourtesy. Uneven distribution is still unsatisfactory.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

2010 Tennessee flood: Dispatch from Hickman County

Bells Bend farmers visit some neighbors and are shocked by the destruction they find:
The mayor was stranded in his office in Centerville for four days, without cell phones, land lines, or radio. Hickman County, in the year 2010, a mere 50 miles from Nashville, was completely cut off. Finally someone found an old-fashioned ham radio operator, who could begin to get word out about conditions in the county.

Mike and Sharon have a spring-fed water system and a well, but the county water system has been destroyed--not just the processing plant, but miles of pipes have washed away. I heard an estimate that it would take three months to restore clean water. This is a poor county in the best of times, and people were barely getting by before this disaster.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Civic Design Center/Germantown announce neighborhood gateway design competition

More information here.

2010 Nashville flood: North Nashville believes it is one of the communities ignored by flood relief agencies

Tennessean reporter Nate Rau's coverage of Nashville's neglected neighborhoods is not to be missed:
In the aftermath of the destructive flooding, some neighborhoods feel like they are slipping through the cracks even though the city says it has been sending help as quickly as possible ....

Just as individual volunteers have had to fill the gaps in East and South Nashville, the Bordeaux community, which was hit hard by flooding, has relied on a grass-roots response.

"The response and amount of resources that were put into Bordeaux was slower than some of the other communities that were hit just as hard as Bordeaux," Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr. said, pointing fingers at government, the media and FEMA. "I'm not saying they shouldn't have gotten attention, but the response time should have been equal."

Matthews said grass-roots organizers were planning to set up a long-term assistance center in the Bordeaux area that will serve residents for months.
Jump over to the Tennessean piece to see how some East and South Nashvillians feel left out of relief, too.

2010 Nashville flood: oil, fuel, chemical spill on the Downtown Connector Greenway (photos)

Early on Monday morning, May 3 I walked several blocks from home to the rapidly rising Cumberland River to document the disaster. One of the first things I encountered was a large, flatbed 18-wheeler loaded with a number of bins labeled "used fuel filters" being hauled out of its submerged spot at a 2nd Avenue North cement plant. A plant employee told me that several large trucks had been submerged and showed me how wheel and engine lubricants were washed out and needed to be addressed by mechanics.

Later that afternoon when I returned to the area, I encountered a heavy petroleum smell and I saw black and red liquids floating around the flooded portions Downtown Connector Greenway, which parallels 2nd Avenue. Around a half dozen U.S. Coast Guard officials were present observing and filming the spillage. Metro Water Services employees floated large white cloths on the flood waters. The next day as flood waters receded I observed another crew of MWS workers in heavy boots and gloves, using cloths to mop petroleum spills. I have since learned that a number of companies keep fuel containers on the river and that fuel had likely leaked out into the environment during the flood.

A few days ago I made my way back to the Greenway to get pictures of any remaining visible spillage. Even though the area had got some rain since May 3, the pictures show that environmental problems still remain. Not being a specialist, I do not know how much fuel was spilled on the greenway, nor do I know what other chemicals might be in the soil. The following pictures show some of the strands of tar-like substance that remain on the greenway and its trees.

I sent the following questions last week to my council member, Erica Gilmore, and I'm still awaiting some answers.
  1. The flooding of East Germantown and the Central Wastewater Plant hit fuel and machine parts containers, industrial machinery, and large trucks. Fuel and other chemicals were spilled onto the Downtown Connector greenway and intersections and lawns in East Germantown and back into the river. Have or will tests be run to determine what kinds of toxins are in the neighborhood soil? How safe are we from exposure? Are people being warned to stay out of these public areas until clean-up? When does Metro expect to have spills completely clean? Are there stronger rules Metro can establish for storing toxic materials in East Germantown to prevent such accidents in the future?
  2. During the crest of the Cumberland River some of us were at the site of flooding in Salemtown: Morgan Park. The park has been flooded since last Saturday and it is now slowly receding. In the hours before the crest on Monday, flood water continued to push up from sewers on 3rd and 4th Avenues and into the already flooded park. During that time a reddish-brown substance gathered underneath the water flooding the closed intersection of 4th and Hume. Do we have any idea what chemicals could have come out of these sewers? Given its close proximity to East Germantown, will any tests be performed on Morgan Park soil for toxic substances? The police have worked hard to keep people out of the water standing in the park, but does Metro have plans to clean up the water and any chemicals that may have flooded in when the river was rising?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

If leadership is merely about holding press conferences, then Mayor Dean has been a perfect leader

I'll confess that I'm jaded with it comes to public relations specialists high-fiving government response. I wonder what kinds of contracts the PR flacks either have with Metro Nashville or want to have with Metro Nashville when they attempt to influence public opinion about events.

So, I would not be surprised if information that came to light in the future contradicted claims about how well the local emergency management functioned during May days of flooding. And if Jan Puckett Morrison wants to size up Karl Dean's leadership qualities on the basis of handling the local news media rather than engaging and motivating the community or mobilizing government infrastructure in response, far be it from me to argue with her assessment:
Much of the credit for this goes to Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and all of the heads of Nashville's public agencies for being organized and acting quickly. When the city saw the flood waters start to rise on Sunday, Dean called a news conference with representatives from every possible Metro agency. He addressed the city with facts and real information. He anticipated that the media would have questions about schools, water, sanitation, power, FEMA, road closures and the like, so he asked individuals representing Metro schools, the Police Department, Public Health, Nashville Electric Service, Metro Water Services and emergency management to address media questions.
Since May 1, I've felt that the Mayor has had approached the crisis with a bunker mentality, projecting an image mostly for news conferences and the occasional photo op at a disaster site. Beyond that one is hard pressed to give credit to the Mayor. Credit for quick response in East Nashville goes there to the community itself. North Nashville has suffered for lack of coordination of response regardless of how well the Mayor got his messages out.

There may be a host of wheels the Mayor is turning, levers the Mayor is pressing, and cords the Mayor is pulling behind the curtain. Maybe we'll see them one day and appreciate his hands-on work instead of the media-manager image his administration is trying to project.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010 Nashville flood relief: a curious timeline

East Nashville has been a model of self-help in the wake of last week's historic flooding of Middle and West Tennessee. In the absence of immediate outside help, the Moss Rose community set up their own command center to ferry displaced neighbors in and out to collect belongings. In fact, they may have been fortunate to be able to go it alone, because I'm hearing rumblings around that other neighborhoods who waited for promises to be fulfilled lost in the effort to get immediate relief response.

According to once source, even East Nashville's Moss Rose community, which sits on the west bank of the Cumberland River could not get outside relief aid until the Mayor decided to pay them a visit, and with him an entourage. That source gave me the following timeline:
  • Moss Rose Drive floods deep.
  • Nobody in the Mayor's Office or at the Red Cross shows interest in the destruction until residents in the Mose Rose community start demanding some attention.
  • The Mayor schedules a visit to Moss Rose.
  • The Red Cross shows up shortly before the Mayor's visit.
  • The local news media shows up for the Mayor's photo op.
  • The Mayor shows up, shakes some hands, looks inside a damaged house, and leaves.
  • The local news media leaves.
  • The Red Cross leaves.
I don't know whether the Red Cross came back later, but if it is standard practice of local relief agencies to be more visible when media and Mayor come calling, then neighborhoods who fail to leverage either party or those who do not have East Nashville's community resources are out of luck.

I invite any comments here or e-mails to me from Moss Rose residents or flooded Nashvillians in other parts of town on their experiences with getting relief. The online and broadcast media, both traditional and nontraditional, has been singing the praises of relief agencies and Metro emergency management coordination with practically no criticism. The story about their performance is already being written without dissenting voices in the narrative. Organizations like the Red Cross, Hands on Nashville, Cool People Care, We Are Nashville stand to benefit depending on the narrative told and the history written. Local politicians will run on reputations forged in this crisis, leaving out hyper-local contributions. If there is a minority report on local emergency management we need to make sure it gets included in the story.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How big would BP's Deep Horizon oil spill be if spilled on Nashville rather than on the Gulf Coast?

We all deserve this kind of response from council members in a crisis

Blogging (and now Tweeting) Council Member Emily Evans shows her dedication to resolving infrastructure problems caused by our recent natural disaster:
Restore and recover are the marching orders now. To that end, I have now toured all of that part of the district that lies south of Harding Rd and part of West Meade on the north side. I have inventoried all infrastructure damage and am submitting those to Public Works and Stormwater Management. If you see a problem on your street, please email it to me and I can make sure it is on the list

Debris removal has begun. I do not have a date for pick up in the 23rd yet but as soon as I do, I will let you know. Please refer to the guidelines on debris disposal here.

At What if 1 million Nashvillians had evacuated before last week's floods?

For the last seven days we've listened to an increasing chorus of self-congratulation at the way Nashvillians have handled our recent flooding catastrophe, including veiled referenced to post-Katrina New Orleans.

I don't respond too favorably to that mindset. See how after the jump.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

2010 Nashville flood: all relief is local

Alison Groves reflects on being neighborly through crisis:
Enough has been said about the flood so I won’t go into generalities of that ..., but there is one thing I do want to get out there that I haven’t seen many people talking about.

Your neighborhood.

Tonight, I met up with a few of my neighbors, most of who were complete strangers to me, to hand out food and drinks to folks in the neighborhood who were cleaning out their homes from the flood. The first woman we came across asked us who we were with and when we stated we were just neighbors wanting to make sure everyone was ok, she burst into tears. She told us no one else had been back there yet to help out, and she was so thankful that we had stopped by. I was so blown away by the fact that no one had bothered to walk a block or two over to check on their neighbors and make sure everyone was ok.

I don’t want to diminish the amazing volunteer effort that is going on in this town, for it is something I’ve truly never seen before. I just want to remind people that almost everyone we know was affected by the flood, and those people could be living next door to us or on the next street over.

2010 Nashville flood: North Nashville meeting recap

Last Friday night I attended CM Erica Gilmore's called community meeting at Mt. Zion church with about 30 or 40 other people. Most of the information covered concerned FEMA and Metro water usage and it has been repeatedly broadcast by the media. Unfortunately, I did not get any answers to my questions about environmental impact answered. Jump to a media recap of the meeting.

Friday, May 07, 2010

2010 Nashville flood: Jefferson Street restaurant owner discusses affects on her business

2010 Nashville flood: North Nashville community meeting tonight and questions that should be asked

Council Member Erica Gilmore announced the following meeting a couple days ago:
Council Lady Erica Gilmore will hold a meeting on Friday, May 7, 2010, at 7:00 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Mt. Zion Church (Sanctuary) 1112 Jefferson Street, Nashville, Tennessee 37208.

There are many questions and concerns in regard to the residents in District 19 affected by the recent flood. Council Lady Gilmore and local representatives will be available to give information and updates, and answer any questions you may have with the ongoing recovery efforts.
I understand that CM Gilmore is very busy in this crisis, so I went ahead and e-mailed the pressing questions in my mind about neighborhood flooding:
  1. The flooding of East Germantown and the Central Wastewater Plant hit fuel and machine parts containers, industrial machinery, and large trucks. Fuel and other chemicals were spilled onto the Downtown Connector greenway and intersections and lawns in East Germantown and back into the river. Have or will tests be run to determine what kinds of toxins are in the neighborhood soil? How safe are we from exposure? Are people being warned to stay out of these public areas until clean-up? When does Metro expect to have spills completely clean? Are there stronger rules Metro can establish for storing toxic materials in East Germantown to prevent such accidents in the future?
  2. During the crest of the Cumberland River some of us were at the site of flooding in Salemtown: Morgan Park. The park has been flooded since last Saturday and it is now slowly receding. In the hours before the crest on Monday, flood water continued to push up from sewers on 3rd and 4th Avenues and into the already flooded park. During that time a reddish-brown substance gathered underneath the water flooding the closed intersection of 4th and Hume. Do we have any idea what chemicals could have come out of these sewers? Given its close proximity to East Germantown, will any tests be performed on Morgan Park soil for toxic substances? The police have worked hard to keep people out of the water standing in the park, but does Metro have plans to clean up the water and any chemicals that may have flooded in when the river was rising?
Minutes after I sent the e-mail she replied that she would start looking for answers immediately. If you are available tonight at 7:00 it might be worth your while to attend this meeting.

2010 Nashville flood: Any thoughts on Mayor Karl Dean's NPR broadcast assessment?

I'm curious as to whether there are any thoughts out there about the Mayor's assessment of the economic impact of this week's flood:

Jump to the full interview.

Why New Orleans hired Police Chief Ronal Serpas away from Nashville

Keep up with the comments boards of the local news media and you will see "good-riddance" slams against Ronal Serpas, who has accepted New Orleans' offer (in spite of a salary cut) to become their next Chief of Police, from trolls who presume some understanding of the seemingly halcyon way things were before him. I don't put too much stock in good old boy trolls from Nashville's old school given the accolades that seem to be making Chief Serpas a high demand commodity. I prefer to see them as sour grapes losers of past administration changes, still upset that they were forced to transition in their employment history. In fact, I've coined a term to describe the attitudes of these attack trolls: "Not in My Employment History" or "NIMEH."

The NIMEH faction of Courthouse culture would have us go back to their good old days of the past pecking order, which weren't that good for many Nashvillians before Serpas' hire. Regardless of how inconvenienced you felt at one time or another about being detained from butterflying to your next social function at a Serpas traffic stop for a minor infraction, the man's track record speaks for itself. But if you were ignoring the record like the NIMEH trolls, here's a sampling of what some influential people--to whom a New Orleans task force listened--believe about the Chief:
“We went to the citizens of New Orleans and asked them what they were looking for in the next police chief. The community said very loudly throughout this process that they are looking for a proven leader with a history of reducing crime; someone who understands and practices true community policing; and someone who can facilitate a partnership between the NOPD and every neighborhood in this city. The mayor is correct in his assessment that Ronal Serpas indeed embodies these characteristics,” said Nolan Rollins, President & CEO, Urban League of Greater New Orleans and Co-Chair of the NOPD Task Force ....

“There is an inherent and justifiable mistrust of the police department within the Black community. Chief Serpas acknowledged that and worked to improve the relationship by being accessible to the community and amenable to suggestions as how to achieve it,” said Rev. Sonnye Dixon, pastor of Hobson United Methodist Church and Past President of NAACP-Nashville Branch. “He made some tough decisions and accepted critiques of them from the Black community without being vindictive when we disagree with him. One area of concern that he dealt with when he came to Nashville was the disparity of promotions among minorities and women. He has had a positive impact, increasing the number of minorities in leadership positions. Overall, I believe Nashville is a better city because of his leadership, and I know he will be an outstanding chief for the City of New Orleans” ....

Mayor of Nashville Karl Dean agreed, “Chief Serpas has been a great leader, and a great advocate for public safety in our city and our state. He has moved our Police Department forward in amazing ways in the six years he’s been here. Overall major crime has gone down every single year. Our city is safer today than it was when he got here and safer than its been in many years.”
I can appreciate that some police administrators might feel put out that they had to stoop themselves to write drivers some tickets, but I'm still looking for profound failure or shortcoming during Chief Serpas' tenure. The glowing assessments that moved Ronal Serpas out of Nashville back to his hometown are consistent with the excellent police enforcement we benefit from in Salemtown, and I am worried now that quality community policing here may degrade.

Former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell told current New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, "If you have a chance to get Serpas you ought to get him. He is one of the best in the country." If reports are true and he is one of the best this country offers, we should ask if Mayor Dean did enough to try and keep him.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

2010 Nashville flood: podcast on hyper-local blogging during our crisis

Christy Frink from Nashvillest and I joined Dave and Lucas, hosts of Nashville Tech Feed, to talk about blogging the disastrous events of the past week, including the myth of the piranhas in Opry Mills mall. You can listen to it over at my tumblr page.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

2010 Nashville flood: fallout in the New York Times

NY Times op-ed contributor and Nashville author Ann Patchett reflects on the fallout of The Great Nashville Flood of 2010:

The rain is over; what we’re left with is the life that follows weather. We’re waiting to hear if the water treatment plant is going to close, and when the public schools are going to reopen.

There is a charming expression in the South — when someone says he’ll see you soon, you respond, “God willing and the creeks don’t rise.” I finally get it.

The rest is worth the read.

2010 Nashville flood: North Nashville woman tells AP about her escape from flooding

From today's Houston Chronicle:
Evelyn Pearl Bell was thumbing through water damaged items in her home in north Nashville before she got exhausted and had to take a break as temperatures reached 81 by midday. Since the storm flooded her home Sunday, she's had no running water, electricity or telephone service.

Bell said neighbors had to break through a window to get her out of her house and to safety as the waters crept higher and higher. Then they tied her up and dragged her through the water because she couldn't swim, she said.

"When it happened, the guys had to pull me through the water," Bell said.

2010 Nashville flood: we are Nashville, so let's keep community before commodity

By focusing on music festivals and tourism before the Cumberland River has given Nashville its neighborhoods back, NewsChannel5 is not just putting the cart before the horse. The local CBS affiliate is putting commerce ahead of the human scope of this tragedy. They are ignoring the recovery that must happen at structural and infrastructural levels before we can begin to talk about the luxuries of money-saturated parties for out-of-town guests. They are taking their eye off the ball.

The receding flood waters are going to give up more dead Middle Tennesseans in the next few days and weeks. Before we party we need to mourn and bury our dead. We've got a bulging population of homeless families whose houses and lives are underwater now. We're faced with the prospect of growing numbers of Nashvillians suffering injuries and illnesses from this catastrophic floods. Before we party we need to heal the sick and ease the suffering. Is the local health delivery system prepared to do that? I was hearing of oxygen shortages at hospitals during the floods. Can we square away our hospitals and clinics before we crank up the tunes?

Streets and roads have been washed away. Buildings and other structures that have not been destroyed or irreparably harmed by flood waters will need to be repaired and renovated. The industrial areas on both banks of the Cumberland released petroleum and toxic chemicals into the water and the soil and we will are going to have to clean that all up to protect Nashvillians as well as tourists. Before we can join in a festival to celebrate and support the music industry, we have to be able to play safely in and enjoy our own nontoxic neighborhoods again.

Only one of three water treatment plants is operating. Water reserves are at half capacity while people still water their grass. (There may be some justice in that those with the most grass to water in the suburbs will lose water before urban residents if reserves go down). We don't know how or to what length taxed Metro services may function. Once the waters clear, how are we going to clean up the tons of debris and still assure regular garbage pick up? We do not know the degree to which clean-up is going to sap the Metro budget. We also must consider the transportation needs of many more people who lost vehicles.

And how will a vigorous bid for tourism tax our law enforcement services? If initial reports are correct, the Central Police Precinct almost went down to floodwaters itself. The CMA Festival occurs in the Central Precinct. I'm sure officers are working longer shifts through this. Is the music industry going to demand even more of our cops for the June festival?

I hear stories that in the early stages of the Downtown floods, some building owners thoughtlessly rushed to pump out basements and subterranean garages without stopping to think that those flood waters would end up in someone else's garage or down the storm sewers only to be pushed back out into the streets by the Cumberland River. Asking Nashville to hurry and prepare for CMA when the river hasn't returned to it's banks, when people are still being plucked from flooded homesteads, when we have not addressed the human cost (let alone the economic cost) is just as shortsighted and premature as pumping your flood into everyone's flood.

In fact, the demand is callous. We would not expect an employer to demand employees who have been flooded and injured by historic storms to return to work mere days after a tragedy. Why should we accept attempts by local tourism industry leaders to go on TV and leverage Downtown and Greater Nashville back to the task of preparing for the CMA Festival? By airing this story so soon on the heels of disaster, Brent Frazier and NewsChannel5 are enabling an arbitrary and capricious mission to move us away from the sense of community engendered by shared tragedy and toward the commodities of an industry that does not yet have firm footing.

This story is nothing but putting commodity before community at the worse possible time. Just when the community is beginning to pull together to overcome this disaster, we do not need this distraction so early. There will be a time for tourist-scale celebrations that fill industry coffers, but I will be shocked if that time is June. Let tourism protect its financial interests, but let Nashvillians aspire toward a more common, more human interest. If "We are Nashville," the "We" should include everyone affected by the storm's aftermath. All of us need help, but some more than others.

2010 Nashville flood: Jon Stewart's take

2010 Nashville flood: larger-scale disaster barely averted at Old Hickory Lake's dam

There are a series of dams up Cumberland River from Nashville that the Army Corps of Engineers operates to keep our city and other communities from flooding. Here's a Corp report on how it dealt with the record-breaking rainfall last weekend to avert flooding.

There is an ominous note about the dam at Old Hickory Lake, one of the reservoirs closest to Nashville:

· Old Hickory Lake has been used to hold back water from Nashville and was hit with heavy rainfall on Saturday and Sunday, causing the lake to reach a record elevation of 451.4. At 452, we would have lost control of the project.

This is too close for comfort. Things could have been much worse.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010


It is that momentous. And President Barack Obama has declared us a disaster area.

2010 Nashville flood: Bells Bend farmers take their lumps

A tale of natural disaster and woe from the rural side of Nashville:
It rained. And rained. Something like 9 inches in less than 36 hours. Sulphur Creek was raging, crashing over our bridges and creating rivers running through our pastures. Land on both sides flooded, with a heavy three foot-deep current gnawing away at our compost mountains.

Our tiny side creek, usually a meandering two feet across, roared over its little bridge and made its own river about 70 feet wide, running both into the creek and down into the driveway.

We spent much of the morning drenched, as we slogged around moving things to higher ground: buckets, tools, beehives.

Fletcher called, worried about his chickens. The creek was cascading over the guard rails by the train trestle, intermittently blocking the road into the Bend. The chicks were ok, but the neighbors living in their basement were not, and the boys helped them move their furniture upstairs.

The Cumberland at Clees Ferry was up nearly to the top of the boat ramp, and later, I'm told, flooded far up the road, including the sod farm. This morning I passed semi-trailers completely under water at the Gun Club, and our side of Briley is closed, along with White Bridge Road.

We are counting our losses: substantial for us, but small compared to others in the area. Mainly, all 240 shitake logs, representing a massive amount of work by Eric the Farmer and his buddies, are on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. Think cutting trees, hauling them out of the woods, cutting them up into 240 4-foot sections, and drilling and packing with mushroom spawn, then stacking and re-stacking. That work has all just floated away.

Our raging pasture river pulled down about a hundred feet of 8-foot fencing, and, of course, the farm road is pitted and scarred and scattered with twenty-pound rocks carried here from somewhere upstream.
Jump over to read the rest. It isn't all bad.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Keith Olbermann's Special Comment on 2010 Nashville flood

UPDATE: MSNBC seems to have removed the video. Here is a copy of the same:

Photos of 2010 Nashville flood, including 4th Avenue, North closure

Photos of 2010 Nashville flood, Salemtown primary flood area now is at 4th & Hume

The intersection of 4th Avenue North and Hume Street seems to be the 1st point of flooding for Salemtown due to the Cumberland River's rise. Despite the fact that rain and run-off to the depressed park ballfield ended last night, water has continued to rise and the sewers on the corners stopped gulping water as they did over the weekend. I don't claim to be an engineer, but it looks to me like the flooding is due to a combination of water table rise and the river backing up toward Salemtown through our storm sewers.

The rising water is also driving tenants of the partially inundated Shiloh Apartments like this fellow to voluntarily evacuate (photo credit: Donna Keeney). According to news reports, the Cumberland River is suposed to crest between 8:00 and 11:00 tonight, although dam engineers up river have talked about releasing more water into the Cumberland to relieve pressure.

Photos: The last 2010 Nashville flood picture Metro allowed me to take of Central Wastewater Treatment plant

I took these photos shortly after 3:00p from the 2nd Avenue North road block Metro Water Services had set up to keep traffic out of the Cumberland River area. As you can see, the flooding river has totally breached the embankment I stood on this morning to make photos, as well as covered Cement Plant Road.

As I snapped these, a MWS truck drove up and told the security guard need needed to move the road block about 2 blocks farther away to Van Buren Street, so I feel fortunate to have taken these when I did. Reports are circulating that the treatment plant is now inundated and no longer operating. Reportedly sewerage is flowing into the Cumberland River.

Photo of 2010 Nashville flood: Salemtown, 3rd Avenue, North closed by flooding

This portion of Salemtown's east border was closed down before 4:00p.

Photos of 2010 Nashville flood, MetroCenter levee, Cumberland River

I took these photos from the Clarksville Highway bridge on the northwest side of the Cumberland River Levee Greenway at MetroCenter about 4 hours ago.

Photos of 2010 Nashville flood in East Germantown

Photos of 2010 Nashville flood, Central Wastewater Treatment Plant, Downtown Connector Greenway, Cumberland River

I took the following photos several hours ago along the last embankment separating the Cumberland River from the Metro Water Services Central Wastewater Treatment Plant. The river comes up to the embankment and Cement Plant Road in places and spills over in others. The non-flood river's edge is typically 200-300 feet from this embankment. As a result large sections of the Downtown Greenway connector that runs along this route are submerged by water, in some cases, yards of water.

The first three pictures are of flooded biosolids facility of the MWS and the greenway that runs past it.

The next three were taken from Cement Plant Road toward the Cumberland River.

Flood water streamed into the treatment toward holding tanks, partially submerging a security fence and treatment machinery.

Finally, more photos from the road toward the Cumberland. The second picture in this series shows the Cumberland swallowing the road toward the north, barring access to the MetroCenter levee, which starts just north of the I-65 bridge in the background. The local news media report that the MetroCenter levee is leaking.