Congressman Jim Cooper

Representing the 5th District of Tennessee

Cooper Op-Ed: Quarry near Old Hickory Dam must be stopped

Mar 25, 2016
Press Release

Published in the Tennessean

Nashville is about to lose one of its few beaches, a small part of Old Hickory Lake, and even risk harming the dam itself. Why? Because a local developer wants to blast a new quarry in the wrong place, on land touching the beach and the dam.

Unless we stop it, this will be a chronic nightmare. Quarry blasting lasts for decades. Dynamiting is dangerous, causing seismic shocks, airblasts and flyrock. The Army Corps of Engineers quietly warns that this quarry “will pose a likely hazard to the public” on the beach as well as boaters offshore. Will it post such signs for the public? Who wants to visit such a place? Who wants to live nearby?

Say goodbye to the recreation area and its 80,000 annual visitors, but the quarry could do worse damage than that. The unknown risk is to the dam’s earthen levee, which, shockingly, is built on 15 feet of wet, loose sand. Our levee already collapsed once, in the 1970s; collapsing again could literally cost us hundreds of millions of dollars.

Weakened dams are one of the most expensive things in the world to repair. We taxpayers are already paying to repair two dams further upriver from Nashville, a cost of about $550 million apiece. These dams had major problems although they were built on rock. Why even risk damaging our sand-foundation levee at Old Hickory?

The worst-case scenario is, of course, breach of the levee, flooding Nashville and draining Old Hickory Lake. Remember the floods of 2010? Damages like that are in the billions of dollars.

This quarry makes no sense, so almost every elected official in Davidson County is fighting it. But our system of government is failing us, despite our near-unanimity. The quarry’s lobbyists are winning. Unless we win fast, the quarry will start blasting and won’t stop.

We have two basic options: 1) persuade the Corps to intervene or 2) buy the quarry.

You might think that the Corps would be the first to defend its own property, but you would be wrong. Although the Texas region of the Corps won’t even allow oil and gas drilling within 4,000 feet of its dams — and won’t allow fracking within 5 miles — our Nashville Corps is not so decisive. And dynamiting is worse than drilling. One of the top Corps generals is coming to visit our dam on March 29, so we will see if he will defend his beach, his dam and our city.

If the Corps cannot be persuaded, then the Metro Council may have to pay millions of dollars to buy the quarry site (155 acres) just to defend ourselves. That is probably what the quarry developer is hoping, since we paid it $10 million in the 1980s when another of its quarries had to be purchased by the public. That quarry blocked the second runway at Nashville International Airport! This developer seems to make a habit of standing in the way of Nashville’s progress.

Whatever path we take, we cannot let this quarry hurt Nashville. The Corps is our first line of defense and should protect us. But if it won’t, we may have to buy out the developer … again. It paid $2 million for the land. The beach alone is worth more than that, at least to its 80,000 annual visitors.

And don’t forget: Nashville needs stricter land-use and zoning laws so this predicament never, ever, ever happens again.