Congressman Jim Cooper

Representing the 5th District of Tennessee


Mar 8, 2016
Press Release

Tennessee State House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee Hearing
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s Testimony on HB 2292, the Dam Safety Act
March 8, 2016

JIM COOPER:  Thank you Chairman Lollar, members of the committee. I am deeply grateful for your distinguished service to our state.

CHAIRMAN LOLLAR: Please quote your name.

COOPER: I’m Jim Cooper, Congressman from the Fifth Congressional District of Tennessee. I come to the legislature very, very rarely, and it’s a sign today of the importance of this issue that I am here. And I’m not coming complaining about some “not in my backyard” issue.

This is an issue that has to do with the jurisdiction of the federal government, or really, the lack of jurisdiction. So let me explain the case.

First, I personally am strongly against the proposed quarry and blasting near the Old Hickory Dam in Davidson County. Second, not only is this a bipartisan effort with Bill Beck and with Steve Dickerson, Senator Steve Dickerson, it’s a nearly unanimous effort on the part of the Davidson County delegation against this proposed blasting. I have rarely ever seen an effort that is this unified. Almost every member of the Davidson County delegation has signed a petition, as well as of course the residents in the area.

The problem is this: First, and this is according to the Army Corps of Engineers letter that was written to me in December, and I believe the committee has a copy of this letter.

First, the Corps says that quote, “It’s a likely hazard to the public” for anybody to be at the beach there at Old Hickory Park and recreation area due to the fly-rock and air-blasts resulting from the blasting from the quarry. This is a park and recreation area that has seen some eighty thousand visitors a year.
The Corps also warns that boaters in the area are in jeopardy. So we have an already crowded, small lake that will become even smaller as a result of this proposed quarry.

Second, in addition to the known damage to the recreation area, you might as well give it up right now. We risk damage to the earthen portion of the dam that is immediately adjacent to the quarry. It abuts the quarry. And the Corps also says in its letter, and this is a quote, “That the foundation of the earthen portion of the dam is fifteen feet in thickness of saturated, loose sands.” End of quote. Everybody on this committee knows that it’s much better to build on rock than on sand. But even rock in our area has not been safe.

Already the tax payers of this area and this nation have had to pay 1.1 billion dollars in repair damage to dams upstream further up Old Hickory.  For us to risk damage to Old Hickory dam, the closest dam to Nashville, whose earthen portion of the dam is built on sand, would be a needless and foolish risk. The Corps strictly speaking has no jurisdiction over any property-even one inch from federal lands.

But the Corps is sufficiently concerned about this issue to have written me a letter, and to have pointed out these things like the fifteen feet of sandy foundation, and the known hazard to the folks on the beach. But the Corps’ approach, and the rest of the letter is basically to measure the dimensions of a disaster rather than to prevent it. I think it’s much more important for us as policy makers, whether the State or the Federal level, to prevent disasters.

Now, no one on earth, not even the smartest engineer knows exactly how great a risk we face, but we do know from the damages we’ve already paid on dams upstream that it’s about a five hundred-million-dollar repair risk. And it could be as much as a two-billion-dollar flood risk because that’s what the City of Nashville faced in 2010. And the headwaters of Old Hickory Lake are sixty feet above the City of Nashville, our State Capitol.

So why are we even thinking about taking a five hundred-million-dollar risk, or possibly even a two-billion-dollar risk for a two-million-dollar quarry? A quarry that reputable quarry owners rejected. This doesn’t make any sense.

 And I ask this committee, I plead with this committee to save the City of Nashville and not subject us to this needless risk. It’s much better to prevent a disaster than to measure its dimensions. Mr. Chairman, taxpayers should not be subjected to this risk. The sensible thing to do is to support Bill Beck’s, Representative Beck’s, Bill-and Senator Steve Dickerson’s Bill and save the City of Nashville from this needless risk. It’s a guaranteed risk to the folks on the beach, but it’s a needless risk to the private citizens, homeowners, and small business people all the way down the river. This is not a step that the City of Nashville should take.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I’m at your disposal if you have any questions or if I can supply any materials to you. 

LOLLAR: Does anyone have any questions for the Congressman while he’s still here?

REP. G.A. HARDAWAY: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and good morning to you Congressman. To sum up what you just told us, if we use the scenario where this was federal land and the Corps did have authority, you’re projecting that they’re opinion would be?

COOPER: The Corps is deeply concerned about locating a quarry so close to their property, but they do not have any power to tell private land owners what to do with private land. They assume that there will be sensible state regulation to prevent needless hazards from being constructed so close to federal property.

They even proposed in their own letter that the quarry company be required for the life of the quarry, which could be forty, sixty years to put very expensive, very sensitive monitoring equipment on the earthen portion of the dam-the earthen sandy portion of the dam at company expense. And the company is not likely to unless they are forced to by folks like you on this committee. So the Corps has acknowledged the danger.

The general from the Corps is scheduled to come visit Nashville on this issue on March 29. I wish he could come sooner but the Corps’ eight-page report, single spaced is already in the hands of this committee. And no one could read that report without seeing the fifteen feet of sand foundation, no one would run a report to their folks back home that yes they allowed blasting next to something with a foundation of sand. That just doesn’t make sense, certainly not for the Capitol City of this great State.

HARDAWAY: Thank you sir, thank you Chairman.