Story last updated at 12:45 p.m. on Tuesday, April 18, 2000

People living by Coal Creek fear for lives, houses

by Donna Smith
Oak Ridger staff

When the rain comes down, some people living along Coal Creek in the Fraterville and Briceville communities start wondering if they'll have to be evacuated.

One of those is 78-year-old Anna Mae Evans, according to the Rev. Roy Daugherty of Briceville Community Church. He told Anderson County commissioners Monday that Evans stays up all night when it rains so she can leave if she has to to avoid getting trapped by floodwaters. Several times in the past Briceville's volunteer firefighters have had to carry her out of her home, he said.

"We kind of love her and we don't want anything to happen to her," Daugherty said.

Daugherty and others from the communities carried petitions and obtained signatures of 194 residents who want the Anderson County Board of Commissioners to clean up Coal Creek, which runs through Briceville, Fraterville and Lake City.

The problem is endangering people's lives and property, the pastor said. Many of the houses along the banks of Coal Creek are now inhabited by the second and third generations of some families, he explained.

"We are in an emergency situation up there," the pastor said.

"I don't want to make any false promises," Anderson County Executive Rex Lynch told the residents who presented the petitions to the County Commission during its meeting Monday at the Anderson County Courthouse.

Lynch said he and Alan Beauchamp, director of buildings and grants, have been researching the different avenues of funding the project since Lynch's election in 1998.

"It's a very expensive project," he said, estimating that it would cost at least $1 million. The Office of Surface Mining may be one area where a grant can be secured for the project, he said, but first, the county has to complete the OSM and county-funded project to bring water to the citizens of Vowell Mountain. The Tennessee Valley Authority is another possible source of revenue, he said, but no matter where the bulk of the money is found, the county will have to provide some local revenue to match grants.

"I've waited 25 years for it to be corrected," said longtime County Commissioner Albert Slusher. He said $30,000 for cleaning up Coal Creek was allocated by commission in the years he served as county judge, the predecessor to the county executive's position. He recalled that the county entered into an agreement with TVA in the 1960s to keep brush, silt and debris cleaned out of the creek but the county didn't hold up its end of the bargain.

Commissioners said the creek hadn't been cleaned out for approximately 20 years. Commissioner Mike Cox said the last cleanup was at the 'Y' area where travelers decide whether to travel to Beech Grove and Vowell Mountain or Fraterville and Briceville.

Cox said it affects not only Briceville and Fraterville but Lake City, as well. He said there is a flooding problem behind the Lake City Middle School, where he works as a teacher, and it was the main factor behind the flooding of David's Apartments located across from the school on Lake City Highway.

Lynch said correcting the problem won't be as simple as in the past. He said the Environmental Protection Agency will likely have to give approval for cleanup efforts because of laws now in effect.

Commissioners said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could possibly help, as it had in the past, and as had former county-employed engineer Bob Campbell. He surveyed the creek and got easements from residents to take action, although no money became available to take action, according to commissioners.

"I don't think we have a good handle on the entire program," County Engineer Todd Johnson said. An initial survey of the creek would cost approximately $35,000, he said.

If only half of the creek's banks were to be repaired with rocks, the project would cost $400,000, he estimated.

The commission approved a motion from Slusher that Johnson get busy in coming up with a report on the project and on what is needed.

Daugherty commented on an initiative by the Coal Creek Clean Stream Coalition to improve water quality. He said the community is not opposed to the actions of the group but he doesn't want that group to get monies that are needed for the creek cleanup.

After the discussion, he said he and the group of residents who attended the commission meeting with him now felt hopeful that the commission knows of their concerns and would work toward cleaning up the creek in the future.

Denise Palmer, Lynch's administrative assistant, said an engineer interested in the issue would take Lynch's staff and any interested commissioners on a tour of the creek to look at the problems Thursday.