The Oak Ridger
May 18, 2000

Story last updated at 12:58 p.m. on Thursday, May 18, 2000

Trout spawning or flood prevention -- quality of life goal the same

by Donna Smith
Oak Ridger staff

CLINTON -- An engineer's community service project to make Coal Creek fit for the spawning of trout may help nearby residents in their quest to get debris removed from the creek in order to stop flooding.

No matter, said Engineer Barry Thacker, the main objective is to improve the quality of life in and around the Coal Creek watershed. Coal Creek extends from Lake City to the nearby mountainous communities of Fraterville, Briceville and Beech Grove.

Thacker explained his service project, the Coal Creek Clean Stream Initiative, to people Monday night in the Anderson County Courthouse. He said since 1977 mining companies have been putting $200 million to $250 million a year into the federal Abandoned Mine Land Trust to restore and clean up land and waters near abandoned mines. A total of approximately $1.6 billion now exists for these efforts across the nation, he said.

While many states hire engineers to develop project proposals to submit to the government to obtain money, he said, Tennessee doesn't have the funds for hiring engineers. That's one reason he took up the Coal Creek initiative for a service project, he said, with another being that Coal Creek was one of the first areas he worked on when he came to the state in the 1980s.

He works as a consultant with various groups, including mining companies, on assessing and correcting environmental matters.

Coal Creek needed "a good story" to set it apart from other entities applying for funds, he said.

"I'm a trout fisherman, like I said," Thacker told the audience composed of mainly county commissioners. "I fish the Clinch River."

But the supply of trout in the Clinch is sparse, he explained, and that got him to thinking about Coal Creek's possibilities. He showed photos of Coal Creek that look almost identical to streams in the Smoky Mountains, where trout fishing is now good.

He submitted his idea to take environmental action that would enable trout to spawn in Coal Creek to the federal Office of Surface Mining, which oversees the revenue for the projects.

OSM officials loved it, he said.

The officials identified the various actions Thacker must take to apply for the funds. Those actions include forming a group of watershed supporters, getting the support of local government and obtaining permission from landowners to work on the land near the creek.

He got the support outside Anderson County, he explained, illustrating his point by saying that a professor and 15 students from a college in Maine came to Briceville for a special day highlighting the Coal Creek watershed -- but few people from Anderson County attended.

"Inside Anderson County people act like I've got leprosy or something," he said, joking that next time he'd take on planting flowers as his community service project.

The Maine students and professor read about the initiative on Thacker's Web page at, which is getting many visitors, he said.

He talked to teachers at Briceville Elementary about the project and to Jim Stewart, Anderson County director of schools, about getting the students involved. The teachers' input on how they wanted the Briceville clinic reopened to provide health services for needy children led Thacker to incorporate quality-of-life issues into his plans that will be submitted to the OSM, he explained.

He also met with a Tennessee Valley Authority engineer as part of his project, and that engineer gave Thacker a "preview" of a report on Coal Creek that will be sent to county officials in a month. That preview, he said, includes:

* TVA officials' judgment that the work done on Coal Creek in the 1970s is still doing its work in controlling flooding.

* The fact that there would still have been some flooding even if the county had been maintaining the creek since the 1970s -- as was agreed upon between TVA and the county. The county didn't follow through on this pact, which has upset residents living alongside the creek.

* A TVA recommendation to the Federal Emergency Management Agency that Coal Creek is much in need of restudy. FEMA would give funds to TVA to restudy the creek situation and that study could then be sent to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, he said.

Any federal or state money obtained by Thacker's project or the county government would be used to improve the creek situation, which is a common goal, Thacker indicated.

Residents along Coal Creek have been petitioning the commission to get debris cleaned from the creek and for other assistance in stopping flooding along the creek.

On Monday night, the Rev. Roy Daugherty told commissioners, at their meeting in the Courthouse, that Briceville and Fraterville people met Friday and voted to support Project Impact, a federal program that aims to prevent disasters.

Project Impact is perhaps the best way to get funds to take care of the problem since the "county is broke," Daugherty said.

The commission Monday night approved a motion supporting Project Impact and supporting Thacker's stream initiative. County Executive Rex Lynch said County Engineer Todd Johnson could work with Thacker in coordinating efforts, which he had listed as one of his needs for the county to support.

Commissioners also instructed Lynch to proceed in work to get federal monies for Coal Creek work.

In a related matter, the commission approved a resolution urging the U.S. secretary of the Interior to increase the disbursement of funds under the Abandoned Mine Land Trust, enabling more old mine sites to be reclaimed and the cleanup of water resources in the state, efforts which would also provide more jobs.

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