County may get relief from state 5-feet stream buffer zone rule

Blount County may be getting some relief from the state Department of Environment and Conservation regarding the 5 feet stream buffer zone county commissioners have been debating for months.

The county was fined $5,000 for missing a deadline earlier this year to create a stream buffer around streams in the county to protect the quality of the water. Commissioners and County Mayor Jerry Cunningham have met with state officials in an attempt to come to an agreement.

While water quality was one issue, another controversial aspect of the situation was the rights of property owners with land adjacent to the streams.

County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said the public needs to know the federal clean water act did not mandate a water buffer zone nor did state law mandate a water buffer zone. “The water buffer zone was the dreamchild of some employee of TDEC who promulgated the rule,” he said. “Interestingly, the state of Mississippi recently has enacted legislation prohibiting a state department from promulgating rules which are more stringent than federal law.”

The mayor said he has discussed with Rep. Joe McCord introduction of similar legislation in Tennessee. “These kinds of decisions by the beauracracy only create multiple headaches and tread on private property rights without legislative authority, in my opinion,” he said. “These kinds of things need to be reined in.”

The mayor said it’s very apparent the message was not sent out to the counties that “buried with all the burdensome rules” was criteria allowing counties to opt out of buffer coverage across the state and that it was only required in an urbanized zone. “Nobody knew. It took an environmental lawyer to ferret this out,” Cunningham said.

The mayor said every commissioner with whom he has spoken has been very pleased. “Most of the commissioners have indicated that they want the county opted out except in urban growth boundary, and they will allow 5-feet buffer to apply within the urban growth boundary or follow the lead of Maryville and Alcoa within their portion of the urban growth boundary,” he said.

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