ELIZABETHTON — The decision by the Carter County Commission on Monday to establish a zone of dense vegetation along a 1,000-foot strip where the Little Doe River runs through the Roan Mountain Community Park may not take effect.
Monday’s vote was contingent upon the proposal receiving the approval of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. On Tuesday, the Carter County Planning Commission learned the district TEMA representatives oppose the plan.
Planning Director Chris Schuettler said he discussed the matter with TEMA on Monday. He said the agency opposed the proposal because it had the potential to cause floods.
Schuettler said the reason for TEMA’s concerns is that the land along the river was purchased with the intention of maintaining it as a flood way. The purchase came after the Doe River flood of 1998 that killed seven people and caused millions of dollars in damage.
He said that floodway was intended not only to keep the water flowing, but to allow the river to expand during times of heavy rains or snow melt. The county received more than $2 million in state and federal money at the time.
Schuettler said he became concerned during Monday’s County Commission meeting when he learned of a mitigation plan proposed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. That plan would have created the dense vegetation zone, which the county would have agreed not to mow. The plan also included the planting of trees along the stream.
“That would have been like placing a small dam in the stream,” Schuettler said before the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday.
When the plan was being discussed on Monday, Schuettler listened with interest when Mayor Leon Humphrey and an engineer with the firm of Mattern and Craig presented the plan to the County Commission on Monday for approval. They told the commissioners the plan needed quick approval so the Gap Creek Highway project could be let in December. Without the commission’s action, the project would be delayed until February.
As the flood zone officer for the county, Schuettler said he was disturbed by what he heard and how the commission was being asked to quickly vote on the matter without prior study. He said he the plan had not even been shown to him before it was brought to the commission.
Schuettler quickly jumped to his feet and urged a delay in the vote until he had a chance to contact officials at TEMA and FEMA. The delay was granted and Schuettler said he finally talked to a TEMA official after contacting the officer’s wife.
Even though the mitigation plan for the park may be dead, Schuettler said his contacts with Mattern and Craig indicate the mitigation was not necessary after all.
Schuettler said he received an email on Monday afternoon from Matt Colbaugh, the Mattern and Craig consulting engineer on the project. Craig said he had talked with TDOT and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials and said “we’ve decided that we will generate enough credits on the Mill Race and Buffalo Creek sites to mitigate for TDOT’s impacts (on Gap Creek); therefore, at this time, we do not need to implement the proposed riparian buffer plan along the Little Doe River.”
Mill Race and Buffalo Creek are mitigation sites that were approved by the Elizabethton City Council as part of the same Gap Creek Highway project that was going to involve the Roan Mountain park.
In other matters, the planners approved the county code of ethics and adopted the latest International Building Codes.