Buffalo Valley stream mitigation is worth a look

Johnson City Press • Nov 10, 2018 at 7:45 AM

The city of Johnson City has an opportunity to make a few bucks — actually, more than a few bucks if projections are correct — while restoring the environmental integrity of Buffalo Creek near its former golf course in Unicoi County.

Press News Editor Nathan Baker reported this week the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened a public comment period for a stream-mitigation project in the Buffalo Creek watershed that could see the city restoring 10,005-linear feet of streams. City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola emphasized the project is in its early stages and has yet to be considered by the City Commission, but the mitigation work could result in Johnson City receiving between $2.8 million and $4.6 million.

Such a windfall would be possible by the creation of a mitigation bank for Johnson City, which would give the municipality credits that could be sold to companies developing projects elsewhere that may affect natural areas. To offset the changes to the environment their projects make, federal law allows the companies to purchase credits from restoration and conservation projects.

If Johnson City undertakes such a project at Buffalo Valley, it could create about 9,279 credits that would sell for $300 to $500 each incrementally over the next five years.

This is no "pie in the sky" proposition. And it is far from being a Ponzi scheme, as critics often falsely label such environmental offsets. Many communities across this country and other nations are currently reaping financial and environmental rewards from such projects.

It seems only natural Johnson City, being a municipal trendsetter in this region, should be taking a look at the idea for the sake of its taxpayers and the environment.

The Army Corps of Engineers say streams that feed into Buffalo Creek, the Watauga River and the South Fork of the Holston were degraded and modified during the property’s time as a golf course. In fact, golf courses are infamous for the groundskeeping chemicals that find their way into local streams.

To restore the channels of the Buffalo Valley watershed, the city would change and reroute them to mimic natural patterns and flows, put in logs and rocks to create aquatic habitats and plant native vegetation.

As Baker noted in his story, the mitigation bank project is a more lucrative option for Buffalo Valley than the lone public offer the city has received for closed golf course. The town of Unicoi offered $400,000 for the 121-acre property, but withdrew its bid in April after aldermen learned the city planned to dig up topsoil at the site.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ public comment period is open until Nov. 30. For more information or to make a comment, email Ryan Evans at [email protected] Comments may also be sent to Evans at 3701 Bell Road, Nashville, TN 37214.

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