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Unicoi Commission votes to oppose Buffalo Valley stream mitigation plan

Hannah Swayze • Nov 26, 2018 at 10:54 PM

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission voted unanimously Monday night to oppose Johnson City’s stream mitigation plan to restore about 25 linear acres of natural wetlands on the Buffalo Valley Golf Course property. 

As a commission, the group will send a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which opened up a public comment period to the public at the beginning of November. The letter will oppose the project in hopes that the permits for the city of Johnson City will not be approved. 

The stream mitigation project would restore the streams feeding Buffalo Creek, the Watauga River and the South Fork of the Holston River that were degraded in the development of the golf course. In addition, the city of Johnson City would then have municipality credits that could then be sold to companies developing in natural areas to offset their effects on the environment. It’s a project that has the potential to make anywhere from $2.8 to $4.6 million in revenue for the city. 

However, when the meeting agenda reached the topic, it was obvious that even though the plan was not set in stone, there were plenty of people who did not want it to come to fruition. 

When the plan arose in the meeting, John Mosley began the discussion by strongly encouraging the other commissioners to vote in opposition of the project. He said it would decrease the value of the homes in the Buffalo Valley subdivision and affect county taxes. 

Citizens attending the meeting also voiced concerns about the change to the now-closed golf course. 

Andy Landers, a resident of the Buffalo Valley Subdivision, said that many of his neighbors were not in favor of the plan and that they were forming a sort of makeshift homeowners association to combat it. He said that most of the people who bought their homes there bought them because of the golf course and are worried not only about the value of their property declining, but also about the animals and the mosquitos that will come with the restored wetlands. 

Landers says he understand the project and where the city is coming from, but he doesn’t think that it should be in that particular location.

“If it’s out in the middle of nowhere, that’s fine. But not in the middle of the largest subdivision in Unicoi County,” Landers said.

Various commissioners voiced their disappointment in the conflict and the lack of communication about the project that affects Unicoi County residents. 

“It is really discouraging as much as we talk about regionalism, I would like to think that it’s a regional problem and should be talked about regionally,” said Matthew Rice, Unicoi County commissioner.

Whether or not it will affect the county financially, it is still unclear whether or not the county will be able to tax the land after the project is done. Also up in the air is what will be done with the leftover land not affected by the mitigation.

The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen also voted Nov. 19 to oppose the mitigation plan. Landers said they will not know whether or not the permits to restore the land are approved until January. 

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

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