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City revising wetlands mitigation plan for Buffalo Valley

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 12, 2019 at 9:30 PM

Johnson City is revising plans for stream bank mitigation proposed for the former Buffalo Valley Golf Course in Unicoi based on multiple environmental concerns revealed in an Army Corps of Engineers review of the project.

Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola told the Johnson City Press last week the new plans might reduce the project by about half.

According to a project description made public by the Corps of Engineers last fall, the city proposed to restore, reestablish and enhance approximately 12,800 linear feet of streams in the Buffalo Creek watershed that were degraded and modified during the property’s use as a golf course.

The purpose was to create a bank of credits for natural wetlands restoration that the city could sell to developers with projects that affect other natural areas, for a total credit sale value estimated at between $2.8 to $4.6 million.

During a public comment period that concluded on Dec. 31, the governing boards of Unicoi County and the town of Unicoi passed resolutions opposing the project based on the objections of neighboring property owners and anticipated declines in surrounding property values and property tax revenues.

A Jan. 29 letter from the Corps of Engineers to the engineering firm contracted by the city to design the project cites concerns ranging from multiple utility lines and utility easements within the project area to the management of herbicides and pesticides contained in the sediments of golf course ponds.

The Corps of Engineers released the letter last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act petition submitted by former Unicoi Alderman Roger Cooper, who in turn shared the letter with local media.

Corps of Engineers concerns:

• Wastewater main running along the bank of one stream and several water lines, waste water line and power transmission line crossings multiple streams within the mitigation area;

• Drainage tiles across numerous sections of the mitigation area;

• A lack of hydric characteristics in any of the mapped soils in the mitigation area;

• A large spring-fed wetlands feature that could be affected if water level inside the mitigation area changes;

• Mobilization of nitrate, phosphorus and other nutrient runoff into Buffalo Creek;

• Management of herbicides and pesticides contained in the sediments of three golf course ponds;

• Lack of hydrology sufficient to support reestablishment of sections of two streams; and

• Significant risk to funding for long term management of project area posed by contingency of general fund allocations rather than a fixed funding source.

The letter instructs the city to address each of the concerns and submit the revised plans for another review by the Corps of Engineers.

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