As Martin Mill Pike exits the city limits heading west, it grows more tree-lined and curvy, more reminiscent of its days as a farm community nestled in a wilderness. The road rises into the remainder of that wilderness, with curves that grow ever more precarious until they angle into a daunting Dead Man’s Curve and the surrounding land alternately drops off and reaches higher into verdant swaths of forest and the homes they hide.
It has long been a secret treasure known mostly to brave South Knoxvillians and a few unsuspecting visitors looking for a shortcut to Gov. John Sevier Highway. Some described it as being like a patch of the Smokies in the center of southwest Knox County.
A few years ago, however, a great gash appeared in one of the hollers. A mystery to most, it turned out to be a construction and demolition landfill, destined to hold the crumbled debris from the old Baptist Hospital site.
Not lovely, but legal, the property that has belonged to the James Harris family for more than 100 years was filled with the debris of the former hospital. But that wasn’t all.
“They have included dumps from multiple sites throughout Knox, Blount and other counties,” says George Lott, whose farm on Brown Road backs up to the landfill site. “Nobody really recognized what was going on.”
In March, George and Leila Lott and their neighbors found out that Blount Excavating was trying to obtain a Use on Review to legally use the 52-acre site for a construction and demolition landfill. The company was to make its case in front of the Metropolitan Planning Commission; it postponed month after month after month, all the while allowing dump trucks – from 50 up to 100 a day – to deposit their contents on the site at around $350 a load.
One or both of the Lotts and many of their neighbors have attended every subsequent MPC meeting, “understanding that it’s going to be postponed,” says George, “but just in case,” says Leila.
“They’re playing a game,” she adds.
“We heard last week that they were going to ask for (a postponement till) September,” says George. But the company’s request now is on the agenda for the MPC meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12, at the City County Building.
The community’s concerns are plentiful. The first is the potential harm to the environment throughout a large section of South Knox County.
“Knob Creek is downhill from that site,” says Leila. “And there are two streams – one to the north and one to the south of the site – and they flow right into Knob Creek.
She says she got a copy of the package Blount Excavating submitted to the MPC, and when she compared the submitted map to the official one on KGIS she noticed that it didn’t show two springs on the proposed landfill site, even though it included ones on surrounding properties.
“They’ve already asked for waivers to be 100 feet next to wells and neighbors, instead of the required 500 feet,” she says. “They’ve asked for a waiver to not be groundwater tested. That shows you the lack of concern and consideration for our community.”
George, a contractor who’s familiar with the disposal of construction and demolition debris, says there’s no way to guarantee that all the materials brought to the landfill will fit the category. Hazardous chemicals could make their way to the groundwater and pollute Knob Creek – which runs to Dara’s Garden and I.C. King Park on Maryville Pike and eventually to the Tennessee River.
“They’re telling us they’ll only bring gravel, asphalt, concrete, rock, dirt to the location,” says George. “That’s what they’re presenting to us. Our problem is, everything they’ve done to this point, they’ve done it and asked for forgiveness instead of applying (for permission upfront). They absolutely followed none of the protocol.”
He says three other landfills in the metropolitan area are open to C&D dumping: Poplar Creek off Rutledge Pike, Chestnut Ridge at Raccoon Valley off I-75 and the Riverside Drive Landfill, the closest to the Martin Mill site.
“The current dumps that we have are projected to have enough fill to accommodate 100 years of (dumping),” says Leila. “We don’t need this in South Knoxville.”
Safety is another big issue.
“I videotaped a dump truck I got behind; twice it went over the yellow line,” says Leila. “A neighbor on Martin Mill took a picture of one of the dump trucks narrowly missing a school bus.”
Not only do school buses travel Martin Mill, but so do bicyclists. The road has markings to let drivers know to share the road with cyclists. Many neighbors have complained about dump trucks speeding on the road.
Noise from the dumping is loud and stressful as the trucks bang their containers to get all the residue out.
“Our son is in Special Forces,” says Leila. “He takes his military friends back there. A lot of them suffer from PTSD, and for 15 years he’s taken people back there to our little patio by the creek where they can just chill out and talk. I’ve seen ’em jump when one of those dump trucks starts banging.”
The Lotts say the land around the site is beautiful, and it’s enjoyed by both people and wildlife.
“We’ve got all these wonderful bike trails; we’ve got all these wonderful parks,” says Leila. “We’re trying to make South Knoxville a destination.
“I think we’ve had enough” of Blount Excavating’s excuses, she says. “It’s not fair to this community. We’ve put our life on hold, really, over this.”