co meeting

What was scheduled to be a Sixth District Town Hall meeting hosted by County Commissioners Terry Carter and Wendell Wilson and School Board member Victor Randolph became a sounding board for a couple dozen people who had complaints about their property being damaged by blasting in the area.

As a result, the first portion of the town hall meeting was turned over to a representative of the Tennessee Fire Marshal's Office and Crab Orchard Mayor Willard Sherrill, both who spoke to the group for some time about what was being planned to address the problem in the future.

Many in the audience, understandably upset over the damage, wanted to blame the Cumberland County Commission or the city of Crab Orchard for their losses but neither entity has the authority to govern the operation of a quarry. The state fire marshal's office is charged with monitoring blasting and the Tennessee Department of Environment with environmental issues. Since Cumberland County does not have zoning, quarry operations can be started wherever a landowner wishes to start one as long as he meets environmental and blasting laws as established by the state legislature.

That doesn't sit real well with Crab Orchard residents — 26 whose homes have suffered damages ranging from broken septic lines to septic tanks being raised to hot water heaters being broken by blasts that citizens claim have come from the reopening of the old county rock quarry.

The county commission on recommendation of Road Superintendent Wendell Houston got out of the quarry business and sold the quarry at public auction to then county commissioner Dennis Hinch after an engineering firm advised the commission that the cost of insurance would make the operation more expensive than the value to the road department.

Because the county had not operated the quarry for a few years, citizens in the area became upset when the quarry operation was restarted and blasting started taking place.

Franklin Minerals also blasts in the area but last fall when residents reported damage to property to the sheriff's department, a Franklin Minerals spokesperson said that company was not blasting on the days the damage was reported.

Sherrill offered to keep blast monitoring records at the Crab Orchard City Hall but Jimmy Sanders, blasting supervisor for the state fire marshal's office, said he could not authorize the request. He said that while he has no problem with keeping a copy of his reports at the Crab Orchard building, such a request would have to be approved by his boss.

Sanders said that since he has been called to monitor blasting done by the private company at the old county quarry, he has not found blasting to be outside the level allowed by state law. "Not since the quarry reopened," Sanders told the Chronicle Tuesday.

Sanders added that while he could not address anything relating to blasting that occurred before he was notified about the issue, he did promise to monitor blasting carefully in the future.

"We want to know if one rock leaves their property," Sanders said.

Added Sherrill, "What is past is in the past. We can't do anything about it. What we can do is address what we will do in the future. From this day on."

Still, property owners want to know who is going to pay for the damage to their property.

Willard Delaney told the group that he has been in contact with someone who does damage assessment and that that work is ongoing.

"What am I supposed to do about my home?" one woman asked. "I am on $900 a month disability income. How can I afford fix my house or afford a lawyer?"

A group of property owners was scheduled to meet with the mayor Tuesday night to further discuss the issue. They also plan to meet with a private attorney to determine whether they can get help recovering damage to their property.