Cumberland County’s Environmental Committee decided to “do away with” the Cumberland Habitat Conservation Plan during last week’s monthly meeting.
Cumberland County and the city of Crossville are the only two entities in the state considering participation in the program.
The plan has been under development since 2007.
Katherine Medlock with the Nature Conservancy explained the plan ensures there are no surprises for developers who wish to participate for the next 30 years.
The federal government requires permits when development projects would “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect” an endangered species. Violating the Endangered Species Act can result in civil penalties of $25,000 per violation. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offers permits.
Organizers of the Cumberland Habitat Conservation Plan consulted the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Tennessee Valley Authority along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The local government would purchase land to be used for mitigation — at least 50 acres if adjoining conserved land or 250 acres if a stand-alone conservation area. The land needs to be a mature forest in a priority area that provides connectivity to habitat areas. Preference is given for land along rivers and streams.
Kyle Davis, 2nd District commissioner, said, “The county is not in the real estate business and doesn’t need to be putting money into a plan that, truly, if it was about a bat species, what would it matter about the growth (of the county)? Why not include other counties surrounding if there’s potential harm in those areas? It’s not only here. We don’t need any more regulations on this county. I deal with construction in water lines and we can’t put water lines because of it.”
Davis added, “I will always put a human over a bat.”
Medlock explained the plan was comparable to buying insurance.
“You’re basically betting something bad is going to happen and this policy is you’ll have difficulty in the future and if you get it now you can lock in a lower rate,” Medlock said.
Chuck Lowrance, a member of the public who attended the meeting, said, “Insurance? That’s voluntary. It’s getting control of all planning decisions and control of all property use for the county … There’s a $20,000 mitigation plan. Who’s going to come up with the money for that? They come in and condemn the land, buy it cheap and sell it back to you. It’s about money, control and blocking development.”
Rob Harrison, a Crossville city councilman, said he has been involved, attending committee meetings about the plan since 2007.
Harrison said the only way it would work is if it is voluntary for developers to participate.
“You give up control of your land for 30 years. You’re told how you can not develop your land,” Lowrance said.
“It is voluntary. It’s a voluntary program. If developers don’t want to, they don’t have to opt in. I feel most will. If we do this then we’re looking at maintenance of property over time and the county and city would be responsible for the cost. I don’t feel the residents would want to pay tax dollars to go toward this,” Chad Norris, 1st District commissioner said.
He asked if other conservation plans are in place.
Medlock said, not in Tennessee, but there are similar programs, with the closest one in Indiana.
Mark Baldwin, 7th District commissioner, asked if any other surrounding counties in the area have been approached about joining the conservation plan since the beginning in 2007.
Medlock said no.
Darrell Threet, 3rd District commissioner, said, “This is supposed to help the developer. If we don’t do it, it may be worse. If we do it we may be helping (endangered) bats. This program will help developers and it won’t cost them as much if we do it.”
Charles MacLeod, 9th District commissioner, said,” It does help the developer, but I don’t see how it will help the individual.”
Davis then moved to “do away with the Habitat Conservation Plan.”
Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, supported the motion.
It was approved in a 7-1 vote.
Deborah Holbrook, 8th District commissioner, voted no.
After the meeting, Medlock said she wanted to thank all of the scientists who have participated in the Habitat Conservation Program for their work and efforts.
“If the county does not adopt the program, then things will stay the way they are,” Medlock said.
The county will still come under federal regulations regarding endangered species and protected wildlife.
If the city adopts the plan but the county does not, only land within the city limits would be covered by the plan.