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Could water be impacted in East Tennessee due to paper plant permit?

East Tennesseans are proud of our Smoky Mountains, nature and our waterways, but now some worry a change in the way a plant in North Carolina operates could pollute water on our side of the mountains.
Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 3:53 PM EST
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SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) - East Tennesseans are proud of our Smoky Mountains, nature and our waterways, but now some worry a change in the way a plant in North Carolina operates could pollute water on our side of the mountains.

People who live in Sevier County reached out to WVLT’s Sevier County Bureau Chief Kyle Grainger about concerns they have regarding a permit request for Blue Ridge Paper in Canton, North Carolina. They question if this change will have an impact on the water flowing right through the Smoky Mountains.

The concern starts with the Pigeon River which enters into Cocke County in Tennessee, runs through Sevier County before emptying into Douglas Lake. Many people know those areas are known for recreational activities from rafting to fishing and even simple swimming.

The Pigeon River is the center of Cocke County’s number one industry, rafting.

“It’s important to us with about 200,000 people coming to raft the Pigeon. We have 11 fantastic companies, different outfitters, and of course, we want to provide them with a safe and exciting adventure,” said Linda Lewanski, Cocke County Partnership.

The plant has proposed “removal of color variance” on the permit application, but what does that really mean? That’s what these folks want to know.

James Huskey, an avid fisherman, remembers a time when he couldn’t fish the Pigeon River.

“I’m very concerned that the river might go back to what it was in the 70s and 80s when it was just a dead river. And now it’s recovered there’s wildlife in there. There’s mussels, crawfish. There’s all kinds of different species of fish,” said Huskey.

Lewanski worries that the permit relaxes some of the regulations.

“It seems with this new permit they’re relaxing some of the regulations, so we really want folks to go in and log in their comments and it’s really important,” said Lewanski.

Locals here in Tennessee have reached out to our local state representatives hoping they can help change the date of this meeting which is on inauguration day and they say it’s not a good day for a public meeting.

We’ve reached out to Blue Ridge Paper for a comment and have not heard back. We specifically have asked them what the change in color means.

A meeting about the permit request is set to take place January 20, 2021 in a virtual setting.

You can learn more about it and offer comments and concerns here.

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