DOE responds to advisory board recommendation
 on groundwater studies

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management has responded to a recommendation made earlier this year by the Oak Ridge Site Specific Advisory Board.

In May, the federally appointed citizens’ panel recommended that DOE conduct additional groundwater studies to address any potential offsite migration of chemicals or radioisotopes from DOE’s Oak Ridge Reservation. The recommendation focuses on developing information that fosters a better understanding of potential impacts of groundwater contamination related to risk mitigation, groundwater remediation, and long-term stewardship.

In 2013, DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation held a series of workshops to prioritize groundwater pathways on the ORR. Together the agencies created a groundwater strategy document that described the potential for releases from waste disposal sites and storage areas. The document also prioritized known groundwater plumes, concentration of contaminants, contaminants of concern, and potential health risks. [Read more…]

Guest column: City manager urges citizen engagement in key decisions

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

Many projects are happening in Oak Ridge at the present time. Our city does not slow down and is affected by issues at the state, federal, and local levels.

As your city manager, I am concentrating on matters such as the implementation of EPA sewer requirements on a tight timeframe, creation of a national park, development of a new mall, and installation of a new dispatch center.

Among its many other decisions, Oak Ridge will be facing a pair of major initiatives which particularly important for our community. The American Museum of Science and Energy (AMSE), owned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory contractor UT-Battelle, is under new leadership as veteran museum director David Moore takes the helm. With this change, the DOE knows that the long-term viability of a museum is dependent upon local and regional involvement.

Recently, the AMSE Foundation and the City of Oak Ridge have been co-hosting a series of community meetings about AMSE to discuss options for developing a new operating model for the museum. Two of four public discussions have been held about this topic.

Last week, we heard from the directors of the MUSE in Knoxville, the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol to hear how today’s museums remain current and relevant to their visitors. Turnout for the first two meetings has been very encouraging; the next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 25, from 6-8 p.m., when heritage tourism will be discussed. [Read more…]

Letter: Write-in House candidate says coal is obsolete

Leslie Agron EPA Clean Power Plan Hearing

Oak Ridge resident Leslie Agron testifies at an EPA clean power plan hearing in Atlanta on July 29. (Submitted photo)

Note: This is a copy of testimony given July 29 in Atlanta by Oak Ridge resident Leslie Agron, a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary for Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the EPA. Thank you for taking my testimony.

My name is Leslie Agron. I am from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. As the son of a Manhattan Project scientist, I was born and raised there. I grew up within walking distance of Appalachia.

I am currently a candidate for the Tennessee state legislature. I have previously served on Oak Ridge’s Environmental Quality Advisory Board. I hold an Executive MBA from The Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. Given that credential, the thrust of my remarks will be about business and business climate.

I hold that, contrary to industry remarks that coal makes jobs, coal is not good business. To be clear, in a historical sense, coal was very important to the development of America in the 19th and 20th centuries. During those historical times, coal very much enhanced the business climate of our country by supplying affordable energy when no other source of energy was available. [Read more…]

Oak Ridge first EPA green power community in Southeast

EPA Green Power Community

Oak Ridge has been recognized as the first Green Power Community in the Southeast by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pictured above from left during a Monday night Oak Ridge City Council meeting are Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan; Tennessee Representative John Ragan, vice chair of the House Energy Task Force; Robin Manning, executive vice president of external relations for the Tennessee Valley Authority; Marlene Witt, Oak Ridge business office manager; and Oak Ridge Electric Director Jack Suggs.


KNOXVILLE—The Tennessee Valley Authority has been recognized as a Top 10 utility leader in green power program sales, and Oak Ridge has been designated the first Green Power Community in the Southeast by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

TVA was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In the first NREL Top 10 ranking in a decade, TVA landed at No. 9 nationally with green power sales of 199,067 megawatt-hours in calendar 2013, thanks to TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions programs and participating local power companies, a press release said.

Oak Ridge is one of the participating communities, and it received the EPA designation based in part on TVA green power purchases. TVA and Oak Ridge officials had a brief ceremony to celebrate during a Monday night Oak Ridge City Council meeting.

“TVA is proud to be recognized nationally for our strong and growing support of renewable energy,” said Patty West, director of TVA’s Renewable Energy Solutions. “Cost-effective, renewable energy is an important part of TVA’s diverse portfolio of energy-generation sources.”

A key to TVA’s renewable energy sales has been Green Power Switch, or GPS, which TVA launched on Earth Day 2000 with local power companies and members of the environmental community as the first-of-its-kind renewable power purchase program in the Southeast, the press release said. [Read more…]

ORISE recognized by EPA as Federal Green Challenge award winner


The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education received a 2014 Federal Green Challenge award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for improving its water consumption levels and its electronic sustainability and recycling efforts in 2013 by the highest percentage increase compared to the previous year in the Southeast region. ORISE is managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities for the U.S. Department of Energy.

According to the EPA website, the 2014 Federal Green Challenge award winners are recognized “for their outstanding efforts and for their leadership in reducing the environmental footprint of federal government activities.”

“ORISE reduced its water consumption by 60 percent in 2013 with the majority of the improvement resulting from a more efficient, automated sprinkler system with a moisture sensor used for some of its landscaping, which would only irrigate when the soil was dry,” said Tom Wantland, director of ORAU’s environment, safety, and health programs. “If moisture from rain was present, the irrigation system would automatically detect it, and the system would not operate.” [Read more…]

Oak Ridge concludes Green Power Community Challenge with day of service


The City of Oak Ridge is wrapping up its two-month long Green Power Community Challenge with a day of service on Saturday, June 21, at the University of Tennessee Arboretum, which is located at 901 S. Illinois Ave. in Oak Ridge.

The Green Power Community Challenge encouraged local residents and businesses to buy green power and help Oak Ridge become an EPA-designated Green Power Community. The effort has been a tremendous success—more than 300 new customers enrolled in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Power Switch program, more than triple the original goal, a city press release said.

Twenty volunteers are needed for the day of service. The volunteer work will be focused on a half-day project at the Arboretum in Oak Ridge. Specifically, volunteers will conduct a creek walk to clean up trash and debris, and construct benches for their new creek access area near the Arboretum entrance road. [Read more…]

Oak Ridge receives $3 million state wastewater loan

City of Oak Ridge Seal

Tennessee awards more than $8.2 million in low-interest water, wastewater construction loans

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau on Tuesday announced that one community and one utility district have been approved to receive more than $8.2 million in low-interest loans for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.

Oak Ridge received a $3 million state wastewater loan.

“It’s great to see local governments using this important program to help address critical drinking water and wastewater needs,” Haslam said in a press release. “Making these infrastructure improvements will benefit the health of these communities and economic growth.” [Read more…]

Oak Ridge could become first EPA-designated Green Power community in Southeast

Mark Watson

Mark Watson

The City of Oak Ridge is on the verge of being selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Green Power Community, the first in the Southeast, a press release said.

The EPA’s Green Power Partnership is a voluntary program that encourages organizations to buy renewable energy. To be designated as a Green Power Community, a local government must purchase or produce green power in amounts that meet EPA minimum purchase requirements as determined by community electricity usage.

Green power is defined as electricity generated from renewable resources, such as wind, solar, biogas, biomass, and low-impact hydropower. Oak Ridge Electric Department customers can buy Green-e Energy certified renewable energy through the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Green Power Switch program.

To qualify, local governments must also initiate a community-wide green power campaign to encourage renewable energy purchases. The City of Oak Ridge, playing off its nickname as the Secret City due to its historical origins, created a campaign called, “The Secret’s Out: Oak Ridge Loves Green Power,” to encourage residents and businesses to buy green power. [Read more…]

Council approves locations for sewer system tanks, county donates land for one

Emory Valley Road Sewer System Holding Tank

An earlier draft image of what a sewer system holding tank could look like on Emory Valley Road. (Image courtesy City of Oak Ridge)

CLINTON—The Oak Ridge City Council had already taken steps to move the planned sewer system holding tanks farther back from major roads or make them less visible, and on Monday, the Anderson County Commission agreed to donate a small parcel on Emory Valley Road for one of the tanks.

Oak Ridge officials have said the tanks are needed to help comply with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency order that requires the city to end all sewer system overflows by September 2015. [Read more…]

Council approves water, sewer rate increases

Oak Ridge City Council

The Oak Ridge City Council on Monday approved water and sewer rate increases that will take effect January 2014 and January 2015. (File photo)

There was much opposition online, and in phone calls to city hall, but few public objections to back-to-back utility rate increases at a Monday night Oak Ridge City Council meeting.

The Council voted in two separate 6-1 votes to raise water and sewer rates in January 2014 and again in January 2015. The increases range from 8 percent to 15 percent.

The new rate hikes, which will be considered on second and final reading in October, would result in water bills that could go up by a minimum of $1.35 per month in January 2014 and then another $1.19 per month in 2015. Sewer bills would increase a minimum of $2.78 per month next year and then rise another $2.13 per month the following year. [Read more…]

Guest column: Council member proposes alternatives to raising water, sewer rates

Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

On Sept. 9, your Oak Ridge City Council will likely vote to approve additional water and sewer rate increases. When combined with the last two increases, the average user’s bill will have spiked 62 percent in just 34 months. Subsequently, should council adopt the fully proposed schedule through 2019, most residents and businesses will be paying double what they were paying prior to the initial increase imposed in May 2012.

These increases are to pay for the $33 million of debt that the city incurred in the last two years in addition to a projected $15 million more that Public Works says is still needed. We are continuing to borrow without limits and without regard for your ability to pay such astronomical bills.

Much of this debt could have been reduced or avoided all together had your city government taken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency up on the many opportunities they gave us to make corrections. (See my Feb. 24 post at entitled, “The Rest of the EPA Mandate Story.”) Unfortunately, we’ve screwed up so many times that we were too fearful to pursue leniencies that are now being afforded to many cities across the nation. So, while others have 20-25 years to comply and can spread out costs to minimize the hit their ratepayers will take, Oak Ridge has just five years and is forcing the entire burden on its residents and businesses. [Read more…]

Council to consider utility rate increases, sewer tanks, new fire trucks

Emory Valley Road Sewer System Holding Tank

A draft image of what a sewer system holding tank could look like on Emory Valley Road east of the former Daniel Arthur Rehabilitation Center. The proposal could change based upon input from Oak Ridge City Council members. (Images courtesy City of Oak Ridge)

Oak Ridge officials are considering utility rate increases that could cost many residents another $6.87 per month, and they have also proposed building three large sewer system holding tanks, including two near busy roadways, in response to a federal order requiring the city to stop all sewer system overflows by September 2015.

Council could consider those proposals, as well as a request to buy three new fire trucks, during its Sept. 9 meeting. [Read more…]