Chuck Coutant, a retired Oak Ridge National Laboratory fish biologist and active community leader for more than 40 years, recently received the Vocational Service Award of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge at the club’s noon luncheon meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel.
A native of upstate New York and resident of Oak Ridge since 1970, Coutant was recognized for his leadership in the community in environmental and cultural activities, his excellence as an Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist, and his influence on national and international environmental policies.
Currently, Coutant is a consultant to power companies for environmental evaluation of cooling systems and is president of Friends of ORNL.
In 1996-97, he was president of the American Fisheries Society, which has a mission to improve the conservation and sustainability of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems through research.
In the mid-1970s, as a member of the Citizens Council for Clinch River Planning, Coutant led the preservation of the Oak Ridge Marina reach of the Clinch River-Melton Hill Reservoir, which had been threatened by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plans to build a coal barging terminal there.
This action helped to make possible Oak Ridge’s highly acclaimed rowing course, an important contributor to the city’s sales tax revenues. The rowing course will be the venue for the first annual Oak Ridge Dragon Boat Festival on May 17, a community fundraiser being organized by the three Rotary clubs in the city.
Coutant, who helped initiate paper and glass recycling in the city shortly after arriving here, became a member of Oak Ridge City Council’s Environmental Quality Advisory Board in the late 1970s.
He was chair of EQAB in 1983 when the U.S. Department of Energy announced that large amounts of mercury had been discharged to the environment by the Y-12 Plant during and after a project to produce a lithium isotope for development of the nation’s hydrogen bomb.
Coutant organized and directed the city’s roles in determining the extent of the mercury pollution and removing contaminated soil from city and private land in the mid-1980s. As a result, he received a commendation from Oak Ridge City Council for environmental leadership in 1987 when Mayor Roy Pruitt called him “volunteer of the year.”
As a board member of Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning in the 1980s and early 1990s, Coutant was responsible for maintaining the North Ridge Trail and protecting Oak Ridge’s greenbelts.
He was president of the Committee of 50, a group of city leaders formed by Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd in the late 1980s to improve Oak Ridge in preparation for its 50th anniversary.
With Joe Tittle, John Haffey, and others, Coutant organized Oak Ridge’s 50th birthday celebration in 1992-93, one of the achievements of the Oak Ridge Community Foundation, the successor of the Committee of 50. The foundation was responsible for the construction of the outdoor stage pavilion and International Friendship Bell, both in Alvin K. Bissell Park.
He initiated and coordinated (with Don Trauger) the restoration of the New Bethel Baptist Church on the ORNL campus as a museum commemorating the early inhabitants of the Oak Ridge Reservation. Coutant is an elder of First Presbyterian Church of Oak Ridge.
Coutant is well known for determining the impacts on various species of fish of heated discharges of cooling water from nuclear and fossil power plants. Fish have a preferred temperature range and will die if the water temperature rises too much. The information has been used in environmental policy and impact statements.
He was the co-author of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines for the Clean Water Act’s section on “thermal effects studies of power stations” [§316(a)]. In the late 1970s, he was chair of the National Advisory Council of the Electric Power Research Institute.
Coutant had a lead role in developing guidance for thermal power plant impact assessments for UNESCO and the International Atomic Energy Agency, and he led a U.S. fisheries delegation to China for two weeks of consultations with fisheries agencies and laboratories.
At ORNL, he was named a distinguished research ecologist in the Environmental Sciences Division and ORNL Distinguished Scientist of the Year (2002). He also served as manager of the lab’s Exploratory Studies Program for two years. In 1982, he received the Community Service Award from ORNL.
Locally, he was also president of the Oak Ridge Chapter of Society of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society (1990); the Oak Ridge Civic Music Association (for three consecutive terms in the 2000s); and the Campfire Girls of Anderson County.
Coutant was nominated by Carolyn Krause, public relations director on the board of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge. She noted that Coutant personifies Rotary’s motto of “service above self.”
Established in 1977, the Vocational Service Award of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge recognizes “the extraordinary vocational service of local individuals not only in pursuit of their normal career endeavors, but in service to society in general.”
The first winner of the award was Dr. Paul Spray, a member of the Rotary Club of Oak Ridge who recently won the Humanitarian Award from the Mayo Clinic.
Coutant and his wife Nancy have two grown daughters and a grandson. He will donate the $500 award money to the Emory Valley Center building fund.