Agencies at odds over Black Swamp
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
You can’t duck hunt where there’s no water.
That’s the dilemma facing a project by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to provide a place, a public place, in northwest Tennessee for duck hunters to ply their skills each winter.
That place, known as Black Swamp and located in the Hop-In Wildlife Management Area alongside Highway 89 near Kenton, has already been upgraded and ready to receive flood waters from the nearby Obion River.
TWRA’s design would include flooding the acreage to a depth of 18 inches for a 90-day period each winter, which would include a 60-day duck season.
However, as of today, it is not flooded; it remains high and dry, so to speak.
That’s because a sister agency — the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation — has thrown cold water on the TWRA parade. How so? TWRA made improvements to the piece of state-owned property and had planned to open the flood gates and let the river water flow.
But alas, it was learned that a water quality permit must be acquired before that can happen. TDEC is the agency that issues such permits. And TDEC refuses on the grounds that Black Swamp is classified as “exceptional Tennessee waters,” (not further defined). In previous publicity, TDEC asserted annual flooding would harm cypress trees and such in Black Swamp. (No comments were made about the hundreds of cypress trees standing in Reelfoot Lake year-round.)
In essence, here’s the situation: TWRA wants to go; TDEC says no go. And that’s where it will remain until the water quality issue is settled.
TWRA deputy director Ron Fox said the two agencies “have agreed to disagree.”
“We entered into an agreement with them. We’re going to go through the permitting process. We’re going to apply for the permit even though we think we don’t need one,” he said. “They can either approve or disapprove. If they disapprove, we’ll take it to the Water Quality Control Board.”
TDEC public information officer Tammy Heise said a consent order was signed earlier this week by both agencies. TWRA agrees to apply for the permit and TDEC agrees to issue or deny the permit within six months.
And if TWRA appeals to the Water Quality Control board, both agencies agree to abide by the board’s decision.
“TWRA also agrees to spend at least $15,000 on a supplemental environmental project to be approved by TDEC that … will provide environmental benefits,” Ms. Heise said.
Fox tells how TWRA developed the 845-acre site for duck hunting purposes:
“We went into an agricultural field and put a culvert in and established a drainage pattern through the field as opposed to the ditch that was cut to drain Black Swamp,” he said. “Most people have forgotten this is not a natural swamp. It’s an altered swamp that was drained years ago, probably with the intent of clearing it after the (U.S. Corps of Engineers) dug its straight-line ditch. It was purchased as mitigation land but never was cleared. It’s been under our control all these years. What we’re trying to do is put water back in there the way it used to flood in winter months.
“We have tried in the past to get permits, but we were not successful. So we looked at ways to restore the drainage system down through Hop-In and at the same time allow for winter holding of water for duck hunting.
“We are working with TDEC to see if we can resolve this as simply and easily as we can.”
But, meanwhile, is hunting allowed at Black Swamp?
“Yes, hunting is allowed. But it’s kind of hard to hunt duck with no water. And there’s no water in there right now,” he said.
At press time came additional information from Ms. Heise.
She said the term, “exceptional waters,” is used to describe streams with high water quality, important ecoological value, valuable recreational uses and outstanding scenery.
“Because this project is meant to alter the water in Black Swamp so the area is flooded seasonably, it requires a permit from TDEC,” she said.
Published in The Messenger 12.13.07