Congressman rafts Pigeon River to survey water quality

10:41 PM, Aug 12, 2010   |    comments
Congressman Phil Roe, wearing the blue shirt, rafted down the Pigeon River in Hartford Thursday.
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Each year, 140,000 people raft down the Pigeon River in the Cocke County town of Hartford.

The Blue Ridge Paper Products mill upstream in North Carolina has long been a concern for residents who live near the river.

Several environmental groups are challenging the latest wastewater permit that was granted to Blue Ridge Paper Company.

Congressman Phil Roe rafted down that stretch of river Thursday afternoon.  The representative for Tennessee's 1st Congressional District believes the river has dramatically improved over the last 20 years as nearby residents have fought for cleaner water.  But, he also believes more progress is needed.

He wanted to look at the water quality himself.

"Just to see what it looks like," Rep. Roe explained.  "We're going to go where the power is generated.  Big Creek is a creek that comes out of the mountain and you get to really view a pristine mountain stream and see how this river should look."

Several environmental groups want the current regulations to be stronger than those laid out in the wastewater permit. Those groups are challenging the permit.

"We'd like to see the toxic chemicals in the river reduced and the color reduced in the river significantly," said Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee member Amelia Taylor.

A few rapids drenched Congressman Roe on his trip, allowing him to feel the water he is concerned about.

"I don't have a good sense of smell, but even I could detect the odor of the river.  It smelled like a paper plant.  Some of it did," he explained.

Information that Congressman Roe said he plans to use in Washington.

"I would suggest anyone come and enjoy an afternoon [on the Pigeon River].  And, it's not my last ride down the river.  I can tell you that," the Congressman said.

The group Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee said North Carolina courts will hear the challenge to the paper mill's permit.

As for Blue Ridge, they maintain the permit is strong and continues significant progress to improve the water quality of the Pigeon River.

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