State Representative Chris Todd Breaks Down the Property Rights Issue Surrounding the Scenic Duck River Bill in Maury County

Mar 29, 2023

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed State Representative Chris Todd (R-Jackson) to discuss issues surrounding the proposal of the Scenic River Bill in Maury County.

Leahy: We are delighted to have in our studio right now, State Representative Chris Todd from Jackson. You’re a chairman of a subcommittee?

Todd: Chairman of the full committee of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Leahy: The full committee chairman.

Todd: Yes, sir. Of ag.

Leahy: That’s a pretty big responsibility.

Todd: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

Leahy: You’ve got a background in this, right?

Todd: Environmental mostly, yes.

Leahy: You have an environmental inspection company, right?

Todd: Yes. Contracting. Yes, sir.

Leahy: So you’ve had a lot of experience in this?

Todd: Quite a bit. I was in regulatory for a number of years with the Department of Environment and Conservation back close to 30 years ago actually. And then got into the business of helping folks comply with those regulations, both in the construction and development industry.

Leahy: Now sitting in that very seat that you’re sitting in right now, couple weeks ago, Scott Cepicky, the representative from Maury County. Your friend and ours.

Todd: Yes. We are friends.

Leahy: Your friend has a disagreement with you. I don’t know all of the details, but the outline that I hear is he wants to make the Duck River a scenic river and there is someone. I think from out of state or who’s got a business doing landfills, this is how I hear it. So you can kind of explain it.

And they want to do a landfill very close to the Duck River. He opposes it. And to oppose it, he’s put the Scenic River Bill together as he tells me, maybe I’m wrong, but he that you don’t agree with him on that and that you want to not make it a scenic river and allow this out-of-state landfill guy to do a landfill near Duck River. That’s my understanding of it. Tell me what the deal is here.

Todd: A lot of these things get really complicated and they have a lot of moving parts, and this is one that has been very difficult for me to get down to the nitty-gritty and what’s really happening here. And you have to shuck it down on the cob and figure out what’s really there. What’s the core principle?

Leahy: I like that phrase. Shuck it down to the cob.

Todd: That’s what I have to do. It’s an agricultural term.

Leahy: You would think I’ve heard of that term before.

Todd: I would think so.

Leahy: But I’ve not. And I grew up in farm country. Back to this bill and the disagreement that you have with State Rep Scott Cepicky.

Todd: And the bill was brought to us in subcommittee and was touted as being just something to recognize the river for what it is. Beautiful, gorgeous, scenic river.

Leahy: And I think the argument is it has more species in the river than any other river in the United States of America.

Todd: Biodiversity, yes. And it does above Columbia, but not below Columbia. This area is below Columbia. It’s actually below their wastewater treatment plant, which is causing quite a bit of pollution.

Leahy: When you say below, you mean south?

Todd: Downstream. And that’s one of the things that came out in all the testimony and also working with the Department of Environment and Conservation about this is because this Scenic River designation is under their heading. And they’ve even told us that this is not what the scenic river designation was meant to do.

It is meant to recognize something, not to put restrictions on anything but this one, Scenic River designation class two has one provision in it that is very interesting and none of the other classifications have, and that is there can be no landfills within two miles of the river.

Well, why did they pick this one? It just so happens that there’s an individual here in Brentwood that has a company that bought the old Monsanto property and plans to do some things with it. I don’t even know what all their plans are, but one of the things that exist today is a permit for a landfill.

There is a landfill on the site now. I believe it’s only for the demolition of mat buildings and structures on that property. That’s been in place since 1986, so it is grandfathered. They’ve maintained this.

Leahy: A permit to have a landfill there in 1987.

Todd: Yes. And what comes with this is the right to apply for modifications of that permit. This is done all the time. We have regional boards set up, regional solid waste boards that cover certain regions, and multi-counties usually that govern that. And so it’s a local board appointed by local people and the process is for that landfill owner to come before that board and say, here’s what I want to do.

And they have public comments. They go through all this rigamarole before they ever even can apply to TDEC for changing that permit. So this landowner has this ability right now to go through that process. When we put this river designation on top of that, it supersedes all of that. There can be no landfill within two miles, it closes. He has no right at all to do anything with that landfill.

So to me, it’s a property rights issue; it’s not about the river. This thing is almost two miles from the river. TDEC regulates landfills more than any other thing in this. Just about every division. Has some regulatory oversight of landfills. So there’s been this assumption that a landfill anywhere in that area is going to pollute the river.

That’s not a correct assumption. What’s a good assumption is their own wastewater is polluting the river right now. That’s a fact. And I understand there is about to be a big investment in correcting that, but it’s been going on for years. So it’s a property rights issue.

And so for us to put this blanket of protection on that river and take away someone’s property rights without writing them a check. Is against the law. That’s just basically against our constitution. And Representative Cepicky, to his credit, wants to paint this as a local bill. Why do you care about this? It’s just a local issue. Deal with it on a local and don’t get the state involved in a huge multi-million dollar lawsuit for taking someone’s property.

Leahy: I can tell right now this is going to be interesting because a lot of people in Maury County frame it differently.

Todd: Oh, no doubt. No doubt.

Leahy: And basically it’s framed good versus evil. (Chuckles)

Todd: Sure. Sure. And I’ll say this about those folks who are so dedicated. And it’s really encouraging to me to see average citizens come together. There’s no telling how much money they’ve raised to put in.

They’ve hired three big lobby firms to work on this in the last few weeks. And they have had a full-court press. I’m not talking about just writing checks, right? They have shown up, they’ve come to meetings, they’re going office to office working this.

Leahy: And the landowner is looking at this and saying, I just want to use my property.

Todd: That’s an old industrial site. I can’t even think of a better area or a better type of facility where we don’t even know what’s running off of that right now. But it will be highly regulated from this point forward, no matter what they do.

Leahy: Is the landowner more than a little bit irritated about this becoming highly political? (Chuckles)

Todd: I guess so. They’ve come to the committee and offered some testimony and folks that work for them have we heard from their attorney last week and he kept drilling down on this.

Leahy: Eminent domain almost.

Todd: Without writing a check.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Chris Todd” by Chris Todd. Background Photo “Duck River” by Very trivial. CC BY-SA 3.0.