Business and Economy Environment and Natural Resources NewsTracker

Vexing Vapors

A proposed crematory in Spring Hill and the volley of assertions about its potential impact on public health have city leaders scratching their heads, and they’ve decided to hire an expert to help them sort out whether the fumes could harm nearby residents.

The Columbia Daily Herald has been following the issue:

Spring Hill Memorial Park and Funeral Home is requesting the city approve a 3,600-square-foot crematory behind the funeral home on Main Street. The request has elicited fears from surrounding residents — mainly in the Witt Hill subdivision — who fear mercury vapors from dental amalgam fillings will be released into the air when bodies are incinerated. …

(The city attorney) told aldermen that hiring an expert would not cost more than $10,000 and would likely be closer to $5,000. In their vote, aldermen did not set a price limit on how much would be spent on the expert.

Silver-colored dental fillings are about half-mercury. The cremation industry points to studies that it says show the emissions from burning them along with a body are innocuous, but residents from Connecticut to Minnesota remain skeptical.

Around one-third of people in the U.S. are cremated at death, according to Scripps Howard News Service. The rate in Tennessee is 16 percent.

Meanwhile, in Britain, where seven in 10 people are cremated at death, the rules on emissions have been tightened, and the debate has moved on to another environmental challenge. Researchers there are looking at how and whether to recycle the heat captured in the process of cremating the body, the Guardian reported in April:

The onus is on UK crematoria to halve mercury emissions, which come mainly from tooth fillings, by 2012 and eliminate them altogether by 2020. Many will need to install new equipment. Those that have already invested in heat-capture technology usually divert the excess heat to other crematorium buildings.

Some crematoria in Sweden and Denmark have gone further, selling surplus heat for use in houses. Many see this as entirely sensible, avoiding the need for crematoria to have expensive and energy-hungry cooling towers. But others wonder if it breaches an ethical code drawn up the International Cremation Federation.

Environment and Natural Resources NewsTracker

Jackson Annexation Advances; Tullahoma Leader Pitches Historic Zoning

The city of Jackson has extended police, fire and other services to a 7-square-mile area northwest of the city it is annexing, the Jackson Sun reports. The annexation, which prompted a lawsuit from affected property owners, will be completed later this month.

The newspaper talked to residents John and Susan Durfee, whose home was among the property the court exempted.

“We’re still very much against the annexation,” John Durfee told the newspaper. “We love living here. We don’t need any of the amenities they offer.”

Susan Durfee compared her situation to that of the country’s founding fathers: “We really feel the need to be less and less dependent on the government. Our country was founded by people who were self-sufficient. They grew their own food, made their own clothes, took out their own garbage.”

In other zoning news, the city administrator in Tullahoma has suggested the public does not understand what is and is not historic, and that once they understand they will embrace his plan to set up historic zoning in the city. But administrator Jody Baltz hinted at flexibility, saying his plan would allow for honorary designations for property where owners did not want to participate, according to a report in the Tullahoma News and Guardian.

Baltz said the public first needs to be educated about what is historic in Tullahoma before historic districts can be created.

“We want to identify what has historic significance, then educate people about what’s historic and then designate what’s historic,” he said. “We want to come up with a document that will have support.”

The News says a 2005 effort fell flat.

Concerns expressed from residents whose property could be in those districts regarding potential costs and requirements associated with maintaining historic themes led to establishing historic sections in Tullahoma in name only.

Environment and Natural Resources NewsTracker

Zone Coverage

Zoning boards and land-use officials across the state regularly set their regulatory sights on all manner of commercial activity and residential development efforts. The decisions they make aren’t always regarded with the highest esteem.

  • The Oak Ridge City Council delayed a decision on whether to rezone a piece of land on the Oak Ridge Turnpike to allow for commercial development, even though businesses like Sonic and Dollar General already dot the area.
  • There’s government infighting over a proposal in Cheatham County, where the Board of Zoning Appeals made an exception to the rule in allowing a mobile home on a 2.5-acre Joelton lot. The usual minimum is 5 acres for a lot without a public water supply, and Cheatham County Mayor David McCullough is appealing the decision.
Press Releases

State to Combine Land Use, Transportation Planning Efforts

Press Release From Gov. Phil Bredesen, March 18, 2010:

NGA Center Selects Tennessee To Participate In 10-Month Initiative

NASHVILLE – Tennessee has been selected by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) to participate in the Policy Academy on Shaping a New Approach to Transportation and Land Use Planning. The state will develop a Corridor Management Agreement in one of the state’s urban areas that will later be applied to other transportation corridors across the state. The goal is to create a system that helps local planning agencies learn how to make land use decisions that better coordinate with transportation decisions made at the local and state level. Colorado, Maryland, Washington and West Virginia have also been selected to participate in the program.

“As Tennessee continues to grow, both economically and in population, a coordinated approach to land use and transportation planning will help avoid the gridlock and pollution problems seen in other cities and states,” said Governor Phil Bredesen. “I’m pleased Tennessee is working with NGA to develop new strategies for better coordination between local, state, public and private industries when it comes to economic growth and the transportation infrastructure needed to support it.”

As part of the Academy, Tennessee will benefit from the experiences and knowledge of experts from across the nation who have studied the issue of land use and transportation planning. The Tennessee team will be composed of state, local, public and private leaders involved in transportation and land use decisions including representatives from the Tennessee Departments of Transportation, Environment and Conservation, Economic and Community Development, Agriculture and Tourist Development.

“Improved linkages between transportation and land use planning are essential in beginning to address the growing problem of congestion on our roadways,” said TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely. “With state and local communities working together, we can better serve the needs of our citizens while also promoting economic development in our state.”

Through the Policy Academy, Tennessee and the other selected states will work over a 10-month period to:

  • Establish new governance models that work to align infrastructure development and state goals;
  • Create a new planning framework that addresses the state’s unique needs and concerns for mobility, accessibility, emissions, financial stability, demographics, climate and topography;
  • Adapt new funding and financing approaches that better reflect user costs and benefits, manage demand and help pay for transportation system management and maintenance; and
  • Develop enhanced goals and metrics that best reflect the state’s transportation goals.

For more information about this and other initiatives of the NGA Center Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Division, visit