What began as a conversation about how journalists live off press releases and have short attention spans, has become an epic project in how good journalism and good government interaction can make a difference. For the past week this reporter has embarked on a journey in an attempt to clean the polluted “Second Creek” waterway . Here is my story…
When I met the University of Tennessee stormwater coordinator Garret Ferry, I went into detail of just how much had already been done.
“Yes sir, nice to meet you. I been working on this project all week. We got the City 311 department involved to get rid of the graffiti down by the bridge.”
So the conversation continued…”Yes sir, I am well aware of that garbage plume and I am proud to say I just photographed Ijams employee Jake Hudson cleaning that plume about 20 minutes ago.”
I then went into detail how throughout the week, I had been working with multiple city departments to address why the creek was in such bad shape. The creek is currently cleaned out twice a year by the “Green Party” which adopted the waterway. However, as volunteers, they have done an amazing job. According to pictures on their Facebook page, they literally collected a dump truck worth of garbage on their last pickup.
However, more help was needed. After contacting the Director of the City of Knoxville’s Public Service Department, it was originally determined that the property belonged to the city. After all, even the signs located throughout greenway stated it was city property. KPD has been the agency responding to calls at that location. Public works has been maintaining the large area. Clearing out abandoned homeless camps as well as many other services. So over the course of almost a week, I sent Mayor Rogero’s public information officer, Eric Vreeland almost 20 emails requesting information and updating progress. Mr. Vreeland was very instrumental in helping me in this project.
Since it appeared to be a city issue I made contact with multiple local city council members. Possibly the most passionate response I have ever received from an elected official, came from Councilman Mark Campen. He was so motivated by what he saw, he offered to join me next week, and grab his hip waders and go with me to clean the river HIMSELF! Seriously, he emailed me back that he has a spare set of waders and as an environmentalist, an elected official, and as a citizen, he would personally take action on this issue. We even set up a time and date.
Finally, I brought Mr. Ferry up to speed on how Deputy Chief Lee Trammel of the Knox County Sheriff Office, informed me that under the direction of Sheriff JJ Jones, his office has a specialized prisoner work detail unit that specializes in cleaning waterway. The unit most recently was responsible for cleaning out the Fountain City Duck Pond. Deputy Trammel immediately assigned a liaison unit member from the Sheriff’s department to assist in cleaning the creek. They work for free because not only are they able to spend the day out of prison, they get additional time off their sentence for community service. It should be noted that these individuals are minimal threat inmates.
So on Friday, October 9th 2014, as Mr. Ferry, a representative from the KCSO, and I looked over the creek, assessing the situation.
Mr. Ferry informed us of a game changer. “Actually, this whole area is property of the University of Tennessee.” He then went into explanation how only a small pathway on the other side of the parking lot was part of the city greenway project. UTK is responsible for the cleaning the area. However, university officials with such limited resources, did not realize that they could have access to a special prison work detail. Also, they were unaware that 311 handles graffiti.
So, here is where situation stands at this time. Yesterday, I went to the Register of Deeds Office. Mr. Nick McBride, literally stopped everything he was doing to immediately investigate this issue. Using the advanced technology and high tech pinpoint mapping programs that the Register of Deeds has, he was able to confirm that the greenway property that the city has been maintaining for years, does belong to the University.
*On a side note, if you ever wonder why you never hear of a scandal, a complaint, or anything negative, however you hear positive comments about the Register of Deeds office…it is because they really are one of the absolute best run government agencies…not just in Knox County…but in general. Total professionalism, as highlighted yesterday by Mr. McBride as a perfect example.
So the University, thanks to the research of this reporter, now has knowledge of a wide array of new tools to maintain creek. From calling 311 to address graffiti painted on bridges to literally deploying an army of cleanup workers from the KCSO work release program. The University is currently working on logistics for the “big clean.” Since there are scientific experiments occurring with the river, university officials are working with the researchers to plan a day in the coming weeks to remove the scientific equipment so it will not be damaged. The main cleanup is expected to take place in about two weeks.
In conclusion. As a reporter, I saw a problem. To me, this issue can best be summed up by a Facebook post on the Knoxville Focus page written by Ryan Cofer. He wrote “Thank you for covering this creek, I walked by this creek every day for two years while at UT and it was so disappointing to see so much garbage. Lots of beer bottles and trash after gameday too…” I can report that this is just the start of this investigation. We at the Focus, will continue to monitor the situation. We are a small paper. But we all live here, work here, and are dedicated to making Knoxville a better place for everyone. During the course of researching this article I dealt with the following organizations. The City Mayor’s Office, Ijams, 311, UTK, UTKP, KCSO, PBA, Green Party, City of Knoxville DPW, Knox County Register of Deeds, City Council, as well as other organizations. However, throughout this research I kept thinking what a certain public information officer said to me. He stated that more often then not, most reporters in this town just work off a press release, and then move on to the next press release for their next story.
I can assure you the reader, that I will do everything I can as a journalist, not to be that kind of reporter.
Update: Due to the strong positive response to this article we have our first update written on 10/12/2014.
Dan Andrews reporting,