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City Reporter

City Reporter



Clearing the Water

TDEC takes notice of environmental group's findings.

By Bianca Phillips

The Tennessee Department of Conservation (TDEC) has issued notices of violation to several industrial facilities for draining stormwater runoff into both Cypress Creek and the Wolf River Harbor without a permit. Other notices of violation have been issued to facilities for not following proper contaminant sampling procedures.

The Water Sentinels, a division of the Sierra Club trained to check for pollutants in water samples, released two separate reports this year about facilities illegally polluting these waterways. The reports were released to TDEC, and after several months, the agency has responded by taking action. TDEC is a complaint-driven agency and without such reports would probably not have been aware of the situation.

"At this time, I feel confident that several of these facilities have responded with a permit application or an explanation. Any of those that don't, we'll follow up and take additional action," said Terry Templeton, manager of the division of water pollution and control for TDEC at the Memphis Environmental Assistance Center (EAC).

The report on Cypress Creek was released in January, and it identified six facilities out of 15 operating with no Tennessee Multi-Sector Stormwater Permit. Of those, three have since closed, and abandoned facilities do not require stormwater permits. Another facility, Import Auto Parts, was found not to need a permit because it is strictly a service shop. The other two, Don Payne Cylinder Head Service and Complete Auto Parts, were handed violations. Both have since filed for permit coverage.

The report on the Wolf River Harbor was released in April, and eight of 20 facilities included in the report had no permit on file at the Memphis EAC office. TDEC has issued notices of violation to both Buzzard Used Auto Parts and Dunlap Street Used Auto Parts. Yarbrough Cable and American Fibre Mill of Tennessee (formerly Ponderosa Tennessee) have renewed permit coverage since the report was released. TDEC visits are being scheduled for the remaining four unpermitted sites.

Sampling results for nine facilities mentioned in the Wolf River report had not been received by May 7th, the date of TDEC's response to the report. The deadline for sampling results was March 31st, and TDEC has scheduled visits to those sites.

The Water Sentinels also released a copy of the Wolf River report to the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) since plans are under way to transform parts of the harbor into a recreational lake complete with a land bridge. The RDC responded by sending its own letter to TDEC to express additional concerns about the situation.

"Our goals are mutually aligned. They need clean water to do the Wolf River lake, and we're just looking for clean water," said James Baker, project director for the Water Sentinels. "Normally, environmental groups and development groups don't get along, but since we have a mutual goal of clean water, we struck a chord. It's important to have allies."

Having Their Say

Nurses at The Med want separate union.

By Janel Davis

The prayer vigil and rally for nurses at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (The Med) went as planned, according to union organizers. The nurses expressed their grievances, politicians pledged their support, and hospital administration had no comment.

Among the grievances were long hours, increased patient-to-nurse ratios, lack of adequate staffing, and the inability of a bargaining unit to negotiate their concerns.

Several months ago, about 500 registered nurses at The Med, who are not represented by a union, decided to organize and join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But administrators issued a resolution in November turning down the union representation before the SEIU could submit its proposal for recognition. "The Board of Directors believes that union representation of registered nurses is neither necessary, desirable, nor inevitable at The Med," said part of the resolution.

Hospital president and CEO Bruce Steinhauer said he has not heard the nurses' platform, but that they are already "very much involved" in the governance process. "There is no next step [in dealing with SEIU]. This union has a history of being relatively high-maintenance," he said. "Our board does not favor unionization of its nurses and in these tough financial times and with the demands of running this place, having the SEIU would not be beneficial."

But the nurses say they've heard those objections before. "We want [this] union because we need better patient care," said RN and nurse representative Angela Williams, a 13-year nurse who had contracted with The Med since 1990 before becoming a hospital employee more than a year ago. "The nurses are overloaded and overworked. We know there are financial problems right now, but they shouldn't be handled at our or the patients' expense." Williams said that since the nurses' decision to organize she has noticed a change in treatment of nurses in the union, who have been labeled as troublemakers.

Steinhauer said he is not aware of any change in the way any nurses are treated. "With the shortage of nurses in the industry, it's very impractical to not address nurses' concerns," he said.

"The [hospital] board is using their money troubles as an excuse to keep the union out, to keep from dealing with the issues," said SEIU organizing director Benny Goolsby. "But these nurses have solutions to some problems that will not cost the hospital any money. They just want to be heard."

While administrators do not recognize SEUI, they do recognize AFSCME, which represents LPNs and housekeeping employees. SEIU currently represents workers at Nashville General Hospital and Meharry Medical College.

Do Kids Count?

Child-care stats place Tennessee near bottom.

By Janel Davis

An increase in infant mortality rates was a major factor in Tennessee falling back in state rankings on child well-being. The annual KIDS COUNT report, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Tennessee 43 out of 50 states, dropping one place from last year.

Neighboring states Arkansas and Mississippi ranked 47 and 50 overall.

While this statistic is alarming, the state has improved in most other areas. The report gives state and national data for 10 key indicators, including teen and child death rate, percent of children in poverty, and the percentage of low-birthweight babies. Tennessee has successfully decreased its numbers in eight of the categories from 1990 to 2000, with rising numbers in the categories of low-birthrate babies and single-parent families.

The recently released 2000 Vital Statistics Report from the Vital Records Office of Shelby County reported a 13.6 percent infant mortality rate in Shelby County, compared with a 9.1 percent statewide rate reported by KIDS COUNT. Both of these are higher than the national average of 6.9 percent.

Shelby County mayor A C Wharton proclaimed Tuesday Early Childhood Day, the beginning of a collaboration by the Community Institute for Early Childhood and Shelby County government to improve children's health. n

Rough Crossing

City Council approves dual pedestrian overpasses at U of M.

By Mary Cashiola

In a joint city, state, and university project, Central Avenue along the University of Memphis will be getting a facelift.

Last week, the Memphis City Council approved a $3 million amendment for two pedestrian overpasses from the U of M parking lot on the north side of Central to the main campus on the south side. The project will also include lowering Central to improve drainage.

Although the measure was passed unanimously by the council, the topic caused some grumbling. Though no one questioned the need for increased safety, Councilman John Vergos said the university could easily build a fence along Central and funnel students to existing crosswalks. Councilman E.C. Jones mentioned he's been trying to get sidewalks at several elementary schools over the last nine years, and "we're talking about grown folks at the University of Memphis."

Tony Poteet, U of M's assistant vice president of campus planning and design, says the school has been pursuing the project for six years. "We were thinking about putting in a divided median and making Central like a boulevard," he said. "Once we worked through it a little more, we realized we had some drainage problems we had to take care of and lowering Central would do that."

"Our goal is to make it safe for the students. Central is a major thoroughfare, and we have at least 2,000 students crossing it every day to get to and from classes," says Poteet. "When there are night classes, the lot fills up again."

Several students have been injured by cars, and in 1995 a 22-year-old foreign exchange student was killed while crossing Central.

Second Helping

Confusion over a school resolution delays action.

By Mary Cashiola

Having seconds? Not city school board commissioner Deni Hirsh.

Hirsh, the board's liaison with the Memphis City Council, plans to reintroduce a resolution for a school unification planning commission after an original motion failed for lack of a second.

The resolution was designed to answer the City Council's call for the board to hold a referendum on school consolidation in October. The board stated its willingness to discuss the issue in March, but with some confusion at the board's June 3rd meeting over who, if anyone, seconded the motion, the planning commission resolution couldn't be discussed.

"My recollection is, I made the motion that brought up the resolution and [board president] Carl [Johnson] didn't ask for a second," said Hirsh. "I'm a new board member. I thought it didn't need one."

When she didn't see it on the agenda for discussion at the June 3rd meeting, Hirsh asked why it wasn't there. Some commissioners thought they remembered Commissioner Wanda Halbert seconding the motion, and Hirsh said Halbert had planned on doing so, but Halbert couldn't remember if she did or not.

Johnson turned to the board's minutes for clarification. They said the resolution failed for lack of a second.

"Had there been a second," Johnson said this week, "I would have held it for a vote. I usually call for a second at least three times. We agreed to have someone review the tape."

And though she listened to the tape of the meeting, Hirsh couldn't tell exactly what happened because everyone seemed to be talking at once. She plans to reintroduce the motion next week and this time has two seconds standing by, just in case.

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