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Editorial: Boone Lake cleanup should be regional endeavor

Editorial Board • Dec 13, 2019 at 9:00 PM

For more than 30 years a group of volunteers has operated a comprehensive, year-round program to remove trash and debris from Boone Lake. It was a process born of necessity because while various local, state and federal agencies exercise diverse authority over the lake, there is no single governmental entity with responsibility for keeping it clean, the volunteer agency says.

Not even the federal government is charged with removing trash from public waters despite that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates any work in or affecting them. That’s a failure Congress should correct. Meanwhile, the folks who give countless hours to keeping the trash out of Boone Lake need help with what nature puts in it and what ignorant people dump into it.

For its size, Boone is the most-used lake in the TVA chain, surrounded by five municipalities with three of them discharging wastewater into the lake or its tributaries. Boone has an unusually large watershed for its size, spanning over 600 square miles. More than 600 streams and tributaries feed into it.

The Boone Lake Association, formed in 1983, collects and disposes of trash and debris from the lake, including logs, limbs and objects that would be a hazard to boating. The group also collects and disposes of the materials that people intentionally throw into it including hundreds of old tires and large appliances. Its work is funded solely by contributions and the dues of members, which help pay for the three boats the BLA maintains for cleanup.

Picking up by hand and net, the ever-increasing surface trash dumped directly or feeding into the lake from tributaries is all the more difficult. And so the BLA is asking local governments to help with the purchase of two catamaran basket skimmers. They’re not cheap, costing $125,000.

The plan is for Washington County and Johnson City to split the cost of one such device and Sullivan County and its cities to fund another. Former Johnson City Mayor Tom McKee, an attorney volunteering his services to the BLA, believes this approach will demonstrate cooperation and regionalism. “If there is one aspect of regionalism, it is Boone Lake.”

McKee said the BLA is not currently equipped to deal with the debris and vegetation problems likely to be seen when water levels rise on Boone Lake following the dam’s repair. He said the nature of the debris is unbelievable and could create serious navigation and safety problems. “By supporting the Boone Lake Association, you will be protecting yourself from a liability standpoint,” McKee told county commissioners.

Val Kosmider, president of the BLA, notes that recreation on the lake “generates a heck of a lot of money” for the region. He said boating and other business activities on or near the lake are estimated to bring in $110 million annually for the area. The investment by communities that use and depend on the lake in supporting this effort will be repaid many times over.

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