boone_lake

This file photo shows a pontoon boat that is currently used by the Boone Lake Association to remove trash and debris from the lake.

That three members of the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen would refuse to support one of the oldest environmental groups in the state in its efforts to oversee the water quality of Boone Lake is disappointing, to say the least.

It is a slap in the face to the thousands of city, county and regional residents who enjoy the lake, particularly when water levels are rising to full after a seven-year, $450 million repair of seepage problems at Boone Dam. It sends a message that Kingsport cannot be counted on when regional cooperation is required to achieve a regional benefit.

Since 1983, members of the Boone Lake Association have conducted a comprehensive, year-round program to collect and dispose of trash and debris from the lake in the absence of any single governmental entity with that responsibility. It’s a big lake, with an unusually large watershed for its size spanning over 600 square miles. There are more than 600 streams and tributaries that feed Boone Lake.

The BLA has worked for years to acquire two skimmer boats that pull debris directly from the water as they pass over it. They cost $125,000 each. It asked Washington County and Johnson City to pay for one boat, and those municipalities ponied up the money in 2019. At the same time, it asked Sullivan County and its cities to pay for the other boat. Sullivan County quickly approved its share of half the cost, or $62,500. But Bristol and Kingsport have yet to provide the other half, $31,250 each.

On June 1, the Kingsport BMA took a vote. Mayor Pat Shull, Alderman Darrell Duncan and Alderman James Phillips voted in favor of the funding. But Vice Mayor Colette George, Alderwoman Jennifer Adler and Alderwoman Betsy Cooper voted against it. The 3-3 tie meant defeat of the resolution.

George said, “I’m disappointed (the BLA) did not do this as a regional project and ask everyone to contribute, to buy one really nice boat. The way it was done and entered into was unfortunate.” What the vice mayor apparently didn’t take into consideration is that a single boat cannot adequately cover the 600-square-mile watershed. The BLA asked for funds to cover minimum capacity. It was a reasonable request.

When Boone Dam power generation was halted and the lake drawn down for repairs, TVA decided that it was causing a financial hardship on local residents, businesses and municipalities, and to help offset that hardship, it began making annual “impact payments” to local municipalities. Last year, TVA sent Kingsport $194,000 for its annual payment. Take the $31,000 — mere pocket change in a Kingsport city budget of $215 million — out of that.

Indeed, it is a question of fairness. To be fair, the BMA should take another vote when all members are present, not just six. Bring this up again, Mayor Shull.

In the meantime, if you support Boone Lake, if you support the BLA keeping it clean for our benefit, you may wish to contact those who do not share your view: jenniferadler@kingsporttn.gov, betsycooper@kingsporttn.gov and colettegeorge@ kingsporttn.gov.