editorial (2005-46)

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The Feds Come Through

Scientific, technological and environmental dollars are on the way

The Feds Come Through

There was great news for the Knoxville area this week from two federal fronts. Congressional appropriation and administrative grant approvals that came through should have a vast positive impact on scientific, business, industrial, environmental and recreational interests here.

Senate action on the 2006 Energy and Water Appropriations conference report sends literally hundreds of millions of dollars for Oak Ridge projects, and an Environmental Protection Agency grant was announced with the intent to restore one of this region’s most picturesque but polluted rivers to a more nearly pristine condition. The report goes to the president for signature, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s staff says there has been no White House threat of a veto, though the conference committee increased the president’s budget recommendations on a number of budget lines affecting Oak Ridge.

Largest of the congressional commitments to Tennessee was $156.7 million for constructing, equipping and operating the Spallation Neutron Source, the most important development at Oak Ridge in many years. Once on line, the SNS will allow for research and development across a broad range of applications in 21st century scientific and technological fields, from materials science and physics to biology, earth sciences and engineering.

Spin-offs from the SNS are expected to include an assortment of laboratories and manufacturing facilities. A similar spin-off effect is anticipated from the Oak Ridge National Laboratories Center for Computational Sciences, which was accorded a $30 million increase in its budget to acquire state-of-the-art hardware.

Programs at ORNL on fusion research are also likely among the primary beneficiaries of $290.5 million set aside for support of the study of that future energy source, and the national lab also receives $7 million for smaller engineering, materials, and combustion projects.

At Y-12, the government’s Oak Ridge nuclear-weapons plant, now called a National Security Complex, budget requests were exceeded by $60 million for enhanced safeguards and security, $40 million for modernization of facilities and operations, and $11 million for highly enriched uranium-materials handling. Another $18 million was spread across other Y-12 projects.

Still another $4.6 million for robotics research and $3.5 million for plant biotechnology research go to the University of Tennessee to support ongoing activities at the main campus in Knoxville.

Those, needless to say, are huge numbers. Their clear implication is that the scientific and technological community in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge corridor will continue to grow, and that both high-end research and low-end construction will keep the job picture bright throughout its spectrum.

Tennessee’s senators, Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander, announced the appropriations measure’s success jointly, but members of the state’s entire congressional delegation who had a hand in it are in line for a round of thanks.

Chickamauga Lock to Live!

From a more strictly commercial point of view, the $10 million appropriation that was included to replace and expand the lock at Chickamauga Dam at Chattanooga and $2.4 million to maintain and operate the existing lock there means that barge traffic on the Tennessee River system will continue to serve Knoxville. The decision keeps Knoxville a port on the navigable waterway from here to the Gulf of Mexico. Consideration was given to closing off the river and abandoning the lock at Chattanooga, a move that would have left this city landlocked for the first time in its history.

Little River to Thrive  Again!

The EPA grant, on the other hand, was for less than $1 million. It will provide for a cleanup effort to improve water quality in the scenic and recreationally significant Little River Basin.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, the UT Blount County Extension Service and the Blount County Soil Conservation District are to administer the grant in partnership, sponsoring a program to reduce agricultural runoff and repair faulty septic systems that raise the river’s bacteria level.

On the state’s list of impaired streams, the Little River, which rises near the top of Clingman’s Dome and empties into the Tennessee River at Knoxville, is the main source of drinking water for much of Blount County. The state’s Department of Conservation reports a decline in the quality of aquatic life. That’s not news to sportsmen who have cast for declining fish populations along its length for years. Together with its tributaries, its watershed covers two thirds of the county, and many of the targeted bacteria sources are along those tributary streams.

Besides providing incentives to farmers to fence their livestock away from the river and its tributaries and assisting low-income households with septic-system repairs, the grant will allow for continual monitoring of water quality to measure improvement and insure that it is maintained.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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