editorial (2007-43)

Tempest in a Culvert


Get the stormwater issue straightened out this time

Itâ’s about time the Knox County Commission realized its responsibility to rescind the stormwater ordinance it passed under dubious circumstances earlier this year. Commissioners will consider rescinding the troubling ordinance next month at the recommendation of Law Director John Owings, absolving two members from another admitted violation of the Sunshine Law and opening the door to aligning its stormwater policy with the city of Knoxvilleâ’s.

In this instance, the ordinance that was passed was carried by the inimitable Greg â“Lumpyâ” Lambert, after he talked it over with then-fellow Commissioner Richard Cate, the former lobbyist for the Knox County Home Builders Association.

The Builders-backed legislation watered down the cityâ’s version, despite an agreement between the city and county under the state-mandated Urban Growth Plan of 2001 in which the county vowed to have regulations â“as strict or stricterâ” than those the city adopted.

At particular issue is the countyâ’s offering builder/developers the cheaper option of corrugated metal or plastic pipe for drainage improvements to carry stormwater away from new construction sites. The city, which requires concrete conduits for such purposes, argues that it may have to go to its own expense to mitigate problems caused by county run-off and poor policies established by county government.

The city filed suit to force rectification of the agreement terms Oct. 16, and the county, which had failed to satisfy the city in negotiations, finally blinked, recognizing it had been welching on the terms of the 2001 agreement.

Letâ’s do it right this time, commissioners, with no illegal lobbying allowed by the builders or those acting in their interests.

Pay the Piper

The federal government has been dragging its feet in processing claims by nuclear workers who are suffering or, in some cases, dying from illnesses incurred by exposure to radiation or chemicals in federal programs during the last decades of the 20th century. Itâ’s reprehensible that nothing has been done to speed up the claims processing, despite the efforts of Congress, which authorized compensation for the victims.

Those afflicted, including more than 9,000 Tennessee workers, most of whom were exposed to the health hazards at facilities in Oak Ridge, are Cold War veterans who are entitled to the compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. They risked their lives, albeit often unknowingly, to assure that the nuclear capability in the U.S. Defense Department kept pace with its demands during the protracted hostile posturing between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Now, beset with cancers and other exposure-related illnesses, they should get their entitlement without further delay. They are eligible for up to $150,000 per claim, plus some expenses for medical treatment, if their claims are processed before they die.

Of the 23,000-plus health claims filed by those 9,000-plus Tennesseans, about 6,500 are awaiting a final decision. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor, plus the National Institute of Occupation Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are mired in a swamp of bureaucracy that has prevented timely satisfactory processing of the claims.

Just this week, the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing to determine the causes of the holdup and recommend or order reforms in the program. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who represented workers exposed at Oak Ridge, Ft. Campbell in Clarksville and the nuclear contractor facilities in Erwin, told the panel that those workers are waiting an average of 267 days before their claims are processed, an increase of almost 100 days from the wait a year ago.

It was last year when a Bush administration Office of Management and Budget document was revealed that discussed â“stemming the cost of the compensation program.â”

Failure to process claims is one way to stem that cost, but itâ’s an unconscionable one, and the program should be righted to produce what it has promised. Letâ’s not let these sick workers die off without just compensation. Having taken their health, we owe them that much.


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