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Release Date: 1/11/2001
Contact Information: Carl Terry, EPA (404) 562-8325 Kim Olson, TDEC (615) 532-0288
Governor Don Sundquist, EPA Regional Administrator John H. Hankinson, Jr., and officials of OXY USA, Inc., jointly announced today that they have reached a cooperative agreement to address the environmental cleanup and restoration of the Copper Basin in Polk County, Tennessee. This innovative agreement ensures the cleanup of the area on a timely basis and will contribute to economic growth in the community.

"For 150 years, mining, destructive logging and copper processing occurred at Copperhill," Sundquist said. AThe Copper Basin became the symbol of environmental degradation. This historic agreement will return the natural beauty and economic potential to the area. Most importantly, the agreement protects the health and safety of Tennessee citizens."

Environmentally impacted areas of the Copper Basin include the North Potato Creek Watershed, the Davis Mill Creek Watershed, and parts of the Ocoee River. Acidic conditions and leaching metals have impaired water quality and deforestation has resulted in severe erosion. Abandoned and collapsing mine works and other deteriorating facilities and waste piles also may pose significant physical hazards. In addition, the lack of a healthy soil structure and the poor quality of riparian and upland ecosystems contribute to poor surface water quality.

Jo Ellen Drisko, President of Glenn Springs Holdings, Inc., an OXY USA affiliate, said, "We are very pleased to be a partner in this innovative process involving the state of Tennessee and the EPA that will result in the effective and timely remediation of this site. Resources will be applied to where they will best serve the public's interest - cleaning up the site. This approach is in keeping with our long-standing commitment to responsible stewardship of the environment and avoids prolonged and costly litigation that would only delay the actual cleanup work."

OXY USA, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), and EPA have agreed to work together in a coordinated manner with the common goal of the ultimate environmental remediation and redevelopment of the Copper Basin. The parties realize the final remediation and redevelopment of the entire Copper Basin will be a long-term, complicated undertaking that will best succeed in a timely fashion if the parties continue to work together cooperatively, sharing resources and technical expertise.

"Our objectives in negotiating this agreement have been to restore the Copper Basin and improve water quality in the Ocoee River," said Regional Administrator Hankinson. "We believe that joint actions by all parties under this agreement will produce major environmental improvements for the people of Tennessee."

Under this three party agreement, the following major activities will take place to begin restoration of the Copper Basin:

    • OXY USA has agreed to provide water treatment at the mouths of North Potato Creek and Davis Mill Creek to ensure that water flowing into the Ocoee River is free of contamination. This treatment will continue until upstream sources of contamination have been addressed through future agreements.
    • Cleanup activities in the North Potato Creek Watershed will be conducted by OXY USA under a TDEC order. Under the Order, OXY USA commits that by November 1, 2002, it will: clean up PCB contamination; eliminate, or prevent access to safety hazards such as old mine shafts and old mine collapses; and finish gathering data for characterization of environmental risks in the Watershed. The Order also provides for the long-term reclamation of the entire watershed. This process will continue until the stream and its tributaries meet standards under the Clean Water Act for fishing and swimming.
    • EPA will conduct an investigation of the Davis Mill Creek Watershed. The purpose of the investigation is to understand the full extent of contamination and to consider possible cleanup options for the Watershed. The investigation will be partially funded by OXY USA. EPA will also conduct similar investigations of the impacted sections of the Ocoee River.
    • OXY USA will conduct restoration activities by funding the planting of hardwoods and other trees and vegetation in the Copper Basin.
    • The parties have agreed to work together in a coordinated fashion to keep the public informed and involved in all activities occurring in the Basin. To that end, OXY USA will fund a Technical Assistance Program to help the local community better understand the cleanup activities.
"Innovative thinking and persistent negotiations resulted in this agreement, which prevents lengthy legal battles while still providing a solid, enforceable plan for cleanup," adds Congressman Zach Wamp.

"The people of Polk County have lived with safety hazards and pollution for over a century," said TDEC Commissioner Milton Hamilton. "We're proud to be a part of history by encouraging EPA and OXY USA to join us in this agreement, and we look forward to seeing this land become productive and the Ocoee River protected."