GALLATIN, Tenn., -- The Tennessee Valley Authority has a new $1.5 million Cumberland River Aquatic Center located next to the Gallatin Fossil Plant in Gallatin, Tenn.
Biologists from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District attended a brief ceremony marking the completion of the new facility. The state-of-the art building replaces an aged metal structure that was removed at the beginning of the Gallatin Fossil Plant’s $1 billion clean-air emissions project at Fossil Plant. Construction began May 2014.
Project Engineer for TVA Gary Wimberly thanked everyone involved and each agency for its dedication and commitment to sustain the environment.
Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Ed Carter said he had not visited the area since the old hatchery was demolished.
“I’m overwhelmed by the progress we have made to construct this facilty,” said Carter. “I have no doubt in my mind that there will be researchers from around the United States who will send grant money and invest in this facility so they can to be a part of this,” said Carter.
According to Tim Higgs, chief of Environmental Section, Project Planning Branch, Nashville District, several agencies signed a memorandum of understanding in 2011, including TVA, Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service to work together in protecting freshwater mussels on the Cumberland River and across Tennessee.
“We are pleased to see the new structure completed, and look forward to it becoming operational,” said Higgs. “When the raceways are completed this facility will have a lot more capabilities for future efforts to restore sensitive species and we’re excited about that,” said Higgs.
The Corps used mitigation funds from the emergency action to lower Lake Cumberland Reservoir in September 2008. The funds help refurbish raceways, acquire water supply, air supply, and electrical power to the facility.
Higgs said the Corps committed $700,000 for the work at the Cumberland River Aquatic Center at the Gallatin plant.
TVA vice president for Environment Brenda Brickhouse said the partnership between the agencies demonstrates TVA’s commitment to environmental stewardship. She added the partnership with the Corps recognizes the importance of conserving the rich aquatic biological diversity of fish, freshwater mussels and other aquatic species located in the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems.
“One of those reasons that the Corps is a full partner is that we sit here on the Cumberland River downstream from Wolf Creek Dam and the Corps is responsible for that,” said Brickhouse.
According to Brickhouse the new facility has a more flexible design with many capabilities. The new center will allow TWRA and its partners to better manage endangered species and collect data.
“Not only are we reducing our emissions at the fossil plant with construction, but the new facility will allow us to work on mitigation projects to ensure protection and growth of endangered species,” said Brickhouse.
About 75 percent of the 300 species of mussels once found in this country have gone extinct, are endangered or in need of management. Tennessee has about 110 species remaining, though they are in decline, which is a remarkably large number compared to most other states. The bivalves are valuable as biological water filters for rivers, for use in research and as food for other wildlife. Their shells are sought commercially for the cultured pearl industry.
Other partners in the project include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Nature Conservancy. The facility has also been used in university aquatic conservation research projects, including Tennessee Technological University, Middle Tennessee State University, The University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Virginia Tech University.
“We plan to continue our positive contribution to Tennessee’s diverse aquatic communities,” said Brickhouse. “It’s not about money, it’s about expertise.”