Mining the Copper Basin in Southeast Tennessee

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Copper exploration in Southeast Tennessee began in 1847 when the first shipment took place. According to Tellico Plains Mountain Press, 90 copper casks reached Dalton and Georgia, before being shipped to other areas of the world (1). The discovery of copper led to the building of roads and railroads across the area. In 1861, the interruption of civil war mining caused a standstill in the five mines of Tennessee, Mary, Isabella, Eureka, and Hiwassee. By 1863, the mine transferred hands from Northern industrialists to the Confederacy and eventually to the Federal Army who controlled the mines. However, productivity decreased by half during the transformation phase. Three years later, two branches of Burra Burra and Union Mines started functioning once again using a different criterion of shift mining as a way to reach the deepest ends. The activity did not last for a long time since in 1870 the quantity of copper ore began reducing. This turnedaway most investors, especially in the transport sector. Tellico Plains Mountain Press argues that the few who insisted on mining found it hard transporting their harvest to most parts of the country as it was uneconomical (1). In fact, the rail transportation that was relatively cheap ceased its operation for about 10 years. However, the Marietta buildings and North Georgia solved the transportation problem since the residents staying around the mining zone moved easily since they could walk.

Ducktown Sulphur in collaboration with Copper and Iron Company reopened Mary mine branch of the mine in the year 1890. The railway, built prior, aided in re-locating the trucks after being filled with ore. The transportation sector improved even better after the introduction of a railway loop of 8,000 feet going round the mountain. Despite the changes, the copper mining process was not smooth as two lawsuits concerning land deeds occurred in 1904. The cases were addressed by the court without escalating to conflict. The 200 residents living in the area before the mining procedure commenced got direction from the court to understand and accept the mining process since it would bring many advantages to the region (Tellico Plains Mountain Press 1). During the same time, there occurred a rift between Georgia and Tennessee Copper Company (TCC). This time, TCC had the advantage given that they had a construction underway in the land that brought conflict. By that time, the miners had depleted copper ore and the miners opted for sulfuric acid as an alternative. Twenty years later, the land was barren with limited value. In 1940, some companies like TVA started reclamation by planting pine in a vast area to combat the fast-growing drought in the region. According to Tellico Plains Mountain Press, the CCC group who were supporting the same mission of turning the ruins into a useful land joined one year after TVA began the journey (1). Many opted to sell their land at a lower price due to bankruptcy after the depletion of minerals since there was no employment anymore.Boliden Intertrade AG Company acquired most of the facilities after some residents left the place. They renamed the place to B.I.T Manufacturing zone. This paper argues that addressing the environmental pollution in Copper Basin in Southeast Tennessee requires tree planting, water treatment,corporation among parties, and land re-use strategies.

Companies Encouraged Afforestation

Tennessee suffered great erosion over the periodof more than 160 years. The mining degraded an area of about 32,000 acres in Copper Basin in Southeast Tennessee. TVA was among the first organizations to try afforestation procedure. According to Tellico Plains Mountain Press, the TVA and affiliated organizations wanted to plant more than 16 million trees (1). They wanted to re-instate the Ococee River reservoir, which had faced damages in the process. They created a group named Cooperative Copper Basin Land Reclamation Project to assist in afforestation strategies. The project was to be intensive because the area was composed of rocks since most of the soil was swept through soil erosion. Halsteadet al. argue that afforestation program had a challenge of using complex equipment, which could crack and somehow leveled the soil (3395). This process could create organic matter with the ability to hold water for the plants to survive. In some areas, erosion had created several gullies making it difficult for the machines to neither reach nor operate efficiently. For example, there were huge gullies in Burra Burra mines and Georgia. TAV organization had to solve the challenge of rugged terrain in addition to high levels of acidity in the area before planting the 16 million trees (Tellico Plains Mountain Press 1). The chemicals produced during the copper extraction such as sulfur dioxide was also harmful to the environment and human beings. Therefore, deforestation would help to purify the environment.

The afforestation procedure had begun through chemical treatment of the available soil. This is because during the mining, the companies used chemicals such as sulfuric acid in the process. The sulfuric acid fumes entered the environment, which later mixed with rain water to form acidic water. Therefore, before planting the forest, the organization had to ensure they reduce the acidic level in the soil. Pritchettasserts that TAV used lime to reduce the acidity level in the soil (125). In addition, the huge bulldozers crushed the rocks to level high places.For the stability of the young trees, they had to dig two feet deep. In fact, the seedlings were monitored for a period one month through watering.

Technology played an important role in the reclamation sector since the area was vast to use human labor. At some point, TAV used helicopters to spread seed mixtures over a wide zone that was bare. However, the organization had to include human labor during planting and controlling the machines since over 80% of the residents lost jobs when the mining companies down their tools. They planted different species of plants and trees in the form of seedlings. They covered an average of 11,025 acres over the period of 2 years (Pritchett 98). The trees might have been short at the time but the rate of erosion reduced significantly from the former 200 tons to 8 tons per acre. The trees saved the declining reservoir of Ocoee River. The ecosystem was slowly going back to normal with the organization re-introducing the native fish species. By the year 1996, basin zone was slowly becoming vegetated and even hosted whitewater events duringthe Olympic level. The effort of TVA towards the reclamation of Copper Basin was evident, thus helping them to receive an Environmental Achievement Grand Award in 1998.

Using Water Treatment Strategy

The water treatment project helped the organization reclaim the mining land since afforestation required less acidic soil. The two divisions that helped the region in treating waterinclude Davis Mill Creek Watershed (DMCW) and North Potato Creek Watershed (NPCW). During the first phase, they set a Committed Water Treatment System. This process was possible though gathering the chemically filled waters existing within the gullies, underground dug wells and contaminated storm water during rainy seasons. Harangozó and Gyula assert that water treatment in the water catchment areas occurred beforeirrigation on the recently planted trees (23). The treatment procedure involved extraction of any chemical and metal content available in the water through the Belltown Creek and Gypsum Pond Creek diversion systems.The elimination of metals such as lead elements from waterensures the trees have a higher chance of surviving in the harsh environment. According to Morin, by the year 2004, the area had benefitted from over 1.9 billion gallons of water that passed through purification (156). The organizations extracted different types of metals like manganese, copper, iron, zinc, lead and calcium totaling to about 5,975,806 tons of metals. NPCW provided machines that focused on the long-term goals such as retaining water reservoirs in case of drought.Harangozó and Gyula noted that NPCW decided to install a lime treatment plant at South Mine Pit to boost soil purification by reducing the acidity level (24). With other clean ups alternatives developed, they cleared the bare zone before afforestation begun. The produced lime from the industry controlled acidity from a PH of 3.3 to the neutral point of PH of 7.0. The aim of the watershed project was to reclaim the biological formation of Copper Basin.

Corporation of Stakeholders

The American government advised for multiparty agreement as a way of reclaiming Copper Basin region. The parties in collaboration included TDEC, GSHI, and EPA. They were to create a coordinated process in which they share a vision of reclaiming the mining zone. They were to redevelop the Copper Basin Mining District to become a place of possible habitation by making it favorable for people and animal habitation. One of the procedures used was clearing the air in Copper Basin and its environment from the chemical pollutants available in the ecosystem. Evans and Olivia assert that the partners agreed to work together and including the members of the community (8). They started their cleanups by removing any solid by-products from mining that caused harm and pollution. In fact, making the place accessible and safe makesit an economic zone since many can inhabit. As such, it leads to the development of small villages and towns in a matter of years. The partners agreed to protect the natural resources whereby the community could attract other finance generating activities like the whitewater sports occurring at Ocoee River (Halstead et al. 3396). Ideally, involving occupants from the surrounding societies could fasten the process and save on cost since they did a voluntary work towards making the place better. The organizations could then use the saved money on other relevant procedures protecting the site.

The unity and cooperation between the parties and the community empowered the residents. They organized meetings where the partners gave the community members opportunities to share their views on protecting the region.For example, the Tennessee community suggested that Boliden Intertrade AG should participate in achieving healthy and green landscape (Tellico Plains Mountain Press 1). Various government departments including TDEC Division of Water Pollution Control, Division of Superfund, contractors, EPA Superfund and EPA Site Remedial Project Managers (RPMs) were involved towards the cleanup project. The effort of involving the community increased the rate of remedial activities around the site. They have divided labor through signing some legal agreements. An example of such agreement is the State of Tennessee applied at Burra Burra Historic Mine Site and Ducktown Basin Museum. Bardos et al. assert that the partners have even involved the media through taking them to tours around the cleaned zones as a method of measuring the progress (771). This has helped students do research concerning land reclamation and applying the ideas where necessary. Some of the groups voluntarily provided finance to buy relevant requirements such as protective clothing used during the community activities. For instance, GSHI contributes 50,000 grants annually to the organization's union.

The organization in charge of reclamation used designed drainage systems as a means of reducing rate of erosion in Copper Basin region. The designed functionality of the drainage system occurred through conversion of natural systems to uniquely built man-made resources (Conticelli and Simona 334). They inserted boulder ground channels in waste rocks and other accumulated materials so that the flow of water was natural. In fact, they placed pipes at the inclined level, which was capable of leading excess water in the region to avoid regular flooding in Copper Basin region.

Mining Site Re-Uses

TDEC, GSHI, EPA, and other organizations such as TVA had long-term goals like land re-use for agriculture during site planning. They planned for future re-use of the reclaimed resources like land, water and some deposits of minerals. They planted different species of grass, legumes, and trees with the vision of using them for wildlife and economic development. Davis Mill Creek and North Potato Creek companies were concerned with preserving water catchment areas and water treatment procedures (Morin 87). Trees were also part of the scheme to improve soil fertility for agricultural production. Given that the trees have the ability to survive in different types of terrain, hence the government wanted the soil to regain soil texture and form. Shivaasserts that as the trees reclaim land texture, residents can plant leguminous plants to fix nitrogen in the soil (130). Nonetheless, the residents can also use trees for construction since this was the way to benefit from the project. Thorpe et al.assert that reclaiming mining land for agriculture and forest development, residents realized 20% increase in economic growth (101). For example, depending on the species of a tree planted, they can sell its timber after several years. Morin estimated that a forest of over one hundred healthy yard trees has an economic value of over $ 364,000 income (137). Agricultural types of trees, which bear fruits, planted within the forest are also a method of re-use. These can benefit the residents in the surrounding community or any type of tourists visiting the place. The government can save on imports of tree related products by planting then on the reclaimed land.

The government has advised interested parties to use the 100 acres not yet reclaimed as a building site. This will make the residents be creative since land is a scarce resource in Tennessee. According to Conticelli and Simona, the settlement is a method of attracting community formation and other financial activities around and within Copper Basin mining zone (341). As the community around the reclaimed land expands, other related activities grow up. For example, industries such as paper milling or fertilizer industry will use the resources available to benefit the residents. The procedure helps people relocate from congested cities towards the outskirts.


Overall, addressing the environmental pollution in Copper Basin in Southeast Tennessee requires tree planting, water treatment, corporation among parties, and land re-use. These methods should be incorporated into the government plans in order to achieve the results within the shortest time. The residents lost jobs due to the fact that mining companies went out of business. As such, people's income reduced yet they depended on the land for agricultural production and settlement. Collaboration with institutions such as TDEC, GSHI, EPA, and such as TVA help the government in water purification, reducing environmental contamination, and tree planting. For example, TVA and affiliated organizations wanted to plant more than 16 million trees. Agricultural types of trees will not improve only the economic standards of people surrounding the mining sites but also the health. Therefore, the government should cooperate with the community to eradicate pollution and reclaim land to its original state.

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Works Cited

Bardos, R. Paul, Sarah Jones, Ian Stephenson, Pierre Menger, Victor Beumer, Francesca Neonato, Linda Maring, Uwe Ferber, Thomas Track, and Katja Wendler. "Optimising Value from the Soft Re-Use of Brownfield Sites." Science of the Total Environmentvol.563, 2016, pp.769-782.

Conticelli, Elisa, and Simona Tondelli. "Eco-Industrial Parks and Sustainable Spatial Planning: A Possible Contradiction?." Administrative Sciencesvol.4, no.3, 2014, pp. 331-349.

Evans, Chris, and Olivia Saunders. "A world of copper: globalizing the Industrial Revolution, 1830 70." Journal of Global Historyvol.10, no.01, 2015, pp. 3-26.

Halstead, Judith A., Sabrina Kliman, Catherine White Berheide, Alexander Chaucer, and Alicea Cock-Esteb. "Urban Stream Syndrome in a Small, Lightly Developed Watershed: A Statistical Analysis of Water Chemistry Parameters, Land Use Patterns, and Natural Sources." Environmental Monitoring and Assessmentvol.186, no. 6, 2014, pp.3391-3414.Print.

Harangozó, Gábor, and Gyula Zilahy. "Cooperation between Business and Non-Governmental Organizations to Promote Sustainable Development." Journal of Cleaner Productionvol.89, 2015, pp. 18-31.

Morin, Bode J. The Legacy of American Copper Smelting: Industrial Heritage versus Environmental Policy. University of Tennessee Press, 2013. Print.

Pritchett, C. Herman. The Tennessee Valley Authority: A Study in Public Administration. Boston, MA: UNC Press Books, 2014. Print.

Shiva, Vandana. Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit. New York: North Atlantic Books, 2016.Print.

Tellico Plains Mountain Press. Mining the Copper Basin in Southeast Tennessee, n.d. Available at. Accessed on 17 April, 2017

Thorpe, Jocelyn, Stephanie Rutherford, and L. Anders Sandberg, eds. Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research. New York: Routledge, 2016. Print

October 12, 2022

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