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Activism

Activists Detained For Taking Ash Spill Photographs

Two environmental activists were detained by the Tennessee Valley Authority police for photographing the site of last weeks ash spill. While it does not appear that they will be charged with crimes, they were unable to document the ash spill’s effects on the area and its water supply.

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The men, who are from the Knoxville based United Mountain Defense, say that TVA has yet to release the water toxicity results. They say they have the right to take their own measurements and photographs unless TVA shows their results. “This is an issue of national importance,” said David Cooper. “People need to know if the water is safe or not.”

The environmental disaster, which covered 400 acres in ash, has demonstrated the fragility of supposed ecological safeguards. It begs the question of whether or not we can trust the same people who created the problem to give us accurate information about the disaster’s clean up and aftermath. The activists said that they will take their water samples and run the required tests.

While the men were let go and forced to leave the premises after an hour of detainment, in some ways our collective rights were infringed upon. If we cannot simply gather data without being harassed by police, then what actions can we freely and safely take?

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jerry Greer




53 comments
  1. The United States of Cowards - Wingnut Extreme

    […] year old IN THE HEAD because she ran away from a cop when her Mom wanted them to talk with her. – Arresting and beating people for taking photographs of public servants (uniformed police) or landscapes, […]

  2. Steave

    In America liberties are abused constantly, nobody can seriously be suprised when things like this happen
    its your hard earned tax dollars that pay police’s judgement after all.

  3. Don

    Archer, the TVA, as has been already noted, is a corporation run by the US Federal Government. It is wholly owned by the US Federal Government, and there’s no way the US Federal Government will ever admit fault or take any action against the police in question.

    (I’ve repeated about the US Federal Government just so no one can ever accuse this spill of being done by “greedy capitalists” without looking like buffoons.)

  4. Aaron

    Ditto Tom. If they are collecting water samples from a river, and taking pictures of coal ash that was spilled all over both public and private property, then there is no real legal basis for detaining them.

    I plan to go visit the site this weekend to take pictures. I am a journalist in NC, and if they detain me and remove me from the premises (especially from public property), I will gladly write it about.

  5. Jerry Greer

    Frank,

    Were you on Swan Pond Road or over, across the reservoir, on Pinnacle/Emory River Road? There’s only about 300 yards of road next to the sludge on Swan Pond that is accessible by the public. They put up cones with tape along all of the parking areas in the Swan Pond area so that you can’t park. The loop road is closed and Swan Pond heading toward the plant will be closed for some time.

    It’s good to hear that they are relaxing their stance on information gathering. I’d say that all of the press on how they’ve been treating people has forced them to change their tactics. I hope they just keep sitting back and relaxing a bit more. I want to come back up and shoot a few more pix. Maybe even bring my kayak for a closer look.

    BTW, I went to http://www.coalcandothat.com/ and posted to the blog about the the Kingston Fossil Plant disaster and they refuse to allow the comment. I say that we bombard them with posts!

  6. Anthony

    It goes without saying that the water is contaiminated. Of course they do not want pictures taken an independent tests ran. Get the Sierra Club or Earth Justice people in there to check on this. The story still will not see major press when the reality of the water crisis is known. Why, clean coal is the new golden calf.

  7. Alex Felsinger

    Thanks to Jerry Greer we now have a photo of the Kingston power plant itself. We used this photo originally because we could not find a stock photo of the Kingston plant or surrounding areas and this (http://flickr.com/photos/shockie/161958888/) plant in Europe seemed to the a worthy replacement. It is not nuclear, it is a coal-fired plant.

  8. Jerry Aiton

    Please change the picture with this article. It is a nuclear plant, the TVA Kingston Plant is a coal fired plant. The picture is wrong and misleading.

  9. Frank

    1) I live near the devastation.
    2) Yesterday I drove on both sides of the devastation and took many pictures. TVA employees and a Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy were in sight of where I was taking pictures and no one asked me any questions or objected. Other folks were also taking pictures up and down the roadways.
    3) The photograph accompanying this article is clearly not a photograph of the Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant. There are no hyberbolic shaped smoke or coolant stacks on that site.

  10. Jerry Greer

    John,

    There were no signs anywhere on the reservoir that I saw either stating it was closed. I did see them pull a kayaker from the water near the big barge they were using. I knew he was going to get busted. The TVA police and the local Sheriff’s Dept. are getting real aggressive with security. I hope in a few days to a week they will chill out a little and I’ll go back for some more photos. Anyway, keep safe!

  11. John L. Wathen

    I was there. I and two other WATERKEEPER Alliance members were stopped and detained in a waterway of the United States, in a canoe.

    We went in and took sediment samples and water samples. We were then stopped by a TVA company boat with two men in it. One was dressed in TVA construction clothing and the other had a police looking uniform but badge and name were covered by lifejacket. We stopped because he was pounding on the side of his boat and hand on gun demanded that we paddle to him and surrender our ID.

    I refused until he showed me his badge # It was John B. Neal, badge #107, TVA militia type police.

    John B. Neal claimed the river was “posted by US Coast Guard” We stated, “We saw no signs” John B Neal, badge # 107 claimed that “I personally went with USCG and assisted them in posting the signs” There were no signs. There never were any signs. I photographed every inch of the mouth of the Emory River and there ARE NO SIGNS as of yesterday at 12:30 Eastern Time. John B. Neal is a liar!

    When I told that story at the Kingston emergency town meeting, the Mayor of Kingston actually stepped between me and Tom Kilgore, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority and tried to stop me from speaking to the owner of the TVA ashole. When I called officer John B. Neal, badge# 107 a liar, the mayor actually bumped me with his chets and tried to push me away. I stood my ground and refused to be silenced.

    TVA is acting like gestapo instead of a private company security service.

    This is a long way from over!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmihsLzT7XQ

    http://s291.photobucket.com/albums/ll297/creekkeeper_2008/Harriman%20Coal%20ash%20spill/

    John L. Wathen,
    Hurricane Creekkeeper

  12. Archer

    There needs to be a big Federal response to this – penalties for the TVA as well as penalties for the individual officers involved. Letting thuggish behavior like this go unchecked and unpunished is reprehensible.

  13. Jerry Greer

    Hey Michael,

    I sent Alex a photo of the Kingston Fossil Plant. I told him that he could use it on the header of this post (instead of the Nuclear plant that is now used). If you’d like to use it let him know or I can send it to you directly.

    BTW, I have images of the disaster now posted to my website at http://www.jerrygreerphotography.com. They are posted in the Environmental Galley. Check them out.

  14. Elisa

    Sounds like someone should be arresting and detaining those fugitive emissions, quick, that spewed unchecked and chemically trespassed onto everyone’s personal property in its wake.

    Who is responsible for detaining those perpetrators? Warning surrounding residents? Doing something to protect their health and property?

  15. Jerry Greer

    Guys,

    Not sure if you read my posts but there’s no way that those guys were on TVA property. The property that TVA owns is across the lake where they were taking the photos. They were on the side where the 44 families homes were. The TVA property is almost totally an island. I’m really not sure why the TVA Police were on private landowners property! Look at a map, they were on Swan Pond Loop, a public road. If they were driving on the loop then there was NO barricade. When I got to the Swan Pond Loop Saturday it was manned by the Sheriff’s Dept. and I was not allowed to pass. No one is allowed in unless you can prove you are a land owner. Before they started barricading the road it was being driven everyone. They were approached because they had cameras!

  16. RonPaulWasRight

    Just get a larger group to go next time. You need a mob to descend on the site with testing equipment, video equipment, live feeds to the internet, and proof of State law that would protect your rights.

    So go back with a whole slew of folks. See what happens when researchers out-number security.

  17. Jim Lee

    “TVA officials tell 6 News the men were in an area that is barricaded and they refused to leave.”

    Always interesting to hear both sides of a story.

  18. Jonathan

    Michael’s right…either this is private property, in which case the arrests were justified, or it wasn’t, in which case that should have been specifically noted for the sake of clarity. The nominal reason for the detention is extremely relevant to the story. The decision not to address it suggests that the reporter is a partisan activist.

  19. Jerry Greer

    They were taking photos along the public road where the houses were destroyed! This is NOT property of TVA. This is on a public road with homes that are along the banks of the reservoir cove that is now full of fly ash sludge! Understand, the material came from TVA property and ended up filling an entire cove on a Watts Bar Reservoirs. Not only did it fill the cove it took out private homes and public roads (Swan Pond and Swan Pond Loop are the roads that were affected) along the banks of the reservoir! If you want to see a high resolution map go to Map Quest and type in Swan Pond, TN. This is the highest resolution map that I’ve seen, Google Maps is not.

    BTW, TVA is a Government-owned independent corporation.

  20. Dexter Westbrook

    So opponents of the TVA are gonna do their own tests to “document the ash spill’s effects on the area and its water supply.”

    Gee, wonder how those “tests” are going to turn out.

  21. Mike

    >TVA is a Public Utility –therefore that was NOT private property.

    Uhhhh…. Right. What a pathetic analogy… And the government is owned by the people, so why don’t you get your smart ass over to Area 51, jump the fences and start taking photos there?

    Public entities own property and they have every right to restrict access.

  22. punditius

    Actually, it’s not a question of whether it’s private property. It’s a question of whether the people taking the samples/photographs were legally entitled to be where they were, doing what they were doing.

    A person can’t just show up on government property and claim a right to be there and do whatever he wants. Sure, there are some types of government property a citizen normally is entitled to be on – a park, a sidewalk, a street – but there’s all kinds of government property a citizen can enter only under the terms & conditions set out by the government.

    So – where exactly were these guys? I’ll bet that they were at a location under the control of the TVA and if so, yeah, the TVA can kick them off.

    As for pictures, it basically comes down to where they were when they took them. If they were not on public property, then the camera/media can be taken by security people, though not erased, at least, not legally. Anyone interested in this topic should go to http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm for a nice one page explanation of a photographer’s rights.

  23. Bob

    I assume the photo above is the only power plant photo you have? It’s not Kingston. Kingston is fossil. The one above is nuclear. No smoke stacks, just cooling towers.

    Tom, remember September 11? Try to set foot on ANY government property and see what happens. All government installations respond with prejudice these days. Government property has NEVER meant public property either.

  24. Jerry Greer

    Guys,

    I’m an environmental and natural history photographer and I just returned from a trip to the site. They have it sealed up like a drum! I was able to get some photos of the area but I did get a lot of heat from the local Sheriffs Dept. I was in one area next to the cove that is now filled with ash/sludge and no less than five Sheriff’s Dept. cars came flying up, lights and all, and escorted each of us away. They didn’t even say a word other than you must leave NOW! It was really freaky. No one can get in to the homes or near the actual levee breakage site to photograph it. When I got there it was so foggy that I decided to shoot the Fossil plant and the lake, I’ll be posting them on my blog soon http://www.jerrydgreer.wordpress.com , from a public boat ramp under the I-40 bridge. I was visited by the TVA Police twice, they asked me what I was doing. I said nicely, photographing this beautiful scene! I then smiled and walked back to my camera and continued shooting. They didn’t like my answer but what were they going to do? Not a thing! I was at a public boat ramp.

    BTW, the guys that were detained are from a local and very known activist group. I’m certain that they were detained for that very reason. They are very well known by the TVA police force. They were also taking water samples and everyone that was doing so was treated hostilely. They are really trying to hide the fact that this is a major disaster and lives around this site are in danger, if not now, in the future for sure!

  25. DJEB

    “If this were about alleged drug dealers or possible illegal aliens, or some other right wing hang-up, and people believed there were criminal activities going on, you know damned well you wouldn’t have any problem with some private citizen violating the alleged’s private property for the sake of gathering evidence.”

    Now why do I think you are right on the money, isnamthere?

  26. Stanley

    Like always, American’s are always complaining about private property. Forget private property. I hope any reader that is educated understands that the institution of private property is the destruction of liberty. It’s not hard to see. I’m getting off topic here but this matter goes beyond the issue of trespassing on private property. What I’m getting from Michael is that they were asking for it by trespassing on private property when this ash spill is defacing property beyond its borders, the quality of the air we all breath and the water the area’s residents will be drinking? Our health is not as important as the sanctity of private property? I don’t know about you but this just doesn’t seem right…

  27. Julia Witt

    The ash spilled into our backyards! It’s not necessary and I would say nearly impossible to go on the TVA property to take pictures. What does this have to do with tresspassing? The hill that slid was a public recreation area that TVA had opened to the public for kids to play soccer on. What about the 400 acres of coal ash in my backyard? I have taken plenty of pictures. what I find really ironic is that they haven’t evacuated the area, so what are they hiding by not wanting any more pictures? we see the dead fish in the river of sludge.
    When this first happened TVA recommended that the people in the neighborhood boil their water for consumption, yet they said two days later this was not necessary, it was just a precaution. After 4 of 5 of my family members have developed cancer during the time we lived near TVA, I think we will always use bottled water.

  28. Tom Buckner

    Memo to Michael Schmitz:

    See that middle key on the left of your keyboard? That’s the caps lock button. Make friends with it. It’s there to help you.

  29. Tom Buckner

    Michael said on December 28th, 2008 at 9:39 am
    “Funny how the article dances around the issue of the individuals in question being on private property. ( snip ) stay the hell off other people’s property. Your holier-than-thou opinions do not give you the right to trespass. Ever.”

    What happens when private property eats the public common? When nearly all becomes private and nearly all private holdings become concentrated in a few hands? States are now considering selling off public lands to pay off short-term fiscal problems. Such land may never be public again,and gradually we enter a situation where you need to be rich to have any real freedom of movement (No Trespassing) or have any real freedom of speech (Corporate airwaves and No Leafletting In The Mall).

    Mindless worship of Private Property ends in a new feudalism. If you don’t own a fiefdom, you live on one as a serf.

  30. MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ

    ARE YOU PLANET SAVE AGAINST THE TRUTH, SO MUCH THAT YOU WONT ALLOW THE FACTS UNDER YOUR CAPTION OF MAKING PEOPLE THINK YOUR WAY EVEN IF ITS WRONG. ARE YOU THAT MAD AT THE WORLD OF ADVANCE GROWTH, WHILE NATURE TAKES GOOD CARE OF OUR ATMOSPHERE. MAYBE YOUR MINDS ARE ON BACKWARDS AND YOU SHOULD TRY MY EXPERIMENT TO PROVE TO YOURSELVES THAT I’M TELLING YOU TRUE. OK GET WHAT-EVER FILTERS AND SET THEM UP AT 300 FEET THEN BURN WHAT EVER YOU WISH INCLUDING TIRES AND RUN YOUR ENGINES. AFTER YOUR DONE, TAKE YOUR FILTERS AND SEE IF YOU CAN FIND ANY DISCOLOR. HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR== ALSO USE YOUR EYES AND WATCH THE SMOKE SEPARATE. THATS PROOF ENOUGH. MIKE

  31. MICHAEL J. SCHMITZ

    NATURE PROTECTS ANYTHING THAT RISES FROM EARTH INTO THE ATMOSPHERE. ALL BUT WHATS NATURAL SEPARATES IN THE ATMOSPHERE, I’VE ALREADY PROVEN THAT TO 350 MILLION PEOPLE INCLUDING THE E.P.A. WHEN CONGRESS ORDERED THEM TO PROVE THAT IT GOES TO THE OZONE. AS FAR AS TENNESSEE VALLEY AUTHORITIES AND ANYONE ELSE IS CONCERNED THESE ARE FACTS AND WHAT YOUR HEARING FROM BUSH IS LIES, EVEN THE 31,000 SCIENTISTS BUSH HIRED TO FIND THE CAUSE OF GLOBAL WARMING SAID MAN WAS’NT RESPONSIBLE. I’M GLOBAL COMMAND AND MY GLOBAL TEAMS HAVE FOUND THE CAUSE AND WE’VE SHUT THEM DOWN 28 DAYS OF OF 60, ALLOWING THE GLACIERS TO RETURN TO FREEZING. WE’VE PINPOINTED THE ACTIVATION WITHIN 500 MILES ON A HOSTILE CONTINENT. IF FOR THE LAST 2008 YEARS ALL ROSE TO THE OZONE, THEIR WOULD’NT BE LIFE ON EARTH, THE SUN WOULD’NT BE ABLE TO PENETRATE. BUT ALL LIFE EXISTS BECAUSE MOTHER NATURE PROTECTS THIS PLANET FROM ALL SPECIES AND THEIR POLLUTANTS BY SEPARATING THEM PRIOR TO THE OZONE. HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR. MIKE

  32. rewinn

    “Private property” doesn’t mean the same thing for a public entity such as TVA as it does for you and me.

    There’s no need to be cute here; TVA is hiding stuff. If it were really performing its mission to serve the public, it would welcome reporters onto its land to document what is doing on.

  33. Rik Reynolds

    What happens on private property that affects the public is the public’s business. Over the eight years of the Bush dictatorship the right of the public to know what affects them has been steadily choked down to a trickle, instead of the free-flow of information vital to that informed electorate John Adams said was “essential to democracy.” Those who would deny knowledge to citizens of issues that vitally concern their health and right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are traitors to the revolution.

  34. Tommy T

    I’ve got to agree with Michael. If they were in fact on private property, this article is silly as they were trespassing.
    That said, the whole “cover up” of the effects of this ash spill is ridiculous, and hopefully there will be some more national attention brought upon it.

  35. Aware

    In America liberties are abused constantly, nobody can seriously be suprised when things like this happen
    its your hard earned tax dollars that pay police’s judgement after all 🙂

  36. isnamthere

    Private property my ass! If this were about alleged drug dealers or possible illegal aliens, or some other right wing hang-up, and people believed there were criminal activities going on, you know damned well you wouldn’t have any problem with some private citizen violating the alleged’s private property for the sake of gathering evidence.

  37. Kharax

    We hear more and more about people getting arrested for photographing public sites. There is no reasonable security reason for this ridiculous policy – it’s just another form of social control and intimidation. Here’s one peaceful public action to counter-act this trend:
    Mass public photographing of sites that people have been busted for snapping photos of. Get a hundred or a thousand people down at the bridges, on an Amtrak platform, or at the ash-sludge disaster and photo it en masse. This will show the absurdity of the policies, confound the police, and represent a critique of the whole mind-set behind these so-called “policies”, which are really just homeland-security-enflamed police tactics run amok.

  38. Victor

    Michael you seem like such a good person with an amazing knowledge of the law ummm NO. What do you have to hide behind all your privacy huh? There is no such thing as trespass unless its for savety reasons, we cant stop the media when they are after their entertaining stories of disaster so why stop when they are trying to save lives. Get a grip and check your opinions with reality before saying them. if you live around me I would spy on you just for kicks to make sure you are not up to something stupid. People that have nothing to hide never get overlooked by authorities. This is an environmental disaster not you trying to preserve your little castle from the envious masses. The word dumb… comes to mind but hey you are still alive so we still got to respect you just dont talk most of the time please I don’t think you know how serious events like this are. People like you should be tasted before buying a computer. Yes I am a flammer and one of the best, its a gift that comes from my amazing anger and intense intellect.

  39. Gonzobot

    Wonderful. The State of the Nation is utter control – you are now able to be arrested for owning and using a camera! Why do authorities even TRY to do things like this? Do they honestly think they’ll ‘get away’ with it? Those officers involved need to go back to their first day of basic training, and take the pay cut that goes with it, because they are clearly incapable of performing their occupational duties.

  40. HankyPanky

    What kind of country do we live in today when police “detain” people for wanting to know the quality of water? This damned nation is on the verge of a major revolution.

  41. Michael

    Funny how the article dances around the issue of the individuals in question being on private property. It does say that they were “removed from the premises.” No matter what your personal beliefs, private property is that – private. If a crime has been committed, report it and follow it through. If not, stay the hell off other people’s property. Your holier-than-thou opinions do not give you the right to trespass. Ever.

    Let the flames begin……

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