If
you are a southeastern white water paddler, you probably know about
the infamous pollution problems on the Pigeon River. The Champion
International pulp and paper mill in Canton, North Carolina, has been
turning the waters of the Pigeon black for the past 90 years. In
December a landmark agreement was signed that will likely mean a long
overdue end to the degradation of this wonderful Appalachian river.

The
agreement signaled an end to a contentious battle over the pollution
discharge permit and variance issued to Champion in December of 1996.
The North Carolina approved permit that did nothing to reduce
pollution and was virtually impossible for the company to violate.
The American Canoe Association (ACA) and a number of local partners,
which include the Tennessee Environmental Council (TEC), the Dead
Pigeon River Council, and the Clean Water Fund of North Carolina,
responded by launching an all out campaign to overturn the Champion
permit and the variance.

The
well thought out campaign quickly gained results. Public pressure
generated by the effort caused the State of Tennessee to formally
object to the new permit and prompted Vice President Gore to ask EPA
to review the permit decision. The state of Tennessee filed court
papers in North Carolina officially challenging the validity of the
permit, and was joined by ACA, TEC, Cocke County, Tennessee, and the
town of Newport, Tennessee. For the past year these parties, along
with North Carolina and Champion, have been negotiating with EPA over
the issue.

Under
the constant threat of EPA vetoing the permit and taking permitting
authority away from North Carolina, an agreement was reached that
imposes tough new standards on the Champion mill. This agreement
establishes permit limits which go far beyond those proposed by North
Carolina in 1996. The new permit will establish limits that commit
Champion to reducing its color pollution by 50% over the next 3
years. The terms of the permit require Champion’s color discharges
to be below the 48,000 to 52,000 lb./day range by May of 2001. The
previous North Carolina proposed limit was 98,400 lb./day. The
agreement also moves the compliance point for instream standards
almost 20 miles upstream to Hepco, NC, by modifying Champion’s color
variance. The North Carolina permit had proposed the instream
compliance point remain in Tennessee, some 38 miles downstream.

The
ACA is very pleased with this long overdue progress. David Jenkins,
the Association’s Director of Conservation and Public Policy and a
principle negotiator of the new limits, praised the agreement, saying
“This agreement is a real turning point and a tremendous stride
forward. It forces Champion to greatly reduce its discharges to the
river, brings instream compliance into North Carolina, and sets the
stage for full elimination of the variance in the near future.”

Jenkins
commended the efforts of Tennessee Governor Sundquist, EPA, the White
House and the efforts of area canoe clubs. He said, “The
overall club effort has been tremendous. The Tennessee Scenic Rivers
Association, Carolina Canoe Club, Chota Canoe Club, Tennessee Valley
Canoe Club, UNCA Paddling Club, and others all deserve a lot of
credit for this victory, as do the hundreds of individual paddlers
who took the time to write letters to EPA and the White House.”

As
great as this victory is, the job is not finished. The ACA, in
recent meetings with concerned citizens, pledged to continue its
efforts to protect and restore the Pigeon throughout this permit term
and beyond. These efforts will include a vigorous campaign to
monitor progress and compliance under the new permit, and the
securing of additional pollution reductions in the future.

As
for the polluter, river advocates may not be doing battle with
Champion for much longer. The $8 billion company has announced that
it plans to sell the Canton mill. Whoever buys the mill will have
to accept that the Pigeon River’s years of being a corporate sewer
are over. The new permit signals that fact, and makes great progress
toward the full restoration of the Pigeon.

by
David Jenkins of the American Canoe Association
From The Eddy
Line, February 1998