Complaining about water quality could be ‘act of terrorism,’ TDEC official says
A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director warned a group of Maury County residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism.”
“We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees. “But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under homeland security an act of terrorism.”
“Can you say that again, please?” an audience member can be heard asking on the audio.
Smith went on in the recording to repeat the claim almost verbatim.
The audio was recorded May 29 by Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, a Smyrna-based civic action group that had been working with Maury County residents to tackle complaints about water quality in Mt. Pleasant. Residents there have complained to the state for months, saying some children had even become ill drinking the water. The meeting was organized by State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, and attended by residents, TDEC and local officials.
TDEC said it was looking into what was said at the meeting and that Smith would not be available for comment.
“In terms of the comments made by a member of the Water Resources Division at the meeting, we are just receiving the information and looking into this on our end. The department would like to fully assess what was said in the meeting,” said spokeswoman Meg Lockhart. “ I am told that the meeting was far longer than the audio clip provided by SOCM and that Mr. Smith actually clarified his remarks. But again, we are looking into it.”
The comment shocked and outraged attendees, who saw it as an attempt to silence complaints, said Brad Wright, organizer for SOCM in Middle Tennessee.
“I think it’s just to quash us complicating life for them,” he said.