“L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
“What’s essential is invisible to the eye,” is the English translation from the famed French children’s book. It is also said to have been one of Fred Rogers’ favorite quotations. Yes, I mean that Fred Rogers, the one from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
It is usually at my own peril when I differ with Mr. Rogers, but I don’t do so entirely in this case. I only slightly disagree. Not all that is essential is invisible if you consider beauty to be essential. I do.
The Locust Fork River is both beautiful and essential. It is hard to view any part of the river and not be amazed by its natural splendor. It is also the main artery for so much life. Flora and fauna both depend on its clean water. The diversity of fish, amphibians, insects, birds, microorganisms, and mammals sustained by the river is staggering. The same is true of the plants and trees growing along its banks. Each is a piece in a large ecosystem and each piece is necessary for the survival of all.
There are invisible things, stuff not everyone sees, that flow because of the Locust Fork. One is money from tourism, eco-tourism specifically. It benefits the whole county. People travel here to kayak, canoe, fish, birdwatch, or just to enjoy the cool waters on a hot day. They spend dollars at local businesses and some of those dollars translate into taxes collected by local governments. The county commission recognized that when it built the King’s Bend Scenic Overlook in Cleveland.
Of course, many Blount Countians enjoy the river in the same way. Some fish or hunt along its banks. Others may just go sit and listen to the peaceful sounds of nature to relax. The laughter of kids and grandkids splashing in the water is priceless and creates joyful memories that endure for a lifetime. Another memory held by more than a few in this county is being baptized in the Locust Fork.
All this and much more is possible only because of a viable and living river. This ecosystem, a delicate dance of nature, can be threatened. It can be harmed, devastatingly so, if we are not good stewards. Members of the Friends of the Locust Fork River know that. They volunteer their time to preserve the river’s viability. But you do not have to be a member of FLFR to be a friend to the river. As its friend, there is something you can do now that is concrete and will help protect it.
Tyson Foods, Inc. applied for a permit some time ago for the Blountsville processing plant to change its treated waste water discharge point from Graves Creek to directly into the Locust Fork, about a mile and a half upstream from the scenic overlook.
In June a company official told FLFR and commission chairman Chris Green the company was abandoning that plan. Tyson sent a letter to that effect. The application also seeks to increase the amount of discharge, but Tyson’s letter made no mention of giving up on that. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management has continued with the application process. That process will soon come to a head at a public hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
Tyson’s last stated position is not to discharge directly into the river; however, if the application permit is approved as is, at some point in the future, the company could change direction again. It could also increase its discharge rate.
That possibility should be concerning to anyone who considers themselves a friend to the river. FLFR members are asking people to come to the public hearing to show support, calling folks to “Rally for the River.” They are asking for personal letters outlining why you might think the proposal is bad for the river and the community. It can be technical, but not necessarily. You can also state how you and the county benefit from the river. If you have photographs of the river, the plants and wildlife that flourish there, or just you enjoying good times there, send those as well to Mari Brindle at firstname.lastname@example.org. They all will be compiled and submitted at the hearing.
Mr. Rogers might agree, at least in this instance, that some essentials can be both seen and unseen.
Tyson’s application can be viewed on ADEM’s website at www.adem.state.al.us/newsEvents/notices/jun19/6npdes2.html. Public comments can still be made through this site until the day of the hearing.