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News Release

Tennessee NRCS Emergency Watershed Protection Program Fire Recovery Efforts Underway on Gatlinburg and Sevier County Roadsides

Servier County Fire

For more information contact:
Katherine K. Burse, State Public Affairs Officer
PH: 615-277-2533

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NASHVILLE, May 3, 2017 – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has made great strides through its Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) to stabilize roadsides that were damaged during the wildfires that ripped through Sevier County in late November 2016.

It has been nearly six months since the wildfires—which began on Chimney Tops mountain and eventually spread to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and other areas in Sevier County—killed 14 people, destroyed 2,013 homes and 53 commercial structures, and burned 17,000 acres of mountainous rural and urbanized watersheds.

After all of the fire damage and devastation, Sevier County was left to find ways to mitigate the severely burned watershed areas to reduce the threat to life and property from issues like soil erosion, sedimentation, and potential flooding.

The erosion of the bare soil can cause dangerous situations resulting from the increased runoff and sedimentation into the streams and rivers,” said Alton Miller, EWP Program Manager, Tennessee NRCS.  “This not only affects and endangers people and property, but the environment and aquatic life as well, which is why we offer EWPP assistance.”

The EWP Program is a recovery program aimed at relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms, and other natural occurrences.

Public and private landowners are eligible for assistance, but must be represented by a project sponsor that must be a legal subdivision of the State, such as a city, county, township or conservation district.

Through EWPP, NRCS provided nearly $700,000 cost-share assistance to the City of Gatlinburg and to Sevier County to stabilize roadsides by hydro-seeding the area to prevent the bare soil slopes adjacent to the roadways from eroding and sending tons of soil into the roadways and filling the roadside ditches, drainage ways, and streams with sediment. 

Sediment on the roadways would threaten the lives and property of the local driving public on the narrow, curvy mountain roads.  Also, sediments entering the roadside ditches, drainage ways, and local streams would cause dangerous flooding problems, damages to infrastructure and the local aquatic environment. 

A cooperative agreement was signed between NRCS and each sponsor obligating the funding, outlining the processes, and ultimately authorizing the recovery construction work to begin.  The agreement is a result of a collaborative effort between NRCS, Sevier County Soil Conservation District, the City of Gatlinburg, Sevier County Government, Sevier County Stormwater, and Sevier County Highway Department.

It is anticipated that once the hydro-seeding process is complete and the seed mix germinates and grows, the burned roadsides should be much more resistant to erosion and sedimentation. This will allow for the natural revegetation process to take over and fully regenerate the roadside vegetation over the next couple of growing seasons.

The NRCS EWPP is a cost-share program to help eligible local government sponsors take emergency measures to relieve imminent hazards to life and property created by a natural disaster and to reduce runoff and soil erosion in the impacted watershed.  While this particular natural disaster event was a fire, other events such as floods, tornados, and earthquakes are eligible. 

For more information about how EWPP can assist you or your community during a future natural disaster, contact your local USDA Service Center. To learn more about this program and other NRCS programs and activities, visit www.tn.nrcs.usda.gov.

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