Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We don't need no stinkin' permits?

Remember two months ago, when the Memphis Zoo cleared and grubbed the understory of two acres of forest inside their fence?

If you plan to disturb more than one acre of land for a construction project in Tennessee, you are supposed to get a stormwater construction permit before you start work. We discovered that the Zoo did not have a permit to destroy this particular patch of forest understory.

We reported this permit violation to TDEC and the City of Memphis stormwater program. A City stormwater inspector visited the site and told us that the Zoo was in compliance because they had stabilized the site with mulch and sod.

Since the City did not address the main point of our complaint -- that the Zoo failed to obtain a permit that is required by law -- we asked TDEC to follow up. Here's the result (click to biggify):

The construction permit for Teton Trek (TNR152721) was issued to the Memphis Zoological Society on October 23, 2007, and it covered 4.2 acres of land clearing. Those 4.2 acres were cleared in February of 2008, like so:

The Zoo's suggestion that the recent clearing was "included" in the original permit for Teton Trek simply does not add up.

And speaking of numbers, if you look at TDEC's permit fee range, you'll see that the Memphis Zoological Society saved itself $750 by getting a permit to clear 4.2 acres instead of 6.2 acres.

At best, this was a sloppy mistake on the Zoo's part. At worst, it's a symptom of an above-the-law mentality that does not bode well for the forested parkland that remains captive inside the Zoo's fence.

Will the Memphis Zoological Society pay the applicable permit fee, just like every other land developer in Tennessee? Will the Zoo be penalized in any way for breaking the law? Maybe, but don't hold your breath.