Tennessee bureaucrat: Water quality complaints could be considered ‘act of terrorism’

Katie McHugh Associate Editor
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Unsatisfied with the quality of your water and eager to let the government know about it?

You might be a terrorist, according to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

“We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources Sherwin Smith told a baffled and outraged audience in Maury County, Tennessee. “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.”

Audience members saw the official’s answer as a means of deterring complaints from the public, according to a report in The Tennessean.

Meeting attendee Joycelene Johns said her water quality is so poor she “[prays] before the first sip.” But she said Smith simply didn’t want to address the problem. To her, the deputy director’s reply could be translated into a dismissal: “Leave us alone. Don’t come back anymore. We’re not going to continue dealing with whatever problem you may have.”

Tennessee state Rep. Shelia Butt, who organized the meeting to address local water quality problems, frowned on Smith’s choice of words.

“I think that we need to be very careful with how we use the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism,’” Butt said. “I thought it was out of context. That did not apply to anything that we were discussing at the meeting.”

Nine people have been arrested on terrorism charges in the Volunteer State since 2002, according to The Tennessean. All but one of those had their charges dismissed or were convicted on lesser charges.

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Katie McHugh