KINGSPORT – City staff has unveiled an extensive 3,000 acre plus Greenbelt Enhancement Plan aimed at improving water quality in Horse Creek and Reedy Creek while at the same time moving Kingsport among top cities in the nation in terms of available public green space.

“We have a real opportunity on the order of that presented decades ago to city fathers who founded Bays Mountain Park,” City Manager John Campbell said Friday. “On the one hand, we have thousands of acres of floodplain along these two creeks that have not been developed, as has already occurred in most other cities.

“At the same time, we face increasingly stringent water quality regulations from federal and state authorities that require us to manage storm water runoff going into these creeks.”

Natural vegetative buffers are by far the most cost effective filter for managing storm water, and certainly far cheaper than treating runoff at a wastewater plant prior to discharge.

“It is well proven that leaving a vegetative buffer undisturbed is the best thing you can do to protect a stream from the effects of urban and agricultural runoff,” Kingsport Stormwater Engineer Dan Wankel said. “It exposes the runoff to nature’s best and allows some of it to soak through the soil.
“Such a buffer also takes the energy out of the storm water and allows it to sheet flow, instead of allowing a focused discharge. The sheer velocity of the water is what provides erosive force.”

Geographic Information specialists at the city have identified 3,182 acres of floodplain along both creeks inside city limits.

About 1,094 acres is flood way that cannot be built in. The remaining 2,088 acres are flood fringe, which be built upon in limited circumstances.
“We have implemented a buffer requirement as part of our stormwater ordinance,” Wankel said. “All new developments along Reedy Creek or Horse Creek must provide a 60 foot average buffer from the top of the creek bank, with a minimum 25 foot buffer at any one point.”

In the end, if a majority of the currently untouched stream banks along both creeks can be preserved, Wankel is certain the condition of the creeks will continue to improve.

“This will reduce pollution going into the creeks,” he said. “This is nature’s filter. If we were able to get something like this in place, it sure would be a big help.”

Wherever possible, Campbell is recommending that city staff encourage owners of such property to seek conservation easements or donate acreage along the Reedy and Horse creek floodplains.

Over time as these parcels are assembled, the city can look to expand bikeway/greenway opportunities beyond the nearly 9 mile backbone Greenbelt that runs from the Exchange Place on the east end of Kingsport all the way to the forks of the Holston River on Netherland Inn Road.