Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South's Greatest Environmental Disasters

By Duncan Maysilles | Go to book overview

4
GEORGIA
ENTERS THE
FRAY

In 1903 Georgia farmers in the Ducktown Basin were beside themselves with frustration. Each growing season brought another round of dismay as acid from the smoky clouds killed the fruits of their labors on the stalk, the vine, and the branch. It was bad enough to suffer the damage. It was worse to know that they could have profitably sold all of their produce to the miners—if only they could grow it. Added to this was the realization that their efforts to fight the smoke problem in the Tennessee courts were, for the moment, going nowhere.

Ambrose Bierce, a contemporary journalist, self-described cynic, and author of The Devil’s Dictionary (1911), defined litigation as “a machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.” After five or six years of litigation in Tennessee, it was obvious to the smoke suitors that they were being ground into sausage and that the company lawyers were turning the crank. James G. Parks, counsel for the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Company (DSC I), and Howard Cornick, his counterpart for the Tennessee Copper Company (TCC) had outmaneuvered them at almost every turn by applying their considerable legal skills, bolstered by the resources and power available to them as corporate attorneys. In the Polk County Circuit Court, their strategy of “keeping a blocked docket” had prevented all but a few cases for monetary compensation from reaching juries. In the Polk County Chancery Court, they blocked the farmers’ repeated attempts to abate the smelter smoke. Each of the petitions for injunction against the copper companies languished in seemingly endless rounds of appeal.1

The copper companies had also won key legislative battles in Nashville. With the active support of corporate counsel and lobbyists from the railroads, they changed the common law of nuisance in favor of industry. The new law required chancery courts to employ the balancing-of-interests test when ruling upon petitions to enjoin smokestack industries. Now, the dollar impact of industrial smoke upon the operations of typically modest mountain farms had to be weighed against the economic consequences of an injunction—the millions of dollars invested in plant and equipment, the number of employees and households dependent upon industry wages, and the general economic impact of a closure. Another statute hindered cash-

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