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

By Duncan Maysilles | Go to book overview

6
WILL SHIPPEN,
FORESTRY, AND
GEORGIA’S
SECOND SMOKE
SUIT, 1905–1907

Georgia’s attorney general, John C. Hart, negotiated the 1904 settlement agreement with the Tennessee Copper Company (TCC) and the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Company (DSC I) in the belief that adoption of the new pyritic method of smelting sulfide copper ore would end the damage to vegetation caused by smoke from the old method of open heap roasting. Events soon proved otherwise: smelter smoke generated by the new method was just as thick and toxic to budding fruit and early ears of corn as before. Because the new method was much faster than the old, the copper companies could now process much larger quantities of ore, and more sulfur fumes entered the atmosphere. Conditions deteriorated still further in 1906 after completion of a giant 325-foot smokestack for the Tennessee Copper Company at its Copperhill complex. Farmer A. B. Dickey complained that “the smoke we have now is a great deal worse than the smoke was from the roast heaps.” At the height of the growing season, “there come up a smoke over on the 18th of July … it just bit everything we have growing on the farm and from all appearances the timber is just about finished.” 1

A sheaf of similar complaints reached Hart’s desk in Atlanta, and he knew that legislators from the mountain counties were receiving more of the same. The recent settlement was beginning to shrivel and curl like the smoke-burnt leaves of Ducktown apple orchards. Hart wrote TCC’s lawyers on August 4, 1904, to express his mounting fears: “I feel much concerned about this on account of the sufferers in Georgia as well as the disappointment which your own people must feel if the new process has proved a failure.” It went deeper than that. He had pushed for the settlement, and as an elected official, he was politically exposed to angry voters. It was only a matter of time before they goaded the General Assembly to force renewal of the state’s United States Supreme Court case. With that in mind, he continued, “This letter is personal … I am writing confidentially to ask of you to investigate and see if the injury is the result of failure in the new process or of negligence in its use.” 2

Hart needed allies and found them in an unexpected letter sent from the

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