KINGSTON, Tenn. — A week after the worst spill ever from a coal ash pond, TVA President Tom Kilgore pledged Sunday to clean up hundreds of acres of sludge-damaged property, help compensate dislocated residents and come up with a new design to remove the residue from burning coal at the Kingston Fossil Plant.
“We’re going to clean it up right,” Mr. Kilgore told more than 300 residents who packed an emergency meeting Sunday night called by the Kingston City Council. “We’re going to make it whole.”
Mr. Kilgore also said the federal utility will pay to test local wells for contamination and will start air quality testing to help allay concerns about environmental problems from the 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash that spilled over more than 300 acres here.
Despite TVA’s assurances, however, many residents complained that TVA’s response was inadequate after an earthen dam around a coal ash settling pond burst Dec. 22.
Darline Birkshire said she was awakened in the middle of the night last Monday and told her family may have to evacuate, “but no one ever came” and so far her family has had no help from TVA.
“Don’t tell me this won’t affect people up and down the lake,” she told Mr. Kilgore. “Are my kids safe when it quits raining and (the fly ash) gets dry (and airborne)?”
Mr. Kilgore said TVA may install sprinklers in yards to limit the fly ash from being blown around and causing respiratory problems.
TVA spokeswoman Kay Whittenburg said crews working around the clock have cleared more than half of a road and rail line that was covered by the sludge.
Kingston City Councilman Brant Williams, who called for Sunday’s council meeting on the coal ash spill, said the cleanup will likely be a costly and laborious process.
“We must be diligent and vocal, in order to retain our voice in the formulation of a reclamation and recovery plan,” he said.
The wall of fly ash and sludge from last week’s spill filled what was once a slew of the Emory River, destroyed three riverfront homes and left dozens of others cut off from utility service and road connections.
Water and gas service was restored by the end of last week, but cleaning up all of the damage could take months and cost millions of dollars for TVA.
TVA said an initial test of river water near the spill showed elevated levels of lead and thallium. But other tests last week showed water quality was within state and federal requirements at the water intake for the city of Kingston six miles away, according to results released by TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation over the weekend.
Anda Ray, TVA’s senior vice president for environmental policy, insists that most of the sludge is nontoxic and similar to what is used to make concrete.
“The fly ash is inert and we are looking at ways to prevent it from becoming airborne,” Ms. Ray said.
Stephen Smith, a critic of coal-fired power plants who serves as executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, called upon TVA Sunday to release tests done on the coal ash itself, not just the water supply.
“It is unacceptable that we are six days into this disaster and TVA has yet to release sampling data from the ash pile,” he said.
Mr. Smith said he was pleased that TVA did begin advising residents in the area to limit their contact with the fly ash.
TVA has hired a Chattanooga contractor, Southern Marine Construction Co., part of Serodino Inc., to help build a weir dam across the Emory River to help filter fly ash from the water.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...