published Saturday, June 6th, 2009

TVA to ship spilled coal ash

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PDF: NASA satellite photo

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The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to dispose of most of the coal ash that spilled from its Kingston Fossil Power Plant in a West Central Alabama landfill, pending approval of federal regulators.

Alabama environmental officials said Friday that the state approved a plan by TVA to send about 3 million cubic yards of coal ash by railcars to the Arrowhead Landfill in Perry County, Alabama.

Scott Hughes, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said the state approved the shipments to the massive, lined landfill after TVA documented that the coal ash does not require disposal in a hazardous landfill.

TVA previously sent a test shipment of 15 railcars full of the ash to Perry County. The utility says it can’t confirm whether more shipments are on the way.

TVA President Tom Kilgore said the test shipments to Perry County proved the feasibility of using rail to haul ash dredged from the Emory River and nearby properties around the Kingston Fossil Plant.

The coal ash spilled out of a dredge cell that unexpectedly ruptured in the middle of the night three days before Christmas 2008. Mr. Kilgore told the TVA board this week that the utility will build a rail spur in Kingston to where the spilled coal ash is being dredged up and dried.

“We’ll still have a few truck shipments, but mostly we will be using rail,” Mr. Kilgore said.

So far, only 176,000 cubic yards of ash — or about 3 percent of all of the estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that was spilled at Kingston — has been dredged from the Emory River and less than a third of that has been shipped offsite, TVA officials said.

Anda Ray, TVA senior vice president overseeing the Kingston ash cleanup, said an agreement has been reached about where the ash will be shipped. But she declined to discuss details until the plans are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA took over regulatory oversight of the ash cleanup last month and is currently reviewing the proposed rail shipments.

Kingston resident Sarah McCoin, a member of the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network, said she is glad the ash is being removed from the river and is encouraged by EPA’s enhanced role in the cleanup.

“The ash needs to be removed from the river, but I’m real sorry that somebody else is going to get stuck with this stuff,” she said. “It is hazardous and needs to be handled as a hazardous material.”

EPA is reviewing whether to require stricter rules for how coal ash is handled. But for now, coal combustion products, including fly ash and gypsum, are not regulated as hazardous materials.

Ms. Ray said heavy rains and debris in the river bottom have slowed the expected pace of the dredging from the main channel of the Emory River. But the work is progressing, and so far most of the thousands of air and water samples taken in the area have shown pollutants in the air and water within federal health standards, she said.

By mid-June, TVA also expects to receive the results of an independent engineering assessment about what caused the ash spill three days before Christmas 2008.

Aecon, Canada’s largest publicly traded construction company, conducted the root cause analysis over the past six months. Data from the study will be used for other reports planned by TVA’s inspector general, EPA, insurance companies and others.

The coal ash spilled out of a containment area after heavy rains and cold temperatures appear to have weakened one of the earthen walls built up along the Emory River. More than one-third of the ash deposits that have built up at the Kingston plant over the past half century spilled out of the cell and covered nearly 300 acres of adjacent land and the river.

During his first meeting as chairman of the TVA board this week, Mike Duncan vowed to ensure such an accident is not repeated.

“The Kingston spill can never happen again,” said Mr. Duncan, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was elected as TVA chairman in March.

Mr. Duncan urged TVA employees “to earn the public’s trust every day.” The new TVA chairman has pledged to restore the properties damaged by the Kingston spill.

So far, that is proving costly. Through May 18, TVA had spent $108 million on the ash cleanup, Mr. Kilgore said. TVA estimates the total cost of cleaning up the 300-acre spill will be between $675 million and $975 million, excluding any lawsuit damages TVA also could be ordered to pay.

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