Staff Photo by Patrick Smith An excavator loads coal ash sediment into a rail car at the TVA Kingston recovery site.
HARRIMAN, Tenn. -- TVA officials say they are removing about 10,000 tons of spilled coal ash daily -- about 110 train cars of it -- from the Emory River, the site of the nation's worst industrial spill that occurred here last December.
But Steve McCracken, TVA's new Kingston Recovery Project executive, acknowledged that, while the dredging of ash from the river will be complete by spring, further ash removal and restoration likely will take three or four more years.
"When we're done, we'll have achieved a clean, safe place for people and the environment," he said.
Tennessee Valley Authority officials touted the progress Thursday in a media tour of the site, three days after TVA announced Mr. McCracken would take over the project from TVA Senior Vice President of Environment and Research Anda Ray.
Despite TVA's optimism, some residents in the community remain skeptical.
Sarah McCoin has been an outspoken critic of TVA since the Dec. 22, 2008, rupture of an earthen berm holding a 65-foot landfill of wet coal ash. The resulting landslide spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of ash into the Emory River and surrounding rural residential land.
"They made some progress, but the question is can they restore it like it was?" she said. "What TVA fails to address is what life was like prior to the spill."
Many of the former coves along the river -- largely residential areas -- were completely buried during the ash spill and she said many residents fear the coves simply will be covered with grass.
"They've groomed it and sculpted it and thrown grass seed out," she said. "They're not telling us anything, but they're going to break their arms patting themselves on the back."
TVA officials said one of the coves is fed by a natural spring that flows into the Emory River. This week, for the first time since the spill, the water has a clear channel through the cove to the river , they said.
And Dennis Yankee, environmental manager of the TVA recovery project, said the "time-critical" cleanup of ash in the Emory River's main channel -- the equivalent of about 3 million cubic yards -- is on schedule to be completed this spring.
"We've moved a little over 500,000 tons offsite now," he said, adding that cubic yards and tons "are about equivalent."
* 5.4 million cubic yards -- Total ash spilled
* 500,000 tons -- Ash removed so far
* 10,000 tons -- Amount removed daily, six days a week
* $1.2 billion -- Estimated total cleanup cost
* $252 million -- Cleanup costs to date
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, ...