Tennessee Valley Authority plan changes Ocoee controls

Tennessee Valley Authority plan changes Ocoee controls

January 24th, 2009 in Local Regional News

The Tennessee Valley Authority will suspend use of its sluice gates on an Ocoee River dam where potentially toxic river sediments spilled downstream two weeks ago, officials said Friday.

In response to a state order, TVA submitted a plan to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation this week to cease use of the underwater gates at Ocoee No. 3 Dam. TVA also agreed to study better ways to regulate river flow and protect aquatic life.

In its 14-page proposed plan, TVA pledged to clean up any remaining sludge on the Ocoee's banks and study ways to re-establish fish and other aquatic life.

The plan is designed to avoid a repeat of the early January release of contaminated river sediment that killed fish and piled up more than 3 feet of muck along the 1996 Olympic whitewater course.

The muck held high levels of metals that had piled up behind the dam from copper mines operating upstream for decades. The sediment was released when underwater gates, rather than spillways, were used to draw down the river.

TDEC spokeswoman Meg Lockhart said Friday that regulators still are reviewing TVA's proposal.

TDEC and the U.S. Forest Service sampled the river's water and sediment this week after heavy rains appeared to have flushed most of the muck downstream into Parksville Lake.

TDEC spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said no deadly PCBs were found, although elevated levels of some metals were detected.

Parksville Lake already had sediments similar to what was dumped into the Ocoee, Ms. Calabrese-Benton said, but the sediments were "underwater where the metals cannot oxidize."

"This should have no impact on recreational activities in the recreational sections of the Ocoee River," she said.