The Tennessee Valley Authority is planning to end the type of coal ash disposal that led to one of America's worst industrial waste spills in December.
In a corrective action plan submitted Tuesday to state regulators, TVA said it no longer will use wet ash disposal at its Kingston Fossil Plant. More than 1 billion gallons of coal ash spilled into the Emory River and surrounding property in Kingston, Tenn., when a dike burst at an ash disposal pond.
Ten weeks after the Dec. 22 incident, state regulators on Tuesday approved the first phase of TVA's cleanup plans for the ash-filled Emory River. Contractors soon will begin using hydraulic dredging equipment to pump ash from the river's main channel to restore navigation and recreation.
TVA's top environmental executive overseeing the cleanup, Anda Ray, called the regulatory approval "a major milestone for TVA and the community."
But Ms. Ray said the first phase could last through the summer and the total cleanup probably will take at least two years and cost up to $825 million.
"We are working as quickly and safely as possible to recover the area, and we are working with local residents to address their needs and concerns," she said. "We have committed to making things right for the people in the area, and that's what we will do."
TVA temporarily will dump ash from the Emory River on a ball field at the Kingston plant. Eventually the fly ash will be shipped elsewhere for permanent storage, Ms. Ray said.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation required TVA to modify its original phase 1 cleanup plan to ensure more monitoring of the river, with frequent water and air sampling while the dredging occurs.
In a letter to TVA released Tuesday, TDEC Deputy Commissioner Paul Sloan said the agency and EPA must approve a sampling plan before the utility can begin dredging.
In its 73-page plan for the first phase, TVA said it is preparing to end wet ash disposal at the Kingston plant within 18 to 24 months. Collecting dry fly ash "will allow more flexible marketing and disposal options" and limit chances of another ash pond leak, the report stated.
Collecting dry ash requires more controls to prevent the ash from becoming airborne, but dry ash also may be recycled and sold for use in cement, wallboard and other construction materials. Wet ash typically is buried.
TVA stored wet fly ash dredged from ash storage ponds in cells near the Kingston plant for nearly a half century. Spokesman John Moulton said the agency and its contractors still are trying to determine why an earth wall around the dredge cell burst during a rainstorm.
The agency uses similar storage at five other coal plants, including the Widows Creek Fossil Plant near Stevenson, Ala.
"We are looking at all of our plants to see what makes the most sense (for disposal in the future)," Ms. Ray said.