Ash spill area residents still angry one year later

Ash spill area residents still angry one year later

December 20th, 2009 by Pam Sohn in News

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Cleanup continues at the ash spill site at the Kingston Fossil Plant. Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary of the incident.

HARRIMAN, Tenn. -- About 30 residents from the Swan Pond community in Harriman, Tenn., met Saturday to protest what has happened to their community since the Dec. 22 Kingston coal ash spill almost a year ago.

"The community that was the first affected by the ash spill on Dec. 22, 2008, (is) the same community that to this date has been overlooked and forgotten not only by the TVA but also the state of Tennessee and Roane County," said Randy Ellis, a member of the Roane County Long-term Recovery Committee and vice chairman of the Roane County Advisory Committee.

TVA officials since the spill consistently have said the utility will "make it right" in the community, and to date TVA has purchased more than 150 homes surrounding the area where 5.4 million cubic yards -- about 1.2 billion gallons -- of wet coal ash spilled onto 300 acres of residential farmland and into the Emory River.

On Saturday, TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said the utility "remains committed" to recovering the area.

"We're working to remove the ash; we're working with the residents. We're committed to doing what's right and doing the responsible thing," she said.

But the residents at Saturday's news conference said they don't understand why homes all around them have been bought while they are being told they are "not affected" or TVA "doesn't need our property."

Some residents said they were told TVA wouldn't talk with them anymore because they had consulted an attorney.

Ms. Martocci said if residents are represented by a lawyer, "we have to go through that person to work with them."

Mr. Ellis said TVA didn't just make that distinction with residents who had filed suit, but also with some who simply sought legal advice to understand the terms of TVA's offer, he said.

"Our once beautiful and quiet neighborhood was turned upside down on Dec. 22," he said, noting that this time last year residents could drive through the neighborhood and see Christmas lights and families gathering.

"Now as you can see around us, what people are left are surrounded by empty houses bought by TVA," he said.

Another resident, Don Simon of the Swan Harbor subdivision, said "inconsistencies" have destroyed his trust in TVA and other government representatives and environmental regulators.

"I lived with being held hostage for 12 months," he said. "When the press flies over this, it looks like they are doing lots of things. They're moving ash here; they've got dikes built; they've got barges in the water. It looks like a lot of activity. But show me where there's been actual progress made."

TVA officials last week said they have removed from the river about 1 million cubic yards of ash by rail to landfill near Tuscaloosa, Ala. Another 1 million cubic yards of ash from the river have been moved to a temporary drying spot on the site and await loading.

Mr. Simon said TVA uses a tiny cleaned up corner of the spill site, known as Church Slough, as a poster child for its work.

"It looks nice, he said, "But other than that, the rest of it is just moving ash."

Coming Tuesday

One year anniversary of Kingston ash spill