Mayors defend ash spill fund spending

Mayors defend ash spill fund spending

December 23rd, 2010 by Pam Sohn in News

W. Troy Beets, the mayor of Kingston, Tenn., speaks about how his city plans to use the $5 million ash spill settlement from TVA to expand the waste water treatment plant doubling its capacity.

W. Troy Beets, the mayor of Kingston, Tenn.,...

The mayors of Kingston and Harriman, Tenn., are fighting back after their cities, located around the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill, were given the "Lump of Coal Award."

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which bills itself as the state's nonprofit free-market think tank, said the Roane County Economic Development Foundation deserves the "badge of disgrace" for doling out TVA's $43 million in reparations money to "favorite political pet projects" rather than

to people affected by the 2008 coal ash spill.

"Unfortunately, local property owners harmed by the spill got Scrooged," said Chris Butler, the center's director of government accountability.

TVA reparations


$1.7 million -- Princess Theater

$200,000 -- public library improvements

$100,000 -- road paving

* Kingston:

$5 million -- sanitary sewer upgrades

* Roane County:

$32 million -- Roane County Schools plan

$160,296 -- property tax payments

$1 million -- public relations assistance

$30,175 -- Roane Alliance Retail's marketing project

* Rockwood:

$1.9 million -- Infrastructure projects

$31,194 -- Industrial Park entrance paving

$20,000 -- Health Facility project

$7,000 -- Main Street project

$35,000 -- Health facility project

* Oliver Springs:

$25,000 -- economic plan and tourism campaign

Source: Tennessee Valley Authority

"These people don't have a clue," Kingston Mayor Troy Beets countered.

The Roane County Economic Development Foundation, formed specifically to decide how to spend the reparation money, assigned $1.7 million to restore Harriman's Princess Theater, $5 million to expand Kingston's sewage treatment plant, $32 million to Roane County Schools and $1.9 million for Rockwood infrastructure projects.

Beets and Harriman Mayor Chris Mason dismissed both the award and the criticism.

"I never hear of anybody calling anybody a Scrooge for putting money in education, and that's what the Princess Theater is," Mason said.

In addition to hosting classic movies, plays and community events, the Princess Performing Arts, Education and Conference Center primarily will be managed by the Roane State Community College for arts and communications classes, he said.

Since the renovation project began, three investors have signed letters of intent to buy three other downtown buildings, he added.

"It's easy to be critical," Mason said. "But I kind of appreciate the award. It gives us a chance to get our message out."

Beets said Kingston held a public meeting to prioritize needs after the spill. Of the suggestions made in that meeting, "the one with the highest number of stickers [from the public input process] was to increase our sewer plant to grow our economic development," Beets said.

"Then we brought it to the council, and the council vote was unanimous," he said. "Was it the mayor's idea? Yes. Was it a pet project? No. It was a necessity."