TVA joins Bridgeport battle

Hundreds of Civil War re-enactors will converge at a North Alabama farm today to relive the Siege of Bridgeport fought nearly 150 years ago.

The site of the weekend re-enactment also is the scene of a modern-day federal fight over efforts by the Tennessee Valley Authority to buy up land near its Widows Creek Fossil Plant.

Jere and JoJohn McCraw, who own 300 acres near one of the coal ash ponds at the Widows Creek plant -- land used for the Civil War re-enactment -- don't want to sell the farm that has been in their family since 1830.

"We told TVA last year we weren't going to sell," said JoJohn McCraw, a South Pittsburg, Tenn., accountant who owns and farms the property along with his younger brother. "We don't know what ultimately may happen, but we sure hope this isn't the last re-enactment on our site."

TVA is trying to buy property near its Widows Creek ash ponds, which were classified last year as "high hazard" after the collapse of a similar ash pond at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant in December 2008.

TVA officials insist the Widows Creek ponds are safe, especially after the utility spent more than $2 million last year to inspect, re-grade and make other improvements to the storage facilities. But under federal regulations, Widows Creek still is classified as potentially hazardous because some residents, including Jere McCraw, live just below the elevated ponds.

When the Kingston ash pond ruptured three days before Christmas in 2008, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled over nearly 300 acres, filling parts of the Emory River and destroying several houses. The ash contained toxic substances such as arsenic, mercury and cadmium.

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said the agency is buying up property around the Widows Creek plant to avoid the kind of damage to private property that occurred after the Kingston ash spill. So far, TVA has bought six properties at a cost of $1.6 million, Mr. Brooks said.

IF YOU GOWhat: Siege of Bridgeport re-enactmentWhere: Off U.S. Highway 72 outside Bridgeport, Ala.When: Gates open 10 a.m. CDT Saturday, battle at 4 p.m. Sunday: Gates open at 10 a.m. CDT Sunday, battle at 2 p.m.Admission: $5 adults, $2 children, under 6 freeSchedule and information: www.siegeatbridgeport.com

"We have purchased 172.5 acres to date," he said. "TVA is still considering options at the McCraw property and other tracts for buffer property purchase."

Within the next decade, TVA has pledged to convert the ash ponds used at Widows Creek and a half dozen other TVA coal plants to dry ash storage.

As a federal corporation, TVA can use eminent domain to acquire property if it proves in court that there is a public need for such action. So far, the agency is trying to negotiate friendly land sales, Mr. Brooks said.

While some of their neighbors' homes are being demolished in the expanded TVA buffer territory, the McCraws are holding firm to their land, even balking at letting property assessors on their land.

"But TVA has actually been very cordial to us lately and is even letting us use some of their land for parking this weekend," JoJohn McCraw said.

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