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Water vapor streams from the top of a scrubber tower Wednesday afternoon in Harriman, Tenn., at the Kingston Fossil Plant in this 2012 file photo.

After spending nearly $1.1 billion to clean up and compensate for its worst environmental disaster, the Tennessee Valley Authority is preparing to sell a portion of the land it restored over the past six years.

TVA directors last week voted to sell nearly 77 acres of restored property along the Emory River where nearly 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash was dumped from a ruptured ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant in December 2008.

The collapse of the TVA-built earthen dam spilled toxic coal ash over 300 acres, destroyed 40 homes and contaminated the Emory River. The Mother Nature Network ranked the Kingston spill as one of America's worst man-made environmental disasters.

But after years of repairs and legal battles, TVA has removed all of the toxic ash, compensated damaged property owners and restored the river and shoreline around the Kingston coal plant.

"It's been a long time coming, but I think we can finally declare victory," Kingston Mayor Tim Neal said last week. "This was a terrible incident, but I think TVA responded well and has done an excellent job in their cleanup efforts. TVA folks made a lot of promises and they did what they said they were going to do."

TVA plans to sell 39 vacant lots and 23 parcels with houses along the east side of the Emory River near the Kingston plant. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said an auction will be held, probably this summer.

After the spill damaged the area, many property owners wanted to move during the noisy and prolonged recovery program. All told, TVA acquired 180 properties, and it plans to sell about a third of them.

Most of the land the utility bought on the west side of Emory River will be kept as a buffer zone around the Kingston coal plant or will be given to the county for a community park, built by TVA.

"The Kingston restoration project is mostly complete and these 62 parcels are no longer necessary for TVA operations," said Ric Perez, senior vice president of shared services for the utility. "The proposed sale of these properties would relieve TVA of the annual maintenance costs and be in the best interest of the local community."

Over the past six years, TVA removed 2.5 million cubic yards of ash from river and shoreline, built a new protective perimeter dike, closed the ash pond with a two-foot clay cover and replanted the damaged area. To aid the community, TVA built a park and made extra in-lieu-of-tax payments to compensate local governments for lost property and sales taxes.

"I wish this would have never happened, but fortunately no one was killed or hurt at the time of the ash spills and we've been pleased with the cleanup response and the assistance to the community TVA has provided since this accident," Roane County Executive Ron Woody said. "I don't know that we've fully recovered, because there is still a stigma when you have an accident such as this. But it appears that our river systems are probably cleaner now than they have ever been."

The spill helped spur the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop stricter disposal requirements for coal ash disposal. The new rules, unless overturned by Congress, will become effective in October.

TVA is spending $1.5 billion to replace all of the coal ash ponds with dry ash storage methods.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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