County seeks to keep 'lucrative' fly ash

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By The Staff



Somewhere along the road to recovery from the TVA fly ash disaster, people learned there could be some hefty profits in the coal combustion waste produced by the utility company.

Roane County officials took a step toward cashing in on Monday.

The county commission voted 11-2 on a resolution that calls for County Executive Mike Farmer and County Attorney Tom McFarland to negotiate with TVA about the possibility of storing future fly ash in a Midtown landfill.

Commission Chairman Troy Beets and Commissioner David Olsen voted no on the resolution.

Commissioners Jerry Goddard and Ray Cantrell were absent.

“It’s lucrative,” Commissioner James Brummett said. “If it can go in a certified landfill, I think it would be great.”

If the plan comes to fruition, proceeds from the fly ash dump would go toward capital projects for schools and other county building needs.    

People for and against the resolution packed the commission room.

Those in favor wore orange stickers with the slogan “Keep our jobs and money in Roane County.”

“I would like to see this happen,” Regina Webster said.

“We need this,” Charles Bowers said.  

Instead of shunning the ash, Webster and other supporters said the county needs to embrace it.

They spoke of the potential for jobs and the possibility of additional revenue going into county coffers.   

“Let’s make a negative into a positive,” Webster said.

In the end, hopes of economic prosperity won out.

“The people have spoken tonight,” Commissioner Mike Hooks said. “They want the jobs that this will create. We need the revenues.”

Several residents at the meeting disagreed with the plan.

Some said more fly ash is the last thing the county needs. Roane County is trying to repair an image that was tarnished when a dike failure at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant released 5.4 million cubic yards of the coal waste into the environment last December.

The disaster has garnered world wide attention, and it could cost TVA $1 billion to clean up.    

“We don’t need to start storing coal ash in a landfill in Midtown,” Rick Cantrell said.

Greg Howard pointed out that any plan to dump ash in the landfill requires the county to put trust in TVA.

Just last week Farmer and members of the county’s long term recovery committee spoke harshly about how incompetent they thought TVA was for not recognizing the disaster was bound to happen.   

“Are there any words that come to mind to you that should be reverberating through this community as to what we’re looking at there?” Farmer asked.

“You can’t decide between gross negligence and one could take the concept that it’s criminal negligence,” Frank Kornegay said.

The resolution on the landfill originally called for a referendum, but Beets said the commission could not vote to call for one.

“The only way we can get to a referendum is having our legislators in Nashville make a private act to where that we can call for that referendum,” Beets said.    

The referendum component was taken out of the resolution.

There are several unanswered questions about the county’s plan.

The county hasn’t done any studies on the long term health impacts of the ash, which contains hazardous substances.

Studies about the amount of truck traffic and its effect on infrastructure have also not been done.

Several dollar figures have been tossed around, but the cost benefits appear to be just guess work at this point.

Monday’s vote may not be the only one on the issue. Farmer and McFarland are supposed to report back to the commission for approval for any potential plans to go forward.    

Beets reminded commissioners they are not the final authority.

Even if TVA was willing to dump ash in the landfill, the county would still need state approval.

Currently Roane County doesn’t have the necessary permits to allow for fly ash to be dumped in the landfill. Tisha Calabrese-Benton, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, also said the state has yet to sign off on any long-term ash storage plans for TVA.  

“The commissioner’s order issued by TDEC in January requires TVA to submit short and long term ash management plans as part of the Corrective Action Plan at the site,” she wrote in e-mail.  “Final determinations as to how TVA will manage future ash disposal have not yet been determined.”