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Emory River closed by spill

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By The Staff

By TERRI LIKENS

rceditor@bellsouth.net

The U.S. Coast Guard closed part of the Emory River Tuesday because of sludge and debris from Monday’s TVA retention pond break.

TVA President Tom Kilgore, in a news conference Tuesday, released inspection reports that showed two minor breaches in the failed retention pond — one in 2003 and another in 2006.

This October, according to TVA reports, a wet spot was recorded “indicating a minor leaking issue. There were no significant problems found that indicated that the dikes were unstable to the point of failure.”

Roane Countians who flocked on Tuesday to see the damage done by the collapse of a TVA fly-ash retention pond had trouble coming to grips with the scope.

Depending on where they  looked, the scene was like a moonscape or piles of pavement scraped up from a giant roadway.

“It looks like a bunch of iceburgs,” declared Randy Soard, one of many who made the trip from the Harriman side of Swan Pond Road to view the damage.

A bunch slate-gray iceburgs.

Vehicles pulled off, a dozen at a time, near the intersection of Swan Pond Road and Swan Pond Circle on the Harriman side, and other rubberneckers stayed in their vehicles for drive-bys.

The dozen or so houses that were directly impacted by the mire weren’t visible, but it was the best view on the legal side of several law-enforcement barricades.

Some onlookers, like Barbara Williams of Harriman, showed up with a specific purpose in mind.

“I came today to take some pictures,” she said, hoisting a bright red digital camera.

Williams worried about rain in the forecast, and whether that might spread contamination from the fly ash.

Studies have shown that fly ash from coal-fired power plants contains a number of toxic metals and is significantly higher in radiation that many other materials.

Williams had a more personal concern — this one involving her pregnant daughter, Christie Harril, a Swan Pond Circle resident.

“Her baby’s not due until Jan. 25, but she’s already having contractions,” she said.

A group of men standing near the gray goup near the road watched a big flock of geese fly loudly overhead.

They talked about the spill’s potential impact on fishing and hunting

One joked about a buying a fleet of dump trucks to make some money from the cleanup TVA officials have talked about but are still working on details.

Many of the spectators had children in tow, and one man brought his dog.

Members of Swan Pond Methodist Church, a handsome white chapel that sits on a hill near the intersection, barricaded the driveways because so many people were  climbing the hill for a better look.

On the Kingston side of the blockage, Mike Goodson of 577 Swan Pond Road  was making the best of a bad situation.

TVA has warned many residents who rely on well water to boil their water.

Goodson’s family was among them.

TVA gave them another option — a room at the Holiday Inn Express.

He and his family have  been going back and forth between the hotel and their home, showering and brushing their teeth away from home as they prepared for the holidays.

 They plan to spend Christmas Eve at the hotel

“I guess we’ll have Christmas there,” Goodson added.

He said the prospect has delighted visiting grandchildren, who are looking forward to a holly-jolly frolic in the hotel’s indoor pool.

Goodson said his family is used to making do, noting a Christmas a few years ago when they didn’t have power. They lit lanterns, heated with the wood stove and ate sandwiches.

“We had a ball that year,” he said, then turned his thoughts to more sober things.

“I’m just thankful that we still have a house,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory closing the Emory River to boaters from its mouth to 4.2 miles upstream.

The river “is impassable to all waterway uses due to heavy debris from the mudslide that is blocking the channel in this area,” officials said in a news release. “The channel buoys are off station and do not mark a passable channel.”

Some considered a 2000 coal slurry pond break near Inez, Ky., to be the worst  environmental disaster in the Southeast, with about 300 million gallons spilled. The Swan Pond spill is estimated at 500 million gallons.

Swan Pond is a mix of moderate and fine homes, trailers and old farmsteads — many with a view of the Kingston Fossil Plant’s two huge stacks.

A newer, thicker scrubber is under construction to help clear the air of some of the worst pollutants — one that soon will be producing gypsum as a byproduct.

TVA officials had hoped to market the gypsum to the drywall industry, but with the economy and financial world on their knees, no buyer has been found.

They are planning another on-site retention pond for the gypsum.