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By JENNIFER RAYMOND
State legislators representing Roane County defended a pair of environmental measures last week that have landed them criticism.
Rep. Dennis Ferguson and Sen. Ken Yager, who met with residents at Kingston Community Center Thursday to listen to concerns, also said they had made alteration to the proposed legislation.
Both Yager and Ferguson had sponsored a bill that would have required the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to give a public or private utility 24-hour notice of an inspection, site visit, review or other regulatory action.
Ferguson said the bill was never intended for approval.
“It was a compromise bill to help work out issues a constituent had,” Ferguson said. “ We were able to bring TDEC and them together.”
Yager added, “Sometimes bills are filed to bring agencies, people together.”
Another bill, this one sponsored by Yager, deals with discharge standards for selenium.
Selenium is of potential concern in the fly ash spill choking the Emory River and has been deemed particularly harmful to fish and aquatic wildlife.
Water quality standards were established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that were adopted by TDEC.
A couple years later, EPA changed those standards and TDEC never conformed to them, Yager said.
According to Yager, the bill would require TDEC to conform.
Steve Scarborough, a critic of Yager’s bill and chairman of the Tennessee Conservation Committee, said, however, the statement that the bill would force TDEC to conform to EPA standards is incorrect. Instead, he said, the bill is less stringent.
He said the 2002 EPA standards are what are in effect, and Yager’s proposal, as it stands now, does not conform to those.
Scarborough also said it appears that Yager’s bill would only test for one particular form of selenium, whereas other agencies recomend testing for total selenium.
“The bigger problem is the legislature even coming in and dictating science,” Scarborough added.
Gail Okulczyk, chairwoman of the Roane County Environmental Review Board, also had concerns.
Speaking at the community center, she said she heard TDEC was not in support of this bill because it would reduce the testing required for water quality.
Yager told her that the bill was amended on Thursday, and TDEC withdrew its opposition.
Swan Pond resident Sarah McCoin asked Yager to pull the bill entirely.
“Selenium isn’t dirt, and it’s also in that crud that’s in that river,” McCoin said. “We’re lowering our standards.”
Along with the discussion of several bills, other issues were brought up.
McCoin also mentioned her concerns about TVA’s request for immunity against lawsuits in the spill.
“If they are granted immunity against any lawsuits, we’re all cooked,” McCoin said.
Yager said he plans to ask the state attorney general to intervene on the issue.
McCoin also said that she was told by a TVA employee that no diminished property value claims will be paid unless they fit certain criteria.
People owning property outside of what is called the “red zone” who sell their property can file a claim for diminished property value.
However, they have to sell their property, submit the claim and wait for a review to see if compensation will be granted, she said.
She said she was told that property owners who decide to stay in the area, who aren’t in the red zone, will not be given any money for diminished values related to the spill.
On another matter related to the ash spill, Yager and Ferguson both said they are opposed to a county proposal to store the fly ash in a Midtown landfill.
Ferguson added that no permits have been filed and in his experience a permit would take nine months to a year to be issued.
“So I don’t think they’re just going to stick it down there,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue, personally.”
Some residents were also concerned about ash that was being transported from the TVA plant at Bull Run to Kingston.
At a previous Roane County Long Term Recovery Committee, TVA ash spill incident commander Tim Hope addressed that issue.
Hope said what was being brought in is bottom ash.
He described it as clinkers, which is residue that remains after the combustion of coal.
The material stuck to the side or fell off into the bottom of the boiler.
The bottom ash is being used as a base and also for structural fill and is not being mixed with Kingston’s fly ash, Hope said.
“It has nothing to do with our fly ash,” Hope said.