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By DAMON LAWRENCE
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers the TVA ash spill “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history.”
Imagine the surprise of some Swan Pond residents who received new appraisal cards from the county last month and saw that their property values didn’t decrease, but actually rose.
“The property appraisals do not reflect at all the hardship the community has gone through,” Tom Grizzard said.
Swan Pond was the community most impacted by the Dec. 22, 2008, disaster.
Many people who lived in the area were bought out by TVA.
Those who remain said their quality of life has been greatly diminished by TVA’s efforts to cleanup the disaster.
“I have to go through a construction zone whichever way I leave my house,” Bobby Renfro said. “At night it looked like a football game at Kingston High School.”
Renfro’s property was previously valued at $246,600.
The reappraisal upped it to $301,800.
“Actually, they were dredging fly ash right behind my house the day I got my new appraisal,” said Renfro, a former Roane County Commissioner. “If I were in fact trying to sell my property, one of the first questions I’d probably had been asked was, ‘What’s that equipment out there?’ My response would have been, ‘Well, they’re dredging up fly ash.’”
Grizzard owns several parcels in the Swan Pond area that are now appraised at more today than they were before the ash spill.
“I’ve got two or three properties that went up enormously high,” he said. “Some of them went up what I would consider average.”
Grizzard said the fact that any would go up is humorous, considering what the community has gone through because of the disaster.
“Our values went up so high, I thought everybody wanted that fly ash stuff in their community,” he said.
He’s not the only one who sees twisted humor in the higher appraisals.
“If there had been a radioactive release at Oak Ridge, my property value might have even gone up more,” Renfro said.
“A friend of mine said this is the perfect solution to the economic downturn in real estate,” fellow Swan Pond resident Sarah McCoin added. “If our properties all went up, and we have all that ash around us, if you want to sell your house and you want to get a great price for it, go get some ash, put it on there and let people know that your yard has ash on it, because the property value will increase.”
Roane County Property Assessor Teresa Kirkham said her office used 2009 sales to determine new property values.
“We did have some sales in that area that showed an increase after the ash spill,” she said.
TVA went on a property- buying spree after the disaster, purchasing more than 100 properties in the Swan Pond area.
Kirkham said those sales were not used to determine values for the reappraisal.
McCoin said the TVA purchase program turned some parts of Swan Pond into virtual ghost towns.
“Any time a neighborhood has a lot of vacancies, property values shouldn’t increase,” she said. “Imagine your subdivision or your street, wherever you live, and you came home and over 50 percent of the families had moved out. I can guarantee your property value wouldn’t increase because all of those people are gone.”
McCoin said higher appraisals was another blow for the community that was already dealing with a lot.
Just a few days after their new appraisals arrived, TVA announced plans to permanently store ash on site during the second phase of the cleanup.
“We all know that our property today is not more valuable than it was before the ash disaster,” McCoin said. “It just makes absolutely no sense.”
Grizzard said he can’t make sense of the new appraisals, either.
“ The ash spill in their minds has not decreased value on our properties and that cannot be the furthest from the truth,” he said.