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Two Months Later, Agencies Await TVA Revised Phase I Clean-Up Plan

Feb 25, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP It has been two months since the catastrophic Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spilled dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of sludge into East Tennessee and its Emory River and residents continue to remain confused and unsure as to what is taking place to make their homes and neighborhoods whole again.  The spill has devastated water and wildlife and damaged a variety of homes, some beyond repair.

Just last week, Tom Kilgore, TVA head, admitted that the fly ash spill was much worse than TVA first admitted.  Just prior, and of significant concern, researchers discovered that the massive fly ash spill is exposing area residents and the environment to some serious and dangerous health and environmental problems, such as radium and arsenic exposure.  Radium—a Group-A carcinogenic material according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—exposure can lead to cancer.  Also, arsenic, a toxic metal, can increase the risk of some cancers, skin damage, and circulatory problems.

WBIR reports that residents hit the hardest by the ash spill describe a horrific environmental disaster that has left some families facing overwhelming disruption of lives and destruction of property.  One family told WBIR that living just on the river, they are subject to barriers in their backyard, erected pending clean-up, and questions about the noise and commotion to which they will be subject for an unknown length of time.  Residents describe their neighborhood as looking like a war zone and many are still in shock over the events, said WBIR.  One family told WBIR that the enormous “mountain of sludge” pushed their home from its foundation, moving it into the street.

Families are working with the Authority regarding damaged land; some are looking at selling homes and moving away from a neighborhood they loved, said WBIR.  And, many homeowners are upset over property value appraisals they have been given, which are not close to their expectations.

The clean up is expected to cost anywhere between $525 million and $825 million—said WBIR in a prior report and Kilgore said he will take a pay cut, reducing his 2009 compensation to half, which is still expected to still bring him about $1 million.  Meanwhile, the Phase I of the clean-up plan was submitted to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) for approval and was reviewed by the Army Corps of Engineers, among others, said WBIR.  The groups provided feedback to TVA and await its revised plan.  Once the Phase I clean-up plan is finalized and approved, the Clinch River can be dredged, an operation that will be overseen by state and federal agencies, according to Tisha Calabrese-Benton, TDEC spokesperson, reported WBIR.

TVA remains unclear about how long the cleanup will take and continues to investigate the cause of the spill, which followed a dike break, said WBIR.  Of note, the massive spill was not TVA’s first accident and its records confirmed that a1984 annual inspection report indicated that an interior dike failed and that exterior walls were not meant for additional loads, according to an earlier report by the Knoxville Biz.  At that time, additional studies were recommended; it is unclear if such studies occurred.  Also, in 1984, a dike failure resulted in dredged material spilling into a then-dredged area as a result of a problem with an interior wall.  In 2003, another accident, which dumped water and fly ash on to Swan Pond Road occurred.

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