3 Years After Tennessee Ash Spill, Court Fight Continues

By BILL POOVEY | December 22, 2011

Three years after a huge spill of toxin-laden sludge in East Tennessee, most of the gray muck has been hauled off or hidden while hundreds of property owners who claim financial harm are mired in a court fight.

No one was physically hurt in the Dec. 22, 2008, spill of coal ash from a Tennessee Valley Authority plant storage pond into the Emory River and across some 300 acres in the picturesque Swan Pond community about 35 miles west of Knoxville. But property owners in the area say they have been hurt financially.

TVA, the nation’s largest public utility, has since dredged more than 3.5 million cubic yards of coal ash from the river and sent it off in 40,000 rail cars to an Alabama landfill. Much of the remaining muck in the 5.4 million cubic yards that spilled from a breach in an earthen dike at TVA’s Kingston Plant is being hidden underground.

Before the Christmas season spill, the plant’s riverside ash storage areas had sides 55 feet above the nearest road, with piles of ash reaching 50 to 60 feet above water in the ponds.

TVA is continuing a $1.2 billion cleanup of the spill the Environmental Protection Agency described as “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind.”

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