With ash largely removed from the Emory River and new scrubbers installed to cut air emissions, TVA President Tom Kilgore said Thursday that the federal utility is cleaning up after one of its worst environmental accidents at the Kingston Fossil Plant.
The portion of the Emory River that filled up with coal ash following the rupture of an ash pond in December 2008 is now cleared of most ash and boat traffic returned to the river during the Memorial Day weekend. Also this spring, TVA completed its $456 million project to install scrubbers on all nine units of the Kingston Fossil Plant to cut most of the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides.
"With the ash pond work that we have done and putting that (air pollution control) equipment up to top-notch standards, Kingston will be in good shape to continue on for many years to come," Mr. Kingston told TVA board members during a meeting Thursday in Jackson, Tenn. "I think people are now beginning to believe what we have said that we are going to get the river cleaned up."
But not all neighbors are satisfied.
"It's nice to have the river open again and see kids out using the lake," said Sarah McCoin, a Swan Pond Road resident who lives on the Emory River and organized the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network. "But moms are still having to tell their children to take a shower after getting in the water and we will have to live with this disaster for years to come."
A new study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory done in conjunction with TVA on the Emory and Clinch rivers showed that some fish have ash in their bodies as a result of the spill. But so far "the effects have not been evident" on the health of the fish, according to Mark Peterson, the leader of the Oak Ridge Environmental Sciences Division's ecological assessment team studying the rivers.
Randy Ellis, a member of the Roane County advisory board on the ash spill, insisted Thursday that "it's still very early to measure the long-term health effects" from the ash spill.
TVA has removed more than 3 million of the estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash that spilled out of a defective ash pond three days before Christmas in 2008. That ash is being shipped to a landfill in Alabama.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month approved TVA's plan to store the rest of the Kingston ash on the plant site in what Mr. Kilgore called an underground dam "built all the way to the bedrock like it should be with structural integrity."
TVA pans to spend up to $1.2 billion on the ash cleanup, swelling the total environmental cleanup costs for air and water emissions at Kingston to nearly $1.7 billion.
With such costs for cleaning up or replacing aging coal plants and new power plants being built to meet power growth in the future, TVA's biggest distributor urged the federal utility Thursday to get Congress to raise TVA's $30 billion debt cap.
"The debt ceiling needs to be raised so that the customers we have today don't have to pay the total costs for infrastructure that is going to be around for the next 30 to 40 years or even longer," said Jerry Collins Jr., president and chief executive of Memphis Light, Gas & Water.