KINGSTON — The only Roane County city to see its population increase over the past decade has turned a calamity into a windfall.
Kingston recently received more than $11 million in grants and other funding, or the equivalent of $1,904 per resident, City Manager James Pinkerton said.
As one offshoot, residents aren’t facing a property tax hike or utility rate increase this year, Mayor Troy Beets said.
Most of the new money — $9 million — came as a result of the devastating ash spill more than two years ago at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, Beets said.
Some 5.4 million cubic yards of ash sludge burst from a ruptured holding pond into the Emory River and adjoining countryside on Dec. 22, 2008.
Cleanup, expected to cost more than $1 billion, is likely to take two more years to wrap up.
Beets said it is fitting Kingston received more than Rockwood or Harriman as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s $42 million payout to offset economic fallout from the disaster.
“Where was the ash spill?” he asked. “Was it a Harriman ash spill? A Roane County ash spill?
“It’s called the Kingston ash spill, and we’re the ones hurt worst by it. That’s why we got a little bit more money,” he said.
Beets said city officials made strategic plans once they knew a TVA payout was coming.
“We wanted to see where we could get the most bang for the buck,” said Beets, a 68-year-old great-grandfather halfway through his second term as mayor.
Priorities were ranked, and doubling the city’s wastewater treatment plant to a 2-million-gallon-a-day capacity came out on top. It’s a $5 million project at no cost to ratepayers.
That work, to meet expected demand for years to come, should begin this summer and take 18 months, Pinkerton said.
TVA also paid about $2 million to replace a city water line from a spring that was wiped out by the ash spill, Beets said.
Also underwritten by TVA: $2 million for daily testing at the city’s water treatment plant to see if any heavy metals from the ash spill had entered the city’s drinking water supply. There was no sign of any contamination, according to the mayor.
The city is using another $2 million in grants and loans to set the stage for future growth, officials said.
Kingston has annexed the Gallaher Road corridor, including the Interstate 40 interchange, in anticipation of commercial businesses locating there, Beets said.
New streetlights are up, and a sewer line is going in through a combination of city money, grants and long-term loans.
“It’s the only room that we have for growth,” the mayor said of the area.
One 27-acre tract near the interchange was eyed for a large hotel until the national economic downturn canceled that plan, Beets said.
Other federal grants and loans are funding a $2 million project to extend a water line to the Rockwood water treatment plant.
Hooking up to that facility “means we don’t have to build a new water plant,” Beets said.
Over the past decade, Kingston’s population grew from 5,264 to 5,934.
Roane County’s other cities, Harriman, Rockwood and Oliver Springs, saw their populations decline in that time, according to U.S. census figures.
The county’s total population increased in the decade from 51,910 to 54,181 residents.
The ash spill aftereffects reduced the value of some lakeside residences, courthouse records show. Beets said it also has put a damper on recent residential development.
Kingston and Roane County continue to recover from the disaster, and there’s still $1 million set aside from the ash spill fund for a public relations campaign to repair the area’s image, Beets said.
He said the Roane County Economic Development Foundation hasn’t settled on how best to use that money.
Even without a public relations effort, “When the economy improves, Kingston’s image will improve,” Beets said.
Contact Bob Fowler at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-481-3625.