ROGERSVILLE — The Tennessee Valley Authority will be accepting public comments until Sept. 7 on its Environmental Investigation Plan (EIP) to monitor soil and water in and around the former John Sevier Steam Plant coal ash ponds.
On Thursday evening, officials from the TVA and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) hosted an open house at Occasions on the Square to outline the EIP, answer questions and accept comments.
The monitoring plan is a result of a 2015 TDEC commissioner’s order to the TVA for ash byproduct, or coal combustion residuals (CCR), compliance, pursuant to the provisions of Tennessee’s solid waste management and disposal laws.
This order establishes a transparent, comprehensive process to investigate, assess and remedy unacceptable risks resulting from the management and disposal of CCR at TVA coal-fired power plants.
What are ash “ponds”?
Although Rogersville’s John Sevier Steam Plant was decommissioned in 2012 and the power plant subsequently torn down, its byproducts will always be there.
Coal ash, the more commonly used name for CCR, is created when power plants burn coal to produce electricity.
These residuals include fly ash, bottom ash and gypsum, which were collected separately from different areas of the facility.
Fly ash originates from the flue gas electrostatic precipitators, bottom ash from the boilers and gypsum from the sulfur dioxide scrubbers.
That ash is buried in separate “ponds” or landfills at the old steam plant property just south of Rogersville.
The Environmental Investigation Plan
TVA Communications Director Gail Rymer said the agency’s EIP will ensure the stability of the coal ash ponds, determine if there are any gaps in TVA’s understanding of all the environmental impacts and then fill those gas.
The ultimate goal is to prevent any adverse environmental impacts.
“(The EIP) is trying to determine what additional information we need to make sure we understand if there are any impacts to the groundwater or soils or any contamination we don’t know about,” Rymer said. “We do not believe there’s any additional (contamination) as a result of the operations, but we want to make sure.”
Local residents have questions
Nancy Bell, who chairs Hawkins County’s Sierra Conservation Committee, said one of her main concerns is long-term monitoring.
“One of the ways they were going to roll back the rules was to, instead of monitoring for 30 years, they would monitor for five only,” Bell said. “That’s not a good idea. There are some heavy metals in it that I’m very concerned about. There’s arsenic and there’s also cadmium. In 2011, there was a test for molybdenum, which is a dangerous chemical, and it was about 40 times higher than the safe rate.”
The John Sevier ash ponds are adjacent to the Holston River at the headwaters of Cherokee Lake, and several lake dwellers attended Thursday’s meeting.
The EIP calls for contamination searches through core drilling, onsite well water testing, river bottom sediment testing, river water testing, soil testing on surrounding properties, spring and drinking water well testing on surrounding properties and testing fish tissue and other river wildlife for contamination.
Coal ash spills always a concern
There was an ash spill at John Sevier in 1973 when the ponds’ berms were build with ash. The walls were subsequently built with clay. But after the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill, there will always be concerns about another disaster.
“I’m very concerned about the ash ponds being so close to the river,” Bell said. “I’m concerned about a catastrophic storm event, like a 100-year storm, or even, God forbid, 500-year storm that has been happening around the United States.”
She added, “There are a lot of technical details about this plan, and I have faith that it could be done right. I’m concerned about the low number of employees that TDEC has right now. I think they’re stretched to the limit. I just want to make sure that the plan is done right and to let people know that people in Rogersville do care. They are watching.”