A joint hearing of Senate and House environment committees Wednesday will give state legislators their first official on-the-record opportunity to publically quiz Tennessee Valley Authority officials about the vast coal-ash spill near the Kingston Fossil Plant.
president Tom Kilgore told the agency’s board last week that cleaning up the 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that surged onto the landscape and into the Emory, Clinch and Tennessee Rivers Dec. 22 will take months and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up.
He said TVA has to date purchased 20 parcels of private property and may buy up 20 more buried or damaged by the sludge.
As of the end of January TVA had spent $31 million on cleanup. The entire removal and restoration effort is estimated to cost between $525 and $825 million,
“The reason there’s a (dollar-range disparity) there is because there’s a lot of things we don’t know yet,” Kilgore said. “We don’t know exactly how many times we’re going to have to handle this ash. When we bring it out of the river we’ll need to dry it, handle it again, and hopefully take it to a permanent disposal site. But there are some concerns that we might need to handle some of this ash multiple times, and until we have some experience with that – meaning, is this going to work as we planned and are we going to be able to put it where we planned? – we won’t know that.”
Tennessee House Environment Committee Chairman John C. Tidwell, D-New Johnsonville, said lawmakers expect at their hearing to get an overview of the spill and cleanup, and will then take the questioning “wherever it needs to go.”
“We’ll want to know what TVA’s program is for, what has happened, and what is the shape of the rest of the ash storage facilities, and what’s in the future,” said Tidwell.
Kilgore said last week it’s clear TVA will need to “rebuild trust with the community,” and that the agency committed missteps and public relations blunders early on in the aftermath of the “catastrophe.”
“We’ve had a couple of slips in terms of things I wish we’d have done faster and better, and we are getting better at that, and we promise to continue to improve,” Kilgore told the TVA board.
The public is invited to comment during the joint-committee hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m. in Legislative Plaza Meeting Room 16.