Friday, October 22, 2010

Days before EPA hearings, TVA announces improvements in coal ash impoundments

Half of the 24 earthen dams at Tennessee's coal ash and gypsum ponds meet the top safety standard for stability, says a consultant hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Still, "Stantec Consulting Services reported that none of the ash ponds present an immediate danger of failure like the 2008 Kingston ash spill that poured 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River from a dam breach at the Kingston Fossil Plant," Dave Flesser of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Just one pond was rated as "highly hazardous."

"We've not seen any conditions in the field that suggest to us that we have any imminent failure in front of us, and we're making improvements," John Montgomery, Stantec's senior principal engineer, told Flesser. "Every recommendation that we have made to TVA is being picked up and acted upon." Three other ponds were initially labeled as "highly hazardous," but TVA made changes, including lowering pond levels, buying up adjacent property and improving drainage, to have those ratings lowered. "We never want another Kingston to happen again," TVA Senior Vice President Bob Deacy said.

"By the end of 2011, TVA expects to have completed at least 86 ongoing engineering and construction projects to improve the safety of its ash ponds to comply with the highest standards set by federal regulators," Flesser writes. Since the Kingston spill, TVA has spent more than $20 million in improvements for ash pond impoundments. Lisa Evans, a staff attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the group was encouraged by the improvements, "but you have to remember that the Kingston ash pond was never identified as hazardous before it collapsed." Evans also noted the TVA announcement of improvements came just days before an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Knoxville about federal regulation of coal ash disposal. (Read more)

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