Emerging from the ashes
One year since the Kingston fossil plant ash spill
Leshia Randolph is a closer. Not the baseball or real-estate kind. The Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 818, Mactec kind.
When a “stick” of 22 railroad cars rolls in to the Kingston Fossil Plant clean-up site, Mactec “liners” place thick black polyethylene sheets inside the cars, pull them open and tie them into place with bungee cords.
Bulldozer and excavator operators such as Pat Martin drop compressed-clay leachate-collection material — “kitty litter,” explains Martin — into the bottoms of the liners, then fill up the cars with ash.
Once the ash is loaded, about 104 tons per car, Randolph and her fellow “closers” pull the flaps over the load “like a burrito” and re-fasten them with bungees.
“I really enjoy my work,” says Randolph, who lives in Crossville, and had previously spent 3 1/2 years as a foreman at John Sevier Fossil Plant. Martin, a Clinton native and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 917 steward, has been “moving dirt” most of his whole life, including many winters in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
One year later, life has settled in to a methodical, efficient routine and the realization that a great deal has been accomplished. Much of the area has been reclaimed, and, by early December, dredgers had extracted more than twomillion cubic yards of ash from the Emory River, or about two-thirds of the ash that ended up in the water.
The remaining 1 million cubic yards are expected to be removed from the Emory by spring, says deputy program manager Kathryn Nash. Removal of ash from other areas is the non-time-critical phase of the recovery project. In this phase, TVA is seeking input from the public about long-term plans for the ash remaining on TVA property.
Nash came to Kingston in February from Power Supply & Fuels. Since Dec. 22, crews have successfully restored the roads, rail lines and many areas of the spill. TVA, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have conducted constant air and water monitoring. And TVA has committed just over $40 million to foster economic development in the area. All is part of TVA’s commitment to restoring the area.
In all, some 500 people are working on the site. Along with TVA employees, there are project engineers from Jacobs Engineering; dredgers from Sevenson Environmental Services Inc.; liners, loaders and closers from Mactec; rail workers from Norfolk Southern; environmental monitors from Shaw Environmental Inc.; and regulators from EPA and TDEC.
Ash dredged from the Emory River is placed on the former baseball and soccer fields on plant property where heavy equipment operators arrange it in rows to dry. “In good weather conditions, it takes two or three days to dry out,” says Dennis yankee, TVA environmental manager for the site.
One stick of rail cars rolls into the loading area and out, about four or five a day. Each evening between 8 and 10 p.m., a train of three locomotives and between 88 and 110 cars starts its 24-hour journey to Perry County in southwest Alabama. There, equipment picks up the liners and ash and drop it into dump trucks, which carry the loads about a mile within the 977-acre Arrowhead sanitary landfill. The area of the landfill sits on top of a 200- to 600-foot-thick layer of chalk, which provides an extra barrier between the ash and the groundwater aquifer.
Perry County’s state-of-the-art licensed landfill has created new jobs.
Inside Kingston Fossil Plant, meanwhile, the work of generating electricity goes on.