The Big Cleanup
‘We will clean it up and we will clean it up right.’ – Tom Kilgore
Bulldozer operator Jesse West was at his home in Tellico Plains, Tenn., on Dec. 22 — on a 30-day furlough from Kingston Fossil Plant and getting ready for Christmas with his wife and two daughters — when his phone rang at 7 a.m.
“My foreman, D.J. McJunkin, told me to get in to work as soon as I could,” says West. “And he said to call my brother [Ben], daddy [David] and cousin [Nathan West] and tell them to get in here, too. I got there and I said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Within hours, Jesse West and a half-dozen other dozer operators under head foreman Brian Greene and field supervisor Mike Strunk were working on the section of the ash spill that had covered up the Kingston rail spur and Swan Pond Road.
Like so many heavy-equipment operators and others working on the Kingston recovery effort, West has been on site every day since the spill, working shifts from 12 to 16 hours. After one 16-hour shift, he got home around 12:30 a.m., got up at 4:15 a.m., grabbed a sausage and egg biscuit and a large Coke at Hardee’s and got to work by 6:15 a.m.
West and his crew uncovered the road and rail and as of early January were working to push the sludge back 100 feet from the road. Nathan West got a field promotion to foreman.
“What I’m most grateful for is that there were no injuries,” said TVA Chief Executive Officer Tom Kilgore in a press conference the day after the spill. TVA Community Relations found housing for the affected families and began a community-wide outreach effort.
On Sunday evening, Dec. 28, Kilgore met in the Kingston High School gymnasium with Roane County citizens. He conveyed TVA’s commitment to clean up the spill and restore the area: “We at TVA deeply regret that this spill happened, but we will clean it up and we will clean it up right,” he said. “It will be a long job and a hard job, but we will get it done, and done safely and in a way that protects our environment, recovers the area and makes it nice again.”