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Dustbusters sweep commission

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County to reconsider coal fly ash dumpsite

By Brent Schanding

 JACKSBORO—The signs said it all. 

“No ash!” 

“Pollution is not the solution.” 

“No trash, no coal ash!”

Commissioners listened Monday in the courthouse chambers as protestors testified on why they don’t want a toxic coal fly ash landfill in the Westbourne area. 

Dozens in the crowd — from the young to the elderly — wore anti-ash stickers and applauded as protestors criticized plans for a 300-acre dumpsite in the northern part of the county. South Carolina-based Ketchen Land Company plans to import up to 600 cubic tons of fly ash to the site by rail over the next 20 years. Several question the potential health and environmental hazards of the facility. 

The county could receive up to a $1 per ton for the ash, under one proposal. A permit to operate the facility has already been filed for state review, but dump protestors hope local officials will take action to stop it.  

“We have lived in harmony with everybody, and we are a body of people,” lifelong county resident Jim Bolton told commissioners on Monday. “There has been nobody that’s stood and gave a verbal word about what good fly ash is going to do for our county.”

Bolton said he feared the ash landfill could degrade water quality in the area and further compromise the integrity of the landscape, which has already been weakened from years of underground coal mining. 

“Now, we’re going to build an ash field on a honeycomb?” Bolton asked. “I don’t think so. I’m not here asking for your vote. I’m begging for your vote.”

Other opponents of the dump agreed with Bolton.

“We’ve given a lot of coal to the region and country. We’ve given our share to the industry,” said county resident Tom Chadwell. “I don’t think we need the waste.”

Opponent Jennifer Hoffman estimated the dump site would be the length of 281 football fields — and eventually topped with 100 feet of coal ash.

“If this is such good stuff, why don’t they sell it in 50-pound bags at Lowe’s to put in your garden?” she asked. “I don’t want to hear that Campbell County becomes the next Superfund site.” 

A Superfund site is an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

After listening to reason after reason from what’s become an organized campaign of challengers, commissioners now seem poised to reverse an earlier inaction. 

On Monday, they are again expected to consider invoking Jackson’s Law — a political maneuver that would vest them with the power to dump plans for the combustible coal ash landfill.

On Sept. 16, commissioners originally considered the measure. But some commissioners said they were uniformed and abstained from voting. Others were absent and didn’t cast votes.   

In the end, Mayor William Baird ruled the votes failed just shy of the 2/3 required to invoke the measure. 

 

PUBLIC REACTION 

Monday’s forum was the third since this summer where citizens were encouraged to ask questions and speak about the proposed ash landfill. It was the first, however, where citizens specifically addressed elected officials. 

On Sept. 10, hundreds of concerned citizens showed up for the initial public forum, hosted by Ketchen Land developers, at Cove Lake State Park in Caryville. 

Many naysayers heard answers of, “I don’t know,” and “We don’t have an answer for that.” 

On Sept. 24, Ketchen officials hosted a second public forum at White Oak Elementary, where nearly 200 dump opponents grilled developers on the proposed landfill. Deputies were forced to rebuff one opponent there after he became increasingly agitated and approached moderators. 

Many in the crowd said they left with several unanswered questions. 

While the 15-member commission will need 10 votes next Monday to potentially stop the landfill, some commissioners threw early support to the measure. 

“You are our people, and it breaks my heart to see you all here,” District 2 Commissioner Beverly Hall said Monday to those who came to protest the dump. “I’m there with you. No landfill!”

District 5 Commissioner Alvin Evans confirmed each of the three representatives from his district — which would potentially house the site —  will also support Jackson’s Law. 

And District 4 Commissioner Sue Nance also said she would vote in favor of Jackson’s Law. 

Despite the eventual outcome, at least one dump protestor forewarned commissioners who might vote against the measure.

“This day is recorded in heaven,” protestor Bobbie Parker told commissioners. “If you put this [ash landfill] in here, you will be judged before God.”