Environmental

Contractors to make millions off coal ash spill cleanup

The coal ash spill from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal-firing plant in Kingston, Tenn., may have left some east Tennessee residents homeless and dampened the livelihoods of local business owners, but contractors participating in the massive cleanup will make millions off the deal.

Records reviewed by the Knoxville News Sentinel indicate that 10 firms will rake in more than $10 million each from the first phase of the cleanup effort, including Phillips & Jordan, a Knoxville-based disaster recovery specialist, which is expected to earn as much as $95 million from the TVA.

The TVA is engaged in a three-year, billion-dollar cleanup effort to restore the land, property that was once known for its pastoral landscapes and recreational waterways but is now covered with dark ash and heavy equipment.

It’s a hard pill to swallow for local residents, many of whom watched their homes destroyed or their property damaged when the wave of coal ash – piled as high as nine feet in some areas – poured out from a breached impoundment pond at the neighboring TVA coal-firing plant. Coal ash contains dangerous toxins that have been linked to serious health problems. Many environmentalists argue that if coal-firing plants had been properly inspected by the federal government, perhaps weaknesses in the pond’s infrastructure would have been brought to light sooner and the devastating spill could have been avoided. But hindsight is 20/20.

Besides the billion-plus dollars spent to clean up the devastated land, the TVA has shelled out millions more to buy up homes that were damaged or destroyed and to pay for county improvements and a public relations campaign as a sort of peace offering. More expenses are expected. The nation’s largest utility is also facing class action lawsuits filed by firms such as Beasley Allen on behalf of residents affected by the spill.