The Perry County HeraldJune 25, 2009
"Nothing that is said here tonight is going to make any difference, you're going to shove this down our throats."
Mike Bortnick of Marion echoed the frustration of many other Perry Countians who showed up at a public meeting Wednesday night featuring officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management; along with representatves from PCA-Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown and politicians from Perry County Commission, Marion City Council, and Uniontown City Council.
Franklin E. Hill, Superfund Diversion Director for EPA's Region 4, which includes Alabama, came from Atlanta to speak to Perry Countians about the plan to dispose of coal ash from the Kingston, Tenn. disaster which happened in December 2008. It was the first public meeting in Perry County on the matter, which has been in the works since at least early April, according to correspondence between TVA and ADEM.
Hill said he was there "not asking, quite frankly, for approval" from Perry's public, but to answer questions. He blamed most of the public concerns on "misinformation" spread by local media, which he later accused of "muddying the water," confusing the public about the ash's dangers to serve other agendas.
The Herald has cited a study conducted by Dr. Avner Vengosh of Duke University and released earlier this year that the coal ash in question contains more arsenic and radium than average, and which concludes the ash poses "serious" health concerns in released into the environments. After Wednesday night's meeting, Hill said he could not comment on the findings of that study.
During the meeting when asked for EPA's own data, Hill apologized and said he had not brought any of that information with him. He invited to public to look it up on TVA's website.
Hill also fielded questions about the safety of the disposal procedures of the ash.
"I never said [the ash] was safe, but it can be disposed of in a safe manner," he said, calling Arrohead's facility "one of the safest" he'd seen.
He noted the safety measures in place at the landfill, including two plastic liners in place to prevent waste runoff, and test wells around the property to monitor groundwater near the landfill.
Commissioners Albert Turner and Fairest Cureton offered their arguments in favor of the plan. Turner said the money the county would take in as a result of this plan would be enough to subsidize the county's E-911 system and pay for other county projects. He also touted the 50 jobs landfill officials say the project will create.
Cureton criticized those who were against the plan, saying, "If you've already got a job, then you don't have to worry about it. . .what about all these folks who can't get a job?" He also criticized those who say the plan unfairly targets a poor, predominately-black community, saying, "None of you are experts on environmental racism or justice or whatever."
Many of those in attendance expressed their concern to Hill: that the public has been shut out of the decision-making process on the ash coming to Perry County. Negotiations appear to have been taking place on the project since April, but the information provided by government leaders to the public on the matter has been scarce. Citizens at the meeting pointed out the plane ride commissioners and councilmen took to Tennessee to discuss the matter with TVA, which was not announced to the public or the press. They also pointed out that commissioners did not announce that night's public meeting until one day before, at the Tuesday night Perry County Commission meeting.
Hill said local officials should have been more open with the public, if that were indeed the case.
"There's going to have to be open communication with all of the citizens down here about what's going on," he said.
"If you go back to Atlanta and feel like the people have been heard today, you're making a mistake," said Kirtley Brown. "This is about nothing but money...I don't think we should sell the future of this county for 50 jobs or 100 jobs; that's not an honorable way to treat the people of this county and the future people of this county."
Despite appearances to the contrary, including reports that TVA was to begin shipping the ash to Uniontown by train as early as last week, Hill said the issue is not settled yet.
He gave no timeframe on EPA's "pending decision" on the matter, but said, "I don't want you to think that my job is done here. I got the message tonight that my job isn't quite done."