June 18, 2009, updated June 26
EPA approval is all that stands between 3 million tons of coal ash being cleaned up from a massive TVA spill in December and the PCA Arrowhead landfill in Uniontown. Owners of the landfill submitted a letter of intent to the Environmental Protection Agency two weeks ago outlining the plan to dispose of the ash here. The agency must approve the plan as part of its oversight of TVA's cleanup procedures following the spill.
Because the ash is not regulated as a hazardous waste, Alabama's Dept. of Environmental Management has no need to grant any sort of approval for the waste to be disposed of here.
This week, the County Commission of Cumberland County, Tenn. voted in favor of a proposal from a local construction firm to dispose of the ash in an abandoned coal mine there. Proponents in Cumberland say the arrangement will net the county $8 million in hosting fees paid by the developer to the county and create up to 100 jobs.
The current deal between Perry County Commission and the owners of the Uniontown landfill would mean about $3 million in tipping fees, since the county collects $1.00 per ton of waste disposed of at the facility.
Perry County appears to remain in competition with Cumberland for the disposal of the ash. If it were to be sent here, it would be transported via rail using an estimated 35000 boxcars.
Because of the potential boon to public revenues, officials from Marion, Uniontown, and Perry County appear to have coalesced behind the plan to ship the ash here.
Marion City Councilman Corin Harrison, at the council's June 15 meeting, said the group met with officials from both TVA and PA on the trip, and that the EPA representative told him there were "absolutely zero hazardous materials" contained in the ash: "No arsenic, no nothing."
"He just wanted to impress upon us that there is no hazardous materials," Harrison continued. "ADEM came up with the same findings."
Literature released by TVA following the spill enumerates the dangers posed by toxins contained in the ash. An independent study by Duke University has also concluded that the ash contains dangerous materials, including arsenic and radium.
Environmental activists, conservationists, and some local residents have expressed concern at the ash's murky status: though it is considered nonhazardous waste, it can contain relatively high concentrations of hazardous materials.
Marion Mayor Tony Long dismissed these concerns as held by people "who picked up little small pieces [of information] and are trying to get negative with it." In an interview with the Selma Times-Journal, County Commissioner Albert Turner also dismissed those concerned as environmentalists and alarmists.