Residents along Swan Pond Road near Harriman still feel the Tennessee Valley Authority has failed to regain their trust, even as TVA officials claim building goodwill with the ground-zero community is a top disaster-recovery effort priority.
Swan Pond is the closest community to the Kingston waste-containment dike failure that released approximately 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River, and buried more than 300 acres of lake and shoreline on Dec. 22, 2008.
Local activist Randy Ellis, vice chairman of the Roane County Community Advisory Group, said TVA has yet to take the necessary steps to repair strained relations with area citizens.
“I don’t think they have listened to the community,” Ellis said this week. Most of the work the TVA has completed in the area is at best merely cosmetic, he said, and doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny.
“They’re doing what they’ve got to do to cover their tracks,” said Ellis.
Most members of the Swan Pond community have been lifelong residents. And they certainly didn’t ask to be placed in the middle of the largest industrial spill in American history, said Ellis.
“TVA, through negligence, thrust them into this,” Ellis said.
He added that politicians and government officials tend to like boasting about the $43 million that’s made it’s way to Roane County in the wake of the spill. But none of that money has gone to the Swan Pond community, maintains Ellis — and many there lack basic services like sewer and nearby fire protection.
“No steps have been taken to make the community first affected (by the disaster) happy and whole,” said Ellis.
TVA’s Kingston recovery site general manager, Steve McCracken, says rebuilding trust with the community was among the the top priorities of TVA a year ago, and it still is.
“I can tell you there is no end to (rebuilding trust and communication with the community) any time soon that I see, nor do we want there to be,” McCracken said at a joint Tennessee House and Senate Enviroment Committee hearing to discuss the progress at the site on Tuesday. “We all know this was a catastrophic event. There’s great deal of anger and anxiety in the community. It’s our responsibility to get out there and meet people face to face.”
TVA is meeting with local community members and officials, and communicating through email to try to better understand issues of concern facing the community members, and ultimately fix problems, McCracken said.
“Critical to everything is making extensive efforts to reach out to neighbors, recognize their concerns, try to minimize the inevitable inconvenience,” McCracken said. “It’s significant along Swan Pond Road and Swan Pond Circle Road.”
Of the inconveniences area residents must endure are increased and heavy traffic due to the increase of workers, and heavy truck traffic to and from the site, Ellis said.
Asked by a lawmaker during the hearing what was being done to alleviate the railroad crossing delays — which force residents “to wait at a train crossing up to 15 times a day for 15 minutes at a time,” according to Ellis — McCracken said, “We are modifying our rail system at the site as we speak.”
He promised that by the first week of March changes will be made that ensure rail traffic “won’t be impacting that intersection any more.”
“I can tell you that it is irritating,” McCracken acknowledged. “It’s irritating to me.”
Rep. Dennis Ferguson, D-Midtown, encouraged TVA to be a better neighbor to the Swan Pond community, and to see how the residents can be helped.
“That community is the next door neighbor to TVA, and I hope they will go over there and see if there’s something they can do to make those people feel like they’re being taken care of,” he said.