The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Water and waste on TVA agenda as utility plans Bull Run shutdown

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TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant — then and nowBull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee, was originally commissioned 55 years ago but TVA is now soliciting public input on the best way to shut down operations. Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA solicits public input following release of environmental assessment for Bull Run Fossil Plant decommission

CLAXTON — Tennessee Valley Authority plans to close its Bull Run Fossil Plant (BRF) in Anderson County, but it’s still looking for public input on what comes next.

“As a large, inflexible coal unit with medium operating costs and a high forced outage rate, BRF does not fit current and likely future portfolio needs,” the federal utility said in a draft Environmental Assessment.

TVA is looking at three different options for the future of the structures still standing on the site by the Clinch River near Oak Ridge: taking down all structures; taking down some of them; or leaving everything standing. A recent report lays out the environmental consequences of each of these actions. The report, in draft form, is against that third choice, listing it as only an option for the sake of comparison.

“If the facility is left in the “as-is” condition, it likely would present a higher risk than Alternatives A or B for the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater as systems and structures degrade. As such, this alternative is not a reasonable alternative,” the draft states.

TVA stated its considering removing “all or most of the buildings and structures” on a 250-acre area. After closing the plant, but before any demolitions, TVA will begin by removing components that may be used at other TVA sites, draining of oil and fluids from equipment, taking ash out of the boilers, removing information technology assets, removing plant records and other tasks.

The Bull Run Environmental Assessment is 170 pages long and available for public review. It doesn’t directly tackle the coal ash storage conundrum that has grabbed the attention of politicians, nearby residents and environmental activists, because that issue involves separate regulations. 

Still, environmentalists have concerns

Adam Hughes, East Tennessee community organizer of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), listed concerns raised by the report about the future of the site in a handout he distributed at a meeting held by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) in Oak Ridge on Jan. 12. The meeting involved a permit issue related to Bull Run, specifically pollution released into nearby water, which isn’t addressed in TVA’s report. Nevertheless, Hughes used the opportunity to reach out to citizens and regulators about the report and its comment period.

SOCM, like TVA, has come out against leaving all the buildings standing.

“Community members have spoken out against leaving plant structures in place, as it would keep the land from reuse and impair long term property values,” according to SOCM.

The SOCM handout recommended citizens speak out on other issues. These issues included

  • financial support from TVA to the community
  • the need for government and community involvement in TVA’s plans
  • the need for continued testing at water wells in the area during the deconstruction
  • the possible effects on ospreys and long-eared bats.

Removing rails early would diminish feasible options

Hughes and SOCM also have concerns about the railroad tracks and rail bed on the site. The report discusses demolishing them under option one along with every other structure on site. The SOCM handout stated that without the railroad in place, transporting the coal ash to another location might be more difficult.

“You are putting the carriage before the horse by making a plan to remove these rail structures, by even assessing that before you even know your responsibilities,” Hughes said, explaining the message he would give the utility.

Anderson County resident John Todd Waterman also said he wanted to keep the rails.

“As long as it’s there, it’s going to keep contaminating our groundwater,” Waterman said regarding the coal ash stored on the site and the importance of shipping it away. He said the toxins from the ash could ultimately flow down to the Gulf of Mexico. He also warned of risks from floods and earthquakes to the coal ash storage.

The comment period for submitting a comment to TVA online or by email or snail mail to Brittany Kunkle, NEPA Specialist, 400 West Summit Hill Drive, WT 11B, Knoxville, TN 37902 has closed.

TDEC and citizens talk about water quality

The demolition of the plant was not part of the stated reason for TDEC’s Jan. 12 meeting. Instead, the later focused on revising TVA’s permit regarding “cooling water, process wastewater and storm water runoff” from Bull Run Fossil Plant into the Clinch River and operation of a cooling water intake system.

In interviews with media and during the meeting Voljin Janjic, manager of Water Quality Systems Unit for TDEC, emphasized that the new permit would not change the regulations’ strictness.

“Nothing is less restrictive in this permit than it was before. It just recognizes that TVA is closing the plant.

“The discharges from Bull Run are in no way compromising water quality,” he said.

However, commenters still expressed fears and questions about coal ash pollution, water quality and sediment contamination in groundwater and streams near Bull Run. Among them was Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson, who spoke of Oak Ridge’s future new water treatment plant and wanted to make sure TVA and TDEC took every precaution against contamination that might affect the city’s water.

Also among them was Powell resident Julie Bledsoe. She’s the wife of Ron Bledsoe and sister-in-law of Doug Bledsoe, who both worked in the cleanup of the huge coal ash spill at another TVA power plant, the Kingston Fossil Plant. In the past she has attributed her brother-in-law’s death to exposure to toxins in the ash. While not talking about him by name at this meeting, she used the spill as an example of coal ash’s dangers and of TVA, TDEC and the Environmental Protection Agency’s past failures before calling pollution of sediment in the Clinch River “disgusting.”

“Hundreds of people fell through the cracks,” she said. “The Kingston workers were not put first.”

If you missed the meeting, you could still provide comments by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. through Thursday, Jan. 26.

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