February 9, 2009: UMD Summer Internships Available

Come defend the Appalachian Mountains by joining us on the front lines.

United Mountain Defense (UMD) is a group living and working in Appalachian to protect Tennessee’s heritage from destructive surface mining which is blowing them up, layer by layer. We refuse to sacrifice our mountains, forest, and streams to greedy coal corporations.

UMD conducts activities in three principle areas: legal and policy advocacy; scientific monitoring and data collection; and public education, outreach and grassroots organizing. These activities are conducted within the state of Tennessee, primarily in Campbell, Claiborne, Scott, Fentress, Bledsoe, Knox and Blount counties.

UMD is supported by an entirely volunteer workforce and your participation would greatly add to the diversity of voices and energy in our fight to save the Tennessee Mountains, watersheds and coalfield communities.

Please consider becoming a UMD volunteer. The future of the Appalachian Mountains depends on you!

View a list of internship positions

Internship application and more information


February 3, 2009: Eight more arrests following second wave of citizen protest at toxic coal sludge lake and mountaintop removal site

Massey Energy blasting would endanger community, destroy permanent renewable energy potential

PETTUS, W.Va. — This morning five activists, who had chained themselves to a bulldozer and an excavator, and one videographer were arrested for trespassing at a mountaintop removal site. By afternoon, dozens of local residents, friends and supporters from throughout Appalachia converged at the mine’s gate. Eight more citizens were arrested in the afternoon action.

The latest wave of protesters, trained in and committed to non-violence, delivered a letter to mine company officials. The letter, ultimately intended for Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, insists that Massey cease the mountaintop removal operation on Coal River Mountain. (A copy of the letter is posted at
http://climategroundzero.com/gate_letter.pdf).

Blasting for part of the operation could begin at any time, very close to a nine-billion-gallon toxic coal waste sludge dam called the Brushy Fork Impoundment. Blasting would occur above underground mines close to the dam and the lake of toxic coal waste it impounds.

Instead of mountaintop removal, residents and their supporters are advocating for a wind farm on the site as a safe alternative for cleaner energy and long-term jobs (www.coalriverwind.org).

“I fear for my friends and all the people living below this coal sludge dam,” said Gary Anderson, who lives on the mountain near the site. “Blasting beside the dam, over underground mines, could decimate the valley for miles. The ‘experts’ said that the Buffalo Creek sludge dam was safe, but it failed. They said that the TVA sludge dam was safe, but it failed. Massey is setting up an even greater catastrophe here.”

In 1972, a sludge dam operated by Pittston Coal Company failed and killed 125 people in Buffalo Creek, W.Va.

In 2000, a sludge dam operated by Massey Energy in Martin County, Ky., released approximately 300 million gallons of coal waste that broke through into underground mines. The EPA called that the worst environmental disaster in the Southeast.

Then, in December 2008, a coal ash sludge impoundment operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) failed near Harriman, Tenn. That disaster released over one billion gallons of toxic sludge that destroyed three homes, damaged twelve more and covered 300 acres.

The Brushy Fork coal sludge impoundment currently contains seven billion gallons and has a nine-billion-gallon capacity.

Residents have lost faith in their state government and taken their plea nationally.
Climate expert James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said, “President Obama, please look at Coal River Mountain. Your strongest supporters are counting on you to stop this madness.”

“We can’t sit by while Massey jeopardizes the lives and homes of thousands of people,” said Vernon Haltom of Naoma, W.Va. “Governor Manchin and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection have proven that they are unwilling to protect the citizens. What do they expect us to do? Will they wait until we’re in body bags to take this threat seriously?”

A 2008 report by the federal Office of Surface Mining revealed serious deficiencies in the WVDEP’s regulation of coal waste dams.

In November, WVDEP approved a permit revision allowing Massey to begin the mountaintop removal operation. Despite citizens’ objections, DEP denied public participation in its decision process.

Anderson added, “We need to stop the madness and stop Massey from blowing up our beautiful mountain. We need to go with the better energy option, and that’s a wind farm, which is perfect for Coal River Mountain. We could have a green energy future for the country, starting right here.”

Arrested in the morning action were Rory McImoil, Matt Noerpel, James McGuiness
Mike Roselle, Glen Collins and videographer Chad Stevens.

Arrested in the afternoon action were Lorelei Scarbro, Larry Gibson, Charles Nelson, Missy Petty, Mary Wildfire, Vernon Haltom, Allen Johson and Heather Sprouse

For updates, photos and video footage, go to http://climategroundzero.org.


February 3, 2009: Please help save Coal River Mountain!

Call Governor Manchin at 1-888-438-2731 and / or use our simple web form to e-mail the governor.

This morning five activists were arrested after locking down to a bulldozer and excavator on Coal River Mountain. They had giant banners that read “Save Coal River Mountain” and “Wind Mills NOT Toxic Spills.”

This afternoon, local residents, friends and allies from across Appalachia will gather to demonstrate against Massey Energy’s preparation for blasting on Coal River Mountain. Massey’s bulldozers have razed a huge mud pit and torn down trees on the mountain, and the first blasts permitted would be next to the world’s largest toxic coal slurry impoundment.

That’s right, not only is Massey planning to blow up an ideal site for a wind farm, but they will risk destabilizing a nine-billion-gallon toxic coal slurry dam.

Coal River Mountain is slated for a 6,600-acre mountaintop removal site, but local residents have developed plans for a wind farm there instead. The wind farm would provide over a million dollars more in tax revenue per year than the mountaintop removal site, and would provide jobs and clean energy forever. Citizens have been working to convince West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to support their plan for their community, but they’re running out of time.

That’s why we need your help! You can join us by calling Gov. Manchin at 1-888-438-2731 and / or using our simple web form to email the governor. Tell him that West Virginia and the nation are ready for a clean energy future, and that he MUST Stop the Blasting! on Coal River Mountain. E-mails are great, but calls are better! http://www.coalriverwind.org/?page_id=119

Please support this effort by donating funds at: http://www.coalriverwind.org/?page_id=26


NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 3, 2009

Contact: Charles Suggs 304-854-7372

Activists arrested opposing mountaintop removal, blasting beside nine-billion-gallon toxic coal sludge dam


Operation endangers community, destroys wind energy potential.

PETTUS, W.Va.—Five activists with Climate Ground Zero and pan-Appalachian Mountain Justice (www.mountainjustice.org) have been arrested and charged with tresspassing after locking down to a bulldozer and a backhoe this morning at a Massey Energy mountaintop removal mine site.

“Massey could flood the towns of Pettus, Whitesville and Sylvester with toxic coal sludge,” said Julia Bonds, of Rock Creek, W.Va. “Blasting at a multi-billion-gallon sludge lake over underground mines could cause the sludge to burst through and kill thousands of people.”

“The governor and county legislators have failed to act, so we’re acting for them,”Rory McIlmoil said. “They shouldn’t allow the wind potential on Coal River Mountain to be destroyed, and the nearby communities endangered, for only 17 years of coal. There is a better way to develop the mountain and strengthen the local economy that will create lasting jobs and tax revenues for this county, and that’s with wind power.”

Massey has begun work on the proposed mountaintop removal operation on Coal River Mountain, the same site where residents are advocating for a wind farm as a safe alternative for cleaner energy and long-term jobs (www.coalriverwind.org).

Massey also operated the Martin County, Ky., sludge dam that released approximately 300 million gallons of coal waste that broke through into underground mines in 2000. The EPA called that the worst environmental disaster in the Southeast. Then, in December 2008, a coal ash sludge impoundment operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) failed near Harriman, Tenn. That disaster released over one billion gallons of toxic sludge that destroyed three homes, damaged twelve more and covered 300 acres.

“We can’t trust Massey to protect the community, and we certainly don’t trust the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to keep us safe,” said Bo Webb of Naoma, W.Va. “Both have proven that profits come before citizens’ safety.” A 2008 report by the federal Office of Surface Mining revealed serious deficiencies in the WV DEP’s regulation of coal waste dams (www.wvgazette.com/News/200901110512?page=1&build=cache). In November, DEP approved a permit revision allowing Massey to begin the mountaintop removal operation. Despite citizens’ objections, DEP denied public participation in its decision making process.

For updates, photos and video footage, go to http://climategroundzero.org.

###


February 2, 2009: Experts say tests show Tenn. water is contaminated by heavy metals

New report offers preliminary findings; authors call for
further testing independent of TVA, full clean-up, and federal regulations

February 2, 2009—The Environmental Integrity Project and United Mountain Defense today released test results in a report entitled Sampling Fact Sheet for TVA Kingston Coal Ash Spill, with their preliminary findings on the health and safety of the region’s river water, which was compromised by the Dec. 22, 2009 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill.

Water Quality Criteria for arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium and copper were violated, and Primary Drinking Water standards were exceeded for arsenic, lead, beryllium, and antimony.

The test results were released during a media conference call that included Jeff Stant of the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), Chris Irwin of United Mountain Defense (UMD), and Sarah McCoin of the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network, founded by neighbors of the spill. The test results, report, supplemental documents, maps, photos, and contact information for the speakers can be downloaded from www.kelleycampaigns.com/coalash.html.

EIP and UMD analyzed 24 water samples from 22 locations taken on Dec. 30, 2008, Dec. 31, 2008, and Jan. 4, 2009. A full list of the sampling dates and locations can be found in a supplemental spreadsheet, TVA Kingston Tables 1 2 3 4 for Residents.

The results indicate the collapse of the ash embankment has contaminated surface water near the impact site and downriver with high contaminant levels which have continued to be carried downriver some two weeks after the disaster. The samples contained heavy metals at levels that frequently exceed federal drinking water standards, making the rivers dangerously unsafe as a public drinking water supply and exceed water quality standards designed to protect aquatic life and human health.

Jeff Stant, Director of the Coal Combustion Waste Initiative in Indianapolis for the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project, highlighted the report’s key findings, and commented on TVA’s approach to date which has left millions of tons of the ash in the Emory River and along river banks.

“Leaving the ash sitting on the riverbanks and in the river will endanger public health and the environment. Every time it rains, the ash will continue to leach heavy metals and further contaminate the watershed,” Stant said.

He added that arsenic levels as high as 21-105 ppb in the Clinch River miles downriver from the spill site endangers the use of the river as a “domestic water supply.”

“We haven’t found Drinking Water Standards, known as Maximum Contaminant Levels, exceeded in water that people actually drink, but the exceedances emphasize the need for continued monitoring at treatment plants and groundwater wells to assure that drinking water is safe,” Stant said. “And, the most stringent standards are supposed to apply to the river water if it’s also being used anywhere as a public water supply. Alarming levels of arsenic as high as 21-105 parts per billion have been found in the Clinch River several miles downriver from the impact site. We need more transparency in TVA’s that safe standards haven’t been exceeded. If the water is being used as a domestic water supply anywhere downriver, and people are fishing there, the tighter standards need to apply. That would mean 10 parts per billion for arsenic, and not hundreds of parts per billion.”

Samples from seven of 13 locations in the vicinity of the spill or downriver on the Emory and Clinch Rivers had levels of one or more heavy metals that exceeded Primary Drinking Water Standards. The metals exceeding the standards were: arsenic, lead, beryllium, and antimony. There were no exceedances of these standards for any heavy metals in samples at three locations upriver from the spill impact area.

Samples from six locations in the spill area or downriver exceeded one or more water quality standards for metals 24 times. Known as Water Quality Criteria, these standards are part of the Clean Water Act, which aim to protect aquatic life and human activity in rivers and streams from high pollution concentrations. Water Quality Criteria for copper, arsenic, lead, selenium and cadmium were violated. Copper levels surpassed the criteria for acute toxicity to aquatic life five times and arsenic surpassed this acute toxicity level twice. Only one sample upriver from the spill area exceeded any water quality criteria, and that was of the less toxic, chronic criteria for lead measured at Harriman.

Samples were taken from five wells east of the impact area, none of which exceeded the Primary Drinking Water Standards for heavy metals. However, all of the wells contained one or more other pollutants known to leach from ash, such as iron, manganese, and aluminum in amounts exceeding the use-based Secondary Drinking Water Standards. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based advisories for manganese and sodium were exceeded in one well and three wells respectively. Sodium and manganese are both common contaminants found in coal ash.

United Mountain Defenses was unable to sample wells within the impacted areas. While TVA was granted access to sample these wells, they were sealed off for usage or sampling to anyone outside TVA. The wells included in this report were east, in the opposite direction, of the spill. Speakers on the call today said it is imperative that there be further testing of residential wells as part of a greater study of the groundwater in the entire vicinity around the Kingston Plant.

The data shows widely fluctuating arsenic levels in the Emory and Clinch Rivers, as a result of this coal disaster. Two weeks after the spill, two samples taken within a half mile of the impact site contained arsenic at 32 to 37 times the Primary Drinking Water Standard, one of which also violated the acute Water Quality Criteria. Seven samples downriver ranged from no detection to more than 10 times the Drinking Water Standard three miles away and more than twice the Standard, some 4.5 miles downriver.

“Fluctuating levels of such dangerous metals in so much water two weeks after the spill calls for an expanded testing regimen and suggests that that this massive problem will not go away until the ash is removed from any contact with the Emory River,” Stant said.

Chris Irwin, a staff attorney with United Mountain Defense and sixth generation resident of Tennessee, spoke at the conference call today about the urgent need for additional regulated testing of river water, sediments and aquatic life in the Emory and Clinch Rivers.

Irwin stated, “‘Clean coal” is dead. In fact, coal is dangerous, depleting and destructive…An entire watershed and drinking water source has been contaminated by heavy metals as a direct result of TVA’s ash disaster. TVA has an obligation to both impacted residents and people living downstream to immediately pay for comprehensive independent regular testing in a transparent fashion and make that data immediately available to the public.”

Sarah McCoin, a fifth generation resident of Harriman, Tenn., and member of the Tennessee Coal Ash Survivor Network, offered her opinions as a community activist saying she was misled by TVA’s false sense of security.

“I was once a clean coal believer, thinking that coal ash was a clean byproduct produced by the coal-fired plant a mile from our home,” McCoin said. “We now understand coal ash is not safe. The results indicate contamination in the water is real. The issues are very alarming and the report on the contaminated waters is real. The dangers are real. We worry about the havoc that coal ash will cause to our land, water, wildlife, ecosystem and human health. As this stuff becomes airborne, TVA continues to suggest and state that fly ash is not a hazardous substance; it’s clear that it is. I’ve spent my lifetime hoping to come back here, and it’s actually a beautiful part of the country. Since the spill, we’ve encountered significant lifestyle changes. We must take a new perspective with coal regulation, and implement federal coal ash regulation that will protect other communities from the anguish of this disaster that we now face.”

The test results, report, supplemental documents, maps, photos, and contact information for the speakers can be obtained from www.kelleycampaigns.com/coalash.html.

For more information about the call or to interview any of the speakers, please contact Sarah Goldberg at 301-887-1060 x118, or at sarah [at] kelleycampaigns.com.


1-19-2009: TENNESSEE DAY OF ACTION AGAINST COAL

Monday, January 19th, community organizers in Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga, Tenn., are holding a public demonstration against TVA.  All three protests will begin simultaneously at noon.  

The Chattanooga demonstration will begin at noon outside the TVA offices on 1101 Market Street.  The Knoxville noon protest will be held in Market Square, outside TVA\’s corporate headquarters.  The Nashville protest will take place as part of the city\’s historic MLK-Day parade.  

Protestors are critical of TVA\’s three disasters in three weeks across the Tennessee River watershed.  \”Three disasters in three weeks isn\’t an isolated incident.  This is system-failure,\” Knoxville organizer Chris Martin said.  \”[TVA is] the largest purchaser of coal in North America, and one of the largest state providers of carbon-based energy on the globe,\” Martin said.  \”If they don\’t start to budge on coal, clean energy is going nowhere.\”

TVA currently maintains 18 coal plants and over 50 industrial waste sites in the Tennessee watershed region, the network of waterways surrounding the Tennessee River.  The Emory River in Roane County, the Ocoee River in Polk County, and Widows Creek in Jackson County, Ala., have all met with disaster in recent weeks.

Environmental justice and stewardship groups argue that the contamination includes hazardous materials, with independent water-testing to back up their claims.  Local governments and medical authorities have begun organizing evacuations of contaminated neighborhoods near Harriman, in East Tennessee.  Federal agencies continue to deny any risk of toxics.

 \”We chose to include this in the state capitol\’s MLK parade so people will never let this happen again,\” said Nashville organizer Anna Graves.  \”This is our water, our air that we\’re talking about here.\”

 \”We\’re here to dramatize the destruction of our community,\” Katuah Earth First! organizer Amanda Cagle said in Chattanooga.  \”They\’re destroying our mountains, our streams, our neighborhoods.  Coal kills, from the cradle to the grave.\”


1-16-2009: Tell the Tennessee Valley Authority to pay health costs for victims of its coal waste disaster

On December 22nd, in the largest coal ash disaster in American history, a massive disaster at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant flooded more than 400 acres in Roane County, Tennessee, with one billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge. Coal ash commonly contains pollutants such as arsenic, which causes cancer, and heavy metals that can contaminate water supplies in downstream communities.

Local residents are understandably worried about the possibility of drinking contaminated water, as well as other health risks from polluted air and soil in their neighborhoods. But many of these families, who are already dealing with disrupted lives and damaged property, cannot afford the medical tests necessary to determine if they have been exposed to toxics in the coal ash. United Mountain Defense (UMD) and other groups are urging the TVA to cover all costs associated with medical testing and health care for the victims of this disaster, something the TVA has not yet volunteered to do.

United Mountain Defense has facilitated the set up an independent medical toxicity testing facility in the impacted community. UMD has already fundraised $15,000 to get 30 individuals testing for heavy metals and will continue efforts to make this opportunity available to more families.

How you can Help
Make donations to United Mountain Defense by visiting the website at www.unitedmountaindefense.org. Please make donations thought the PayPal or check and mark donations “for toxicity testing”.

Send a message urging the TVA to make funds promptly available so that residents in the affected area can get independent, third-party medical testing and health services free of charge.

Tennessee Valley Authority
400 W. Summit Hill Dr.
Knoxville, TN 37902-1499

865-632-2101
[email protected]
Gil Francis 865-632-8031
[email protected]

For more information please visit www.unitedmountaindefense.org or call 865-689-2778.


1-14-2009: Residents living near TVA’s Coal Ash Disaster receive medical screening for heavy metal exposure

On Tuesday January 13 residents of Roane county attended the second day of clinical testing for exposure to heavy metals and other environmental toxins in Harriman, TN following TVA’s massive coal ash disaster of December 22, 2008. The clinical screening was performed by a Brentwood, TN corporation called Internal Balance. Internal Balance assembled a skilled team of physician’s assistants who worked under the guidance of a licensed physician, Dr. Daniel Kalb, MD. The owner of Internal Balance, Tamara Mariea is a biochemical nutritionist and a detoxification specialist.

A few organizations independently fundraised money to cover the $500 per patient cost so that additional financial stress would not be added for these impacted families when TVA repeatedly refused to pay for the screening within the 21-27 day timeframe after their initial exposure on Dec 22. A total of $15,000 was raised. Groups actively fundraising included United Mountain Defense with Civil Society Institute contributing $10,000 and Coal River Mountain Watch contributing $1,650 as well as many other groups and individuals.

TVA says that the area is not toxic and that preliminary water test show that the drinking water at the downstream water treatment facilities of Kingston and Rockwood meet safe drinking water standards. The problem is that many of the families in the impacted area did not have access to safe drinking water because their gravity fed spring water was piped through the disaster area or they depended on well water.

TVA was advising families to boil water without informing anyone about the chemicals that may have been in the water. Many community members did not receive TVA’s notices. Members of United Mountain Defense have been communicating with local residents who drank ground water. Some of these residents were given scholarships for medical testing because they got sick while drinking ground water after the disaster.

Many people in the area are frustrated that they have not received detailed information from TVA about the safety of their wells and drinking water. Many residents say that they have not drunk the local water for years due to questions and fears of its safety.

On Monday December 22, 2008 a tragedy 40 times bigger than the Valdez Oil spill occurred outside of Kingston, TN. Residents living near the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston coal plant were flooded with nasty gray coal waste. It covered more than 300 acres of land and flooded into tributaries of the Emory River and Tennessee River which is the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

The coal ash, slurry or sludge is a byproduct left over after TVA burns their coal and it contains mercury and dangerous heavy metals like lead and arsenic, among many other potentially toxic and radioactive contaminates. Materials found naturally in coal are concentrated in the ash and become more toxic than when they start.

For more information please visit www.unitedmountaindefense.org or call 865-689-2778.


UMD: WE NEED INDEPENDENT AIR MONITORS NOW!

Dear folks,

WE NEED INDEPENDENT AIR MONITORS NOW! Bring a hazmat respirator,
seriously.

United Mountain Defense has been leading the charge for the on the ground
response here in Harriman. We have been here since day one gathering more
than 80 water
and coal samples and more than 50 hours of video footage. Because of your
help we have gotten free heavy metal testing for more than 29 local residents
impacted
by the disaster. The next big push for help that we need is probably the
one that will impact you the most, AIR, AIR, AIR. No one is testing the air
except
TVA and the private corporation that they hired. And guess what they are
saying every thing is fine. Please donate hazmat respirators.

They have 5 stationary particulate monitors and a few hand held monitors.

Well if you could feel the back of my throat and the hear the hacking coughs
that eminate from DEEP in these folks lungs you would second guess about
the data coming from TVA. TVA has lied about the water and they are currently
lying
about the air. People are being evacuated by doctor’s orders because of respiratory
damage due to fly ash. Doctors are prescibing respirators. United Mountain
Defense volunteers are wearing double filter respirators that filter lead,
asbestos,
and some fine particulates. It is still getting through these respirators.
All of the reports are saying that the ash is wet and it is safe to breathe
here.
It is a lie. There was a little boy here who had fly ash flushed from his
nasual cavity. It is in the air.

United Mountain Defense is requesting independent air monitors to show up
and hang out for a day, the weekend, a week or longer. I don’t know anything
about
air monitoring as I have been focused on water for the past 10 years but
my sore throat and burning eyes tell me we need air monitors. We have been
trying to
mobilize the Bucket Brigade but they say $10,000 before they can come. We
need testing for VOC’s and particulates. PLEASE HELP!!! We have spaces
for you
to stay for free and possibly gas money.

If you come down to monitor you are helping United
Mountain Defense
and we
will help you write and distribute your results through press releases and
online
at our website, we don’t need lone stars or cowboys down here. We know the
areas that need testing and already have permission from land owners to install
the
monitors. PLEASE HELP, cough, cough.

Thank you, contact me directly at 865 689 2778 or 865 292 1710.

Matt Landon
full time volunteer staff person for United Mountain Defense on the ground
of TVA’s
worst coal disaster since DEC 22, 2008


CALL TO ACTION: NASHVILLE, KNOXVILLE, CHATTANOOGA AND MUSCLE SHOALS, AL!

We need signs and people protesting–if just for an hour–in front of the TVA offices in these 4 cities where TVA has offices. In terms of impact 1 person holding a sign with a picture has as much impact as 25 would two months ago. Person for person these next two weeks are the time for protest against TVA at these headquarters.

Please help us force TVA to do whats right. If you live in any of these cities–or can come visit for a day just a little effort can effect the national debate on coal. Its rare that chances like these arise.

Dress up as a coal stack and kick the hell out of someone in a river costume. Play an accordian while a smokestack dances. Get in a bed dressed as King Coal and a local politician!

If you can help email me a christopherscottirwin [at] yahoo.com

We have no energy but we can help you with info and pics for demos. We need a little more energy to carry this thing over the top. If you live an any of these towns, if you know anyone who lives in any of these towns–if your willing to drive–its at this moment where a few simple acts can effect the national debate.

Tennessee Valley Authority
400 W. Summit Hill Dr.
Knoxville, TN 37902-1499
865-632-2101
Note: This operator can connect you to any TVA facility.

Chattanooga

Tennessee Valley Authority
1101 Market St.
Chattanooga, TN 37402-2801
423-751-0011

Nashville

Tennessee Valley Authority
P.O. Box 292409
Nashville, TN 37229-2409
615-232-6000

Muscle Shoals

TVA Reservation
P.O. Box 1010
Muscle Shoals, AL 35662-1010
256-386-2601


1-10-2009: Report from Widows Creek

Day two of our work at Widows Creek yielded more samples, photographs, and confrontations with security. James and I arrived in Stevenson, AL around 2:30pm and, remembering our paths from yesterday, took a labyrinth of back roads to bypass police blockades. A security truck followed us for a couple of miles as we drove straight to the private drive leading to our new friend’s house, on private land bordered by Widows Creek and TVA property.

The area was crawling with security vehicles, patrol boats, and helicopters. We were met by the owner’s brother-in-law, who had just returned from an unsuccessful hunting trip in the nearby woods. He said a helicopter had followed him as he walked and had hovered directly overhead, dangerously close to the treetops, watching him for several minutes as deer and all other wildlife quickly abandoned the area. They seemed suspicious of him despite his obvious hunting outfit, with a bright orange cap and rifle.

“I wish they would just leave us alone,” he sighed. Pointing toward the two guards stationed on a ridge overlooking his land, the owner joked, “I motioned for those police to come down here for a closer look, but I guess they didn’t want to.”

His brother-in-law chimed in, “I should get my binoculars out and watch them the same way they’re watching us.”

By 3:30 we were geared up and trudging through the mud behind a horse pasture to get water samples from a pond between the house and the TVA embankment that is closer to the dam but not in the direct flow of the creek. The horses we curious about us but were clearly disturbed by the constant pump truck and overhead helicopter noises. This cacophony was consistent from the time we arrived until the time we left.

Our next stop was in Widows Creek, much farther upstream than yesterday’s expedition, about 300 yards from the dam. James took six samples from three different points in the creek, about 20 feet from the bank. He saw a thick, gritty coating of grayish slime on the surface of the water as well as adhering to the trees. The slime stretched out in a band, coating everything within 70 feet of the channel. He took some photographs of this while I remained at the tree line and captured video of patrol boats and helicopters zooming around, amidst the sounds of water pumps, dump trucks, and other heavy machinery.

We thanked our helpful friend for the use of his property and showed him the photographs of the slime. He said he didn’t expect us to find any heavy metals in the water samples, but is curious to find out about the composition of the contaminants.
On our way out, we were flagged down by the two police officers who had been watching us as we worked in the horse pond. We were questioned, asked for identification, and given a verbal warning for their “reason to believe” that we had trespassed on TVA land. One officer was courteous but the other grew belligerent, threatened to arrest us, and refused to give his name or badge number. As he stormed away from our car after copying the tag information, the first officer said, “Look, we’re concerned about the spill and the environment too, but you have to understand we’re just doing our jobs. I won’t argue with you over whether coal is the best way to get energy, but you have to stay out of TVA property.”

It sounds like someone has been doing their homework on which organization is conducting independent water tests at TVA disaster sites.

Yesterday’s and today’s samples are on ice, labeled, documented, and ready to be sent to the lab. Results will be released as soon as possible. Our photographs are already up and video is on its way.