Sandy Gupton says she was planning on attending Thursday’s TVA Board Meeting. It’s the first since the Dec. 22 coal-ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant, and the second item on the agenda is marked, simply, “Kingston Report.” But, as it turns out, she’s going to be busy.
“Well, I’ve got an appraiser coming that morning, so I’m going to need to stay here,” she says, the pitch of her voice edging up a bit in frustration. Sandy, a 59-year-old full-time nurse, and her husband, Terry Gupton, who retired to the couple’s cattle farm 10 years ago, are trying to sell the 250-acre property, located right in the middle of the big mess. It’s something they never would have considered until recently, but now living there has become nightmarish—especially, Gupton says, since they’ve gotten the results of their recent heavy metal screenings.
“We have mercury in our urine and fecal material” at potentially dangerous levels, she says. “Plus some thallium exposure in the hair.”
Not only that, but the sludge on the Guptons’ property has caused them some serious financial trouble. Since the spill, says Gupton, six cattle sales (“Ready for the slaughter,” she adds) have fallen through. Their clients, she says, backed out because they were too scared to buy potentially tainted goods, despite the fact that the Guptons have been careful about the cows. They’ve given the animals only city water rather than groundwater and have kept them away from the affected areas.
As a result, Gupton says, they’ve had to cut significantly into their savings and their IRAs just to keep everything operating. That’s all for something they don’t want anymore. And, since they were victims of industrial—rather than economic—disaster, it’s something they think they should be able to unload on the agency that caused it.
“I’d like for them to buy our property for fair-market value,” Gupton says, but TVA hasn’t even done an appraisal.
According to Roane County records, TVA has bought land from 17 area property owners—some have even sold several tracts of land apiece—since the spill, but not the Guptons, nor their neighbors Ron and Joanie Smith, who own five acres next door. This despite—or, Gupton says, perhaps because of—the two families’ very public profiles since the accident. In January, both Ron Smith and Terry Gupton went to Washington, D.C., to speak to members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about it, and the Guptons are plaintiffs in a $5-million-dollar class-action lawsuit against the utility. Gupton says she thinks that the lawsuit and their public advocacy have gotten in the way of their deals with TVA, which TVA spokesman Gil Francis doesn’t exactly deny.
“I do not know the particulars of their case, but once you’ve gotten yourself an attorney, there is now a protocol,” Francis says. “TVA has to deal only with their lawyer.”
Smith’s biggest concern right now is getting out of her home. Unlike the Guptons, a TVA appraiser has been out to the house, but, “We haven’t heard anything from anyone yet. I’ve left a couple of messages, but we haven’t heard anything back.”
She says the family has contacted Sen. Lamar Alexander—a member of the Senate EPW Committee-—and his office is keeping tabs on the situation. “They told us to let us know as soon as we hear back from them.”
An aide for Alexander says he has “personally reached out to several families in the area.” Though Alexander will be in Washington on Thursday, his local office will be sending out a staff member, as will Rep. Lincoln Davis and Sen. Bob Corker, and not just for the news on the spill.
After all, the rest of Thursday’s agenda is pretty noteworthy, too. Despite the anticipated cost of the clean-up (“hundreds of millions of dollars,” TVA CEO Tom Kilgore estimated in a recent interview with The Tennessean) and a recent court decision in North Carolina that could force TVA to speed up the process of installing pollution-reducing scrubbers at four of its plants, a project that could cost the utility as much as $1 billion more than it had initially planned, Kilgore is expected to announce a rate cut for TVA consumers.
As for what Kilgore will be covering in his Kingston presentation, Francis says it’s still being prepared. But he is sure of at least one thing that won’t be.
“Mr. Kilgore will not be discussing any specific health or property claims,” says Francis. That, after all, might take too long. According to Francis, the company has received 376 property claims and 229 health claims from 527 residents around the plant.
Smith says she’ll be there, but she doesn’t really care about the rate cut.
“I guess I’d like to speak to Tom Kilgore, and ask him when there’s really going to be some progress” on the cleanup efforts and on the appraisals and property purchases, Smith says.
And she may have an opportunity, sort of. The meeting will include a “public listening session,” wherein the nine-member board and Kilgore will hear statements from the public. As of this writing, Francis says, only five people have signed up.
To sign up to speak at the public listening session before Thursday, go to tva.gov/abouttva/board/speak.htm. In-person sign up will be available directly prior to Thursday’s meeting, which will be held at the TVA West Tower at 400 W. Summit Hill Dr., until it begins at 9 a.m.