Task Force to Tackle Ash Problem
Contributed by: Ann Hinch knoxnews.com on 12/8/2006

Neighbors of former Trigen Biopower in Loudon insist the steam plant's new owner, Kimberly-Clark, is still expelling fugitive ash into the air.

Jim and Nora Woods spoke at the last two Loudon County Air Quality Task Force meetings about ash debris settling on their property. Their concern is nothing new; for several years, other area residents have made similar complaints to local government and to Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

"(Trigen) promised us several years ago if they could afford it, they would put controls on the stack," Nora Woods said at the Oct. 25 task force meeting.

Bryan Crawford, Kimberly-Clark employee and representative to the task force, said at the same meeting the company has approved $2 million for improvements such as ash capture, wood-burning containment and boiler replacement at the steam plant. For now, Crawford said the entire mill cannot be run on backup oil boilers.

"Our commitment began May 4, 2006, and we are committed to mitigating the issue," he promised, referencing the date Kimberly-Clark took over the Trigen facility.

When these improvements will be instituted is not known, but probably not at least for several months. "The fact remains, we're still being covered up with ashes," Jim Woods said.

He and his wife were also at the Dec. 6 task force meeting. Both times, they alleged much of the ash expulsion occurs on weekends in the post-midnight hours, and that the result is visible on their and neighbors' homes and vehicles.

"I've got nothing against Kimberly-Clark being here," Jim Woods said. "It's their inefficient, sloppy operation of the steam plant (I object to)."

Crawford was one of five task force members not at the Dec. 6 meeting. The seven who were present discussed putting together a group including Loudon city officials for a site visit to the steam plant, in an effort to motivate Kimberly-Clark to curb the ash problem while waiting to make the improvements listed above.

"This might not be in complete, 100 percent violation of (permit) regulations," task force member Russ Ellis said of the alleged ash expulsion, "but it's unacceptable as is."

Task force member Don Miller said state regulations don't fully address such a problem and reminded that TDEC officials said local governments might be able to better enforce compliance by their own ordinances. He felt the presence of Loudon elected city officials on a site visit might help.

John Easter, newly-appointed to the task force as Loudon's representative, wasn't sure what city council's position might be, since industry inside the city limits provides needed tax revenue. "They're not going to be too mandating in what they're going to require the industries to do right now," he speculated.

Pat Hunter of Lenoir City, president of Clean Air Friends/Clean Air Kids, informed the task force she and other citizens are requesting a public hearing from TDEC on Kimberly-Clark's proposed improvements. If a hearing is held, the public will have 30 days after to submit comments and questions to TDEC.