They can’t make up for the damage that’s already been done – but the Tennessee Valley Authority hopes that dropping $43 million on economic development projects in Roane County, Tennessee will be enough to rehab their image and draw tourists back to the area.
Roane County was the setting for TVA’s massive coal ash spill last December, which unleashed thousands of tons of toxic sludge onto 300 acres of land after the failure of a retention pond wall at a power plant. The sludge, which contains high levels of arsenic and lead, has had a massively destructive effect on the area’s citizens, wildlife, property values and tourism industry.
“That bell has been rung and you can’t unring it,” Mayor Troy Beets of Kingston told The New York Times. “We can’t unring the fact that we had the ash spill on Dec. 22; we can’t unring all the negative publicity that came out about it. You try to ring some more bells, just as loudly, that are positive.”
Beets will be in charge of the newly formed foundation that will control how the $43 million is spent. Currently, priorities include improvements to the county school system, a public relations campaign, a new sewage treatment plant and converting an old movie theater into an arts education center.
Not all residents of the area are optimistic about the plan, especially given the fact that the foundation in charge of the funds includes four former TVA officials. Many question how the planned projects will help when so many homeowners are still reeling from declining property values and reported health effects of the spill.
Duke University researchers recently announced that dust and river sediments containing contaminants from the spill still pose risks to local communities and aquatic ecosystems.
Sarah McCoin, who lives on a nearby farm, called the economic development fund “a joke”.
“It’s another way that TVA is going to project a positive image while so many of us are in really, really bad shape, and TVA has totally ignored that they’ve destroyed our community.”