Friday, October 27, 2000

Cleanup of black goo could go on for six months

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        INEZ, Ky. — Larry Preece has always been able to step out his door and hear birds singing around his home, but he hasn't heard any in weeks.

        The drone of heavy equipment being used to clean up one of the worst environmental disasters ever in the Southeast is drowning out nature's symphony.

        “It's like you're in an industrial work zone,” Mr. Preece said. “There's noise all day and noise all night. It's a different world than what we're used to. And there's no end in sight.”

[photo] Work proceeds Thursday at the Martin County Coal Co. impoundment pond that leaked and caused the sludge spill.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Life along the banks of Coldwater Creek outside Inez, he said, has been turned topsy-turvy since the bottom dropped out of a mountaintop coal-sludge pond Oct. 11, releasing 250 million gallons of black goo that has killed fish and fouled drinking water along 60 miles of the Kentucky-West Virginia border.

        Bill Stroud, on-site coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has estimated the cleanup will take five to six months. Crews from Martin County Coal Corp., which has accepted responsibility for the spill, are removing about 4 million gallons of sludge a day.

        Mr. Preece and his neighbors would like the process speeded up. But state officials said they will seek no federal funding to help clean up the aftermath.

        “Basically, since there is a party that is responsible, I don't think there would be any call for federal assistance on our part,” said Ray Bowman, spokesman for the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. “There shouldn't be a need for federal assistance unless the company cannot manage the event.”

        Representatives from the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, along with the EPA, are monitoring the cleanup.

        “I don't know that I can say we're completely satisfied,” said Mark York, spokesman for the state environmental agency. “We want to see just as much removal of the material as is possible as quickly as possible and every resource that can be brought in used.”

        Pits have been built along the banks of Coldwater Creek to hold the sludge after it's pumped out of the stream and off the lawns and gardens of residents. Between the goo in the creek and the sludge pits now occupying what was farmland, Mr. Preece said he has a hard time recognizing the area as his home.

        “This is the not the Coldwater we know,” he said. “If only someone could magically snap their fingers and make all this go away. That's what we'd like. Coldwater will never be the same again.”


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