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Coal Ash Landfill Construction Disrupts Life In Trimble County

Heavy machinery and wet weather have wrecked parts of Ogden Road near the Trimble County Generating Station. Photo Taken on April 11, 2018.
Heavy machinery and wet weather have wrecked parts of Ogden Road near the Trimble County Generating Station. Photo Taken on April 11, 2018.

Only a handful of families remain in the residential farming community beside the Trimble County power plant.

The rest have sold their properties and moved away.

The ones who stay behind live with daily blasting and construction as Louisville Gas & Electric builds a coal ash landfill across the street from their homes. Two families say they’re ready to leave, but they can’t because LG&E hasn’t offered them a fair price on their homes.

The Leach family has lived on the rolling hills outside Bedford, Kentucky, for four generations:  long before Louisville Gas & Electric built the Trimble County Generating Station.

Kelley Leach’s great grandparents bought the original farm in 1914, then expanded it when his grandfather bought land from his uncle in 1939.

Today, Leach lives on the last two acres of his ancestors’ land. From his basement, he can hear sounds of blast sirens and explosions. From his porch, he can see the future site of a coal ash landfill.

Trimble County Generating Station fired up its first coal generating unit in 1990. Today, it generates more than 2,200 megawatts of power from coal and natural gas.

And in February, 2017, regulators granted LG&E a permit to build a 189-acre landfill to store coal ash — a byproduct of burning coal for electricity – right across the road from Leach’s property.

When it’s complete, it could reach as high as 130 to 140 feet above the road.

Noise, Dust, Disruption

Life for Leach and the other remaining families near the plant has been difficult since construction on the landfill began.

It’s loud, it’s dusty and the heavy machinery, combined with the wet weather, has caused parts of the old county road to give way.

One road collapse left two families stranded with no way to drive to and from their homes.

For weeks, the mail man didn’t deliver any mail to the homes. Firetrucks and ambulances couldn’t get in either. LG&E has been shuttling those residents in four-wheel drive trucks while working on the road.

That's how I accessed the site earlier this week with Brad Callis. It was his first time seeing the extent of the construction site.

“This was all just a flat field, I used to coyote hunt here back in the day," he said. "Holy shit.”

The fiscal court in Trimble County has held two meeting with residents about their concerns over the county road. Trimble County Judge Executive Jerry Powell said he invited LG&E.

“They responded to that and said they were interested in meeting with the fiscal court, but were not interested, at that time, in meeting with the residents too,” Powell said.

Despite that, LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins says the company is talking with its neighbors.

“We appreciate the patience of everybody in the community and around our facility as we go through the construction process. Our project managers and our folks who are associated with the projects are in constant communication with the residents,” Collins said.

The company has completed repairs on the road and will continue to maintain it, she said.

Construction on the coal ash landfill will continue for another year and a half. In the meantime, LG&E is working on building a private road to move machinery in and out of the site, Collins said.

Hoping For Buyouts

Both the Callis family and Kelley Leach say they’d like to leave.

LG&E has bought out several pieces of property close to the landfill, but both families say the company hasn’t offered them a fair price for their land.

“My grandparents worked all their lives for it. My father worked hard on this property to and I’m not giving it away,” Leach said.

Brad Callis said his family wouldn’t even earn enough on the sale to pay off the mortgage.

“The strategy was to drive everybody crazy enough to where they basically hand the property over to them,” he said.

For Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council, who’s represented residents in similar suits against LG&E, it’s just another example of the company putting the concerns of residents second to meeting its deadlines.

“LG&E needs to do the right thing and they haven’t. They have been nickel and diming folks they have been leading people on and it’s really a shame. It’s not LGE-KU’s best moment.”

LG&E says it has offered property owners more than the appraised value of their land, plus moving expenses.

But for Jacqueline Callis, Brad's mother, the troubles caused by construction are the least of her problems. She worries the situation won’t improve, even once the construction is over and she lives across the street from a massive coal ash landfill.

"It’s hard enough to just live by the power plant," she said. "I don’t want to live by the coal ash landfill.”

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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