Utility Buys Out Contaminated Ohio Town

CHESHIRE, Ohio, April 19, 2002 (ENS) - American Electric Power has agreed to buy an entire town in Ohio that has been contaminated by sulfuric acid from one of the utility's coal burning plants. The company will spend $20 million to acquire about 200 parcels of land that make up the southeastern Ohio community of Cheshire, relocating all 221 residents of the tiny hamlet.

Last summer, blue clouds of sulfuric acid gas drifted into the village more than a dozen times, causing headaches, burning eyes, sore throats, and chemical burns on the mouths of local residents. A federal study concluded that the sulfuric clouds were not life threatening, but noted they could be harmful to people with asthma.


American Electric Power's General James M. Gavin power plant (Photo courtesy Windsor Star)
On Friday, members from about 68 Cheshire families attended a town meeting to discuss American Electric Power's (AEP) offer to buy out their homes. After the meeting, almost all of the town's residents voted to accept the deal.

"This is a solution that meets the needs of all involved," said Bill Sigmon, AEP senior vice president for unregulated power generation.

"The decision to buy the property provides us with land that can be used to enhance the operations of our General James M. Gavin plant at Cheshire, including the potential for expanding our barge unloading capabilities to facilitate fuel deliveries to the plant," Sigmon said. "It also addresses the concerns of our neighbors, who experienced unanticipated conditions during the initial operation of new pollution control systems at Gavin last year."

The 2,600 megawatt Gavin plant provides nearly all of the power for the city of Columbus, Ohio.

The plant's emissions became a problem after the utility installed new emissions control equipment last year. The new scrubbers, required under the federal Clean Air Act, remove nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that lead to smog.

However, the new scrubbers also produced a small increase in the level of sulfur trioxide (SO3) in the emissions coming from the plant's two 830 foot high smokestacks.

The situation was compounded by weather conditions that periodically forced the stack exhaust plume to the ground producing a blue haze at ground level.

"At no time during the plantīs operation did emissions in the plume exceed any health based ambient air quality standards or permissible exposure limits established by federal or state regulations," the American Electric Power (AEP) company said in a release.

AEP reached the agreement to buy the town of Cheshire with lawyers representing the town's residents.

"While the plant operates with emission levels well within all health based air quality standards, we understand the concerns of our neighbors and care about the welfare of the community," Sigmon said. "As part of this agreement, we are resolving all claims of impacts that the residents have."


Students at Kyger Creek Middle School (Photo courtesy Kyger Creek Middle School)
But not everyone is happy with the deal. For example, the deal does not include buying out or moving Kyger Creek Middle or River Valley High schools, located within 600 yards of the plant. About 800 students, including 25 from Cheshire, are bused to the schools each day.

"Relocation will not be easy, especially for some whose families have lived in Cheshire for generations," Cheshire Mayor Tom Reese told the "Columbus Dispatch." "It will be sad, indeed, to see our village disappear."

The village will literally disappear, buried under tons of dirt to form a new site for barges to dump the tons of coal they bring to fuel the Gavin plant. The relocation project could be completed by the end of the year, AEP's Sigmon said.


Cooling tower at American Electric Power's General James M. Gavin power plant dwarfs the town of Cheshire. (Photo courtesy Ohio Citizen)
"The footprint of our Gavin plant has grown significantly since the plant was completed in the mid-1970s," Sigmon added. "Additional space was required for environmental control systems like scrubbers for reducing sulfur dioxide emissions and selective catalytic reduction for reducing nitrogen oxide emissions."

"This equipment has made Gavin one of the nation's cleanest coal fired power plants, but it has also extended plant operations closer to the property line," he noted. "As a result of expansion, the property AEP will be acquiring is more suitable now for power generation activities."

The company is now installing three separate systems for controlling the plants sulfur emissions, at an estimated cost of $7 million. Combined with the $20 million costs of acquiring the town of Cheshire - a price well above the $6 million estimated market value of the lots - the company's investment is still expected to be much cheaper than the costs of settling lawsuits that Cheshire residents had threatened to file over the plant's pollution.