The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Study would precede DOE's buying nearby land

If Congress approves, the study at the Paducah plant might take three years, and buying the land could take more time.

By Joe Walker

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

If approved by Congress, it could be up to three years before a master plan is finished to determine if the government should offer to buy the property of Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant neighbors.

"The idea is to study what's in the best interest of not only the people living around the plant, but for the county and the federal government," said John Anderson, director of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization, a regional economic development group.

At PACRO's request, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., included the study in the energy and water spending plan passed July 1 by the Senate. The House version did not include money for the study; the differences between the versions must be worked out in a conference committee.

The Senate bill does not include a specific amount. PACRO requested $500,000 for an independent study of about 10,000 acres of public and private land to determine its best use once the plant closes, starting in 2010. If the final version of the bill includes the study, it probably will take two to three years to hire an independent consultant, do the study and solicit landowner and other public comments, Anderson said.

He said the master plan would consider everything from attracting replacement industry to turning the area into a nature sanctuary. Although Anderson speculated last year that it might take $15 million for a land buyout, he softened that Monday.

"It's premature to ascertain how much it will cost until the study is done," he said.

Buying land, contingent on the owners' agreement to sell, could take several more years, Anderson said.

Last fall — after consulting with PACRO and a plant neighbors' group, Active Citizens for Truth — the plant Citizens Advisory Board sent 12 recommendations to the Energy Department regarding the ultimate use of the plant area. The board gave DOE two years to resolve what to do with 121 homes and businesses contaminated or threatened by 10 billion gallons of plant-related groundwater pollution.

Among the options were to continue providing free municipal water to the homes and businesses, offer other compensation or buy the property.

Ray English, whose wife, Ruby, is chairman of the neighbors' group, said talk of buying the land peaked a few years ago, but nothing came of it.

"This is just like the (Land Between the Lakes)," he said. "Some people would be tickled to death to sell and get out of here, and some will want to stay until they die," he said.

The Englishes, who have DOE-funded water, filed suit several years ago claiming their family health problems stemmed from plant contamination. The suit was dismissed, but could one day be reopened, said English, a former manager of the state wildlife area around the plant.

The Englishes were also part of a class-action suit alleging plant pollution devalued neighboring land. That suit also was dismissed.