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Resolution Calls for Protecting Cave from Coal Ash

PHOTO:  Kentucky House passes resolution urging LG&E to not use the Wentworth Lime Cave as part of a coal ash landfill in Trimble County.  Photo courtesy of Sierra Club.
PHOTO: Kentucky House passes resolution urging LG&E to not use the Wentworth Lime Cave as part of a coal ash landfill in Trimble County. Photo courtesy of Sierra Club.
March 20, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. – State lawmakers are weighing in on an environmental controversy which has morphed into a debate over historic preservation.

A unanimous Kentucky House has approved a resolution urging a power company to drop its plans to store coal ash in a Trimble County cave. The resolution calls on LG&E to abandon its plans for a landfill which includes the Wentworth Lime Cave.

Dr. Alicestyne Turley, director of the Carter G. Woodson Center and an assistant professor of African and African-American studies at Berea College, was hired by the power company as an expert on the Underground Railroad. Turley said the cave may have been a stopping point for slaves seeking freedom, and state Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, said that alone should be enough to halt storage of coal ash there.

"I immediately felt that this was a place that needed to be preserved," Meeks said.

Turley found that the cave is "a very real example" of a holding station for slaves moving north, But LG&E isn't so sure. Company spokesman Brian Phillips said LG&E has "not found any hard evidence that the karst feature was used as part of the Underground Railroad."

Phillips said the consultant's report "includes speculation about potential use, but the author was unable to find any concrete link to the Underground Railroad."

Trimble County resident Sonia McElroy said her farm is "about 2 and a half miles as the crow flies" from the proposed coal ash landfill.

"Most of the wind in this county is out of the southwest,” she said, “so I am in direct line of getting their coal ash because it blows. It doesn't stay wet, it blows, and it's in the air."

LG&E has proposed a 217-acre coal ash landfill which includes using the Wentworth Lime Cave – which the power company calls a karst, not a cave. It's the "least costly" alternative,” Phillips said, and has "the least amount of impact on the environment."

McElroy disagreed, claiming coal ash is a combination of unhealthy heavy metals which pose health risks for residents and environmental damage to groundwater.

"It's not healthy for this to be in existence anywhere.” McElroy said. “I wish we didn't have coal because there's not anything healthy about it."

The nonbinding House resolution, HR 78, does not touch on the environmental debate. It merely urges the power company to find an alternative so cultural and historic artifacts can be preserved and protected. Its text is online at lrc.ky.gov.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY