NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The nation's largest public utility has agreed to pay $27.8 million to settle claims from Tennessee property owners who suffered damages from a huge spill of toxin-laden coal ash sludge.
The 2008 spill happened when a containment dike burst at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, releasing more than 5 million cubic yards of ash from a storage pond. The sludge flowed into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan ruled in 2012 that TVA was liable for the spill. He wrote in his opinion that if TVA had followed its own policies, the problems that led to the dike failure would have been investigated and addressed.
The settlement with more than 800 property owners was announced on Friday. Varlan still has to approve it.
In a news release, TVA called the settlement a "significant milestone" and reiterated the utility's commitment to "completing the Kingston recovery project and restoring the community to as good as or better than it was before the spill."
TVA is spending $1.2 billion on the cleanup and restoration, which it expects to conclude next spring. So far, the utility has recovered $267 million from its insurers.
The announcement of the settlement comes six months after a spill at a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge. State lawmakers are trying to find a way for Duke to clean up 33 unlined ash pits scattered at 14 coal-fired power plants, containing more than 100 million tons of toxic ash.
Prior to the Kingston deal announced on Friday, TVA already had settled more than 200 claims for about $80 million, purchasing more than 900 acres from affected property owners. TVA is converting some of that land into parks and green space that includes boat launches and walking trails. Another portion of the property has been donated to Roane County. TVA also gave $43 million to the Roane County Economic Development Foundation for community development projects.
An estimated 500,000 cubic yards of ash remain at the bottom of the Emory and Clinch rivers. The Environmental Protection Agency says coal ash contains toxic contaminants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals. In 2012, the EPA approved a plan to leave the remaining ash in place because dredging it would stir up contaminants.
TVA has agreed to monitor the site for 30 years at a cost of about $10 million. The utility is also converting its other wet-storage coal ash facilities to dry storage at a total cost of $1.5 to $2 billion, TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield said. That work is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2022.
TVA has about 9 million customers in seven states, most of them in Tennessee.
SAINT-SYMPHORIEN, Belgium (AP) — British Pvt. John Parr set off on his reconnaissance bike on the lookout for German troops amid the rolling farmland and woods south of Brussels in August 1914. It was the last anyone saw of 'Ole Man' Parr, the ironic nickname he won due to his tender age of 17. He became known as the first Commonwealth soldier to die on the Western Front of World War I, likely killed by German gunfire.
Another British private, George Ellison, was already moving to face the Germans in southern Belgium for the first battle of the two empires. He went on to survive the horrific slaughter of the Somme and Passchendaele and came back to the Belgian pastures, where he was shot and killed on Nov. 11, 1918 — the last day of the war.
Now, Parr and Ellison lie separated by a few footsteps — and 9 million dead soldiers over four years — in the cemetery of Saint Symphorien. The jarring contrast of distance and death count symbolizes that, in the early August days of 1914, few knew what hell the great powers of the age unleashed when they declared war.
"They didn't, most of them, foresee what the war would turn into," said Oxford University historian Margaret MacMillan. "And if they had known what the war was going to be, four years of huge slaughter, consumption of resources, destruction in many cases of their own societies, they might have thought differently."
Nobody foresaw the cataclysm that would befall the world the day of Aug. 4 when the conflict erupted in full force with the German invasion of Belgium and the British declaration of war. Both sides believed the war would be over by Christmas. Instead, a battlefront scar would slowly and agonizingly rip across Europe, ravage whole societies and millions of families. It produced a moral wasteland in Germany that would become fertile ground for the rise of Nazism. Four empires would disappear.
On Sunday, French President Francois Hollande will host his German counterpart Joachim Gauck near their common border in oft-disputed Alsace to underline their friendship despite bitterly fighting two world wars in the 20th century. On Monday, Gauck will join Britain's Prince William, his wife Catherine and brother Prince Harry at the Saint Symphorien cemetery for a similar remembrance. In Britain, there will be ceremonies in Glasgow and a candlelit vigil at London's Westminster Abbey.
It will set off four years of centennial events from the United States to Russia, China to Australia, through Belgium, France, Germany and Britain — underscoring that there was hardly a place on the planet untouched by the calamity.
With soaring tensions over Ukraine, the causes of World War I have had special resonance this year. A century ago few thought war was imminent until the June 28 killing in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Yet those shots fired by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Bosnia-Herzegovina carried tragic echoes. A political puzzle of complicated alliances fell into place that inexorably closed in on total war between the alliance of German and the Austro-Hungarian empires and the Allied powers of Britain, France and Russia.
Then as now, global peace and prosperity did not seem an unreasonable expectation.
"Europe went so quickly from peace to war — five weeks, from the assassination June 28th in Sarajevo to a general war on Aug. 4," said MacMillan. "And you do feel, 'don't you realize what you will be throwing away.' People are on summer holidays in these lovely towns. Europe is getting more prosperous and they are about to throw themselves into this catastrophic struggle."
In a half dozen crises over the five years leading to the Great War, countries had always stepped back from the brink. This time though, "you had people who had decided for various reasons they were not going to back down."
Germany opened the Western Front on Aug. 4, sweeping into Belgium, hoping to overwhelm France before Russia had a chance to mobilize to the east.
The Schlieffen Plan was conceived as a lightning-fast operation that would bring German forces into Paris within weeks. It is why the fierce battles around Belgium's Liege and Mons have such significance — since holding up the Germans for a few days, even in defeat, delayed their operation and deprived them of a swift victory.
It is what gives the death of Parr — on Aug. 21, 1914 — and some 1,500 British soldiers in Belgium military meaning, said Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
"It was an ordered defeat, if that makes sense," Francis said, "It is a defeat that bought time. It allowed the Schlieffen Plan to be held up and start to crumble. It was a defeat that bought another day."
Such defeats bought more than that. They bought another week, another month. And, in a sense, four more years.
BERLIN (AP) — A rabbi, an imam and a priest start praying together under the same roof. It may sound like the start of a joke, but hopes are high it will become reality in Berlin.
The three men are working together to build a common house of worship — the "House of One" — in the center of the capital that will include a church, a mosque and a synagogue, as well as a joint meeting hall at the center of the building.
"We have noticed, as a community here in the middle of the city, that a lot of people want to meet people from different backgrounds and religions and that there is a strong desire to show that people from different religions can get along," Pastor Gregor Hohberg of Berlin's St. Petri parish told The Associated Press. "We want to make a point and show that religions can be a cause of peace."
Hohberg came up with the idea for the House of One, and teamed with Berlin Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin and Imam Kadir Sanci. The trio hope Christians, Jews and Muslims will soon study and pray together.
"I believe in the power of dialogue," said Rabbi Ben Chorin. "In the world we live in we have two possibilities: war or peace. Peace is a process and in order to achieve it, you have to talk to each other."
The future interfaith meeting place is planned for the Petriplatz square in downtown Berlin. Currently there's nothing but a few old sycamore trees on a sandy parcel of land that is surrounded by a busy street and old east German tenement buildings.
But the spot has a long history: It is the place where the city was first settled in the 13th century, and for hundreds of years was home to Berlin's St. Petri church, until it was heavily damaged during World War II and eventually torn down by East German authorities in 1964.
The city, which inherited the plot after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, has already given its OK for the construction of the House of One.
The design by Berlin's architect company Kuehn Malvezzi envisions a building 40 meters (130 feet) tall with a tower that will be accessible for visitors. The central meeting hall will be able to seat 380 people, with the separate church, synagogue and mosque all adjacent to it.
Construction costs are estimated at 43.5 million euros ($58.3 million), and funding is entirely through donations. In an online crowd-funding campaign, the three clerics are asking people from around the world to contribute by buying bricks for the building for 10 euros ($13.40) each.
Since launching the campaign at the start of June they have received a little more than 35,000 euros ($46,800). The three are also seeking corporate sponsorship and larger donations from private individuals, and the plan is to start construction work in 2016. There is no estimated time of completion.
Meanwhile, believers of the different faiths have already used the future site of the House of One for joint open-air prayers. Last week, around 150 people came together to pray for peace in the Middle East and an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
"It is very important for us to overcome all the negative news in the world," said Imam Sanci. "I have the wish, for my children, my family, for myself and for everyone, that diversity becomes a reality and that people will accept each other in their otherness."
CHIPLEY, Fla. (AP) — At Seacrest Wolf Preserve in northern Florida, billed as the largest such facility in the Southeast, owners Cynthia and Wayne Watkins say they raise their wolves to become accustomed to humans — and for a $25 fee, they even let visitors mingle with a wolf pack.
It lets wolves become ambassadors for their species, they say, and helps people become advocates for wolves.
"We offer one of the rarest opportunities in the world for humans to see wolves up close and personal," Cynthia Watkins says. The Watkinses estimate that Seacrest, near the small town of Chipley, gets 10,000 visitors a year.
But some wolf experts worry that Seacrest may be allowing wolves and humans to get too close.
Dave Mech, a senior research assistant with the U.S. Geological Survey who has spent decades studying wolves, says allowing visitors to enter a wolf pack enclosure isn't safe.
"They are still unpredictable because they are wild animals," he said. "Wolves are not like dogs. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years and that unpredictability and wildness is taken out of them because of the breeding."
A worker was attacked and killed by a pack of wolves in 2012 at a wildlife park in Sweden. A Canadian biologist was killed by wolves at the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Preserve in 1996.
Seacrest requires visitors to watch an educational video before they interact with the wolves, has trained wolf handlers on hand during every tour and doesn't allow children under 6 to take the tour, Watkins said.
"We are not some little roadside zoo," she added.
The Seacrest preserve grew out of her passion for raising huskies, the sled dogs with a wolf-like appearance. That evolved into providing a home for wolves in need of relocation and later into a captive breeding program.
The 30 gray, Arctic and British Columbian wolves, with names including Utah, Rio, Liberty and Spirit Prince, are separated into packs. Each pack has several acres to roam. On a recent afternoon, Cynthia Watkins sat on a log bench surrounded by seven howling gray wolves. Watkins joined in their howling and pet and kissed each of them.
"Little Red Riding Hood was wrong and the wolf is not the bad guy but indeed a very important keystone species," she said.
Seacrest also provides wolves to education programs around the country.
Pat Goodman, curator of Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana, has worked with wolves for more than 40 years, and said Seacrest has a good reputation for raising healthy wolves that serve as ambassadors for their species in places around the country.
In Florida, thousands of miles from many of the wolves' native habitat, Seacrest uses spray misters, large ponds and lots of shade inside the wolves' densely wooded enclosures to help the animals deal with the heat and humidity.
The preserve is still recovering from a major flood in late April when heavy rains burst a dam on the property, washing out the wolf enclosures. The flood led to the death of one British Columbian wolf that escaped from its enclosure. It was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy after an extensive search for the animal led by Florida's Fish and Wild Conservation Commission.
Stan Kirkland, a spokesman for Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the deputy shot the wolf out of concern for public safety after officers spent days tracking the animal and trying to trap it without killing it. He said officers couldn't get close enough to use a tranquilizer dart.
"You are talking about a 90- to 100-pound wolf escaping and we really were out of options," Kirkland said.
The Watkins are petitioning Gov. Rick Scott to start an investigation into the death of the wolf.
The preserve has finished the most-crucial repairs needed to ensure the safety of the wolves, but more work needs to be done, she said. Seacrest has received donations and messages of support from around the world for the $100,000 rebuilding effort.
"All I could do was cry when I looked at how beautiful each enclosure was and how well thought out it was," Watkins said. "The flood was extremely devastating."
GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Marijuana can go in more than brownies and cookies. And the dizzying variety of foods that can be infused with the drug is complicating matters for Colorado regulators who want to make sure pot-infused edibles and drinks won't be confused with regular foods.
A first meeting Friday of edible marijuana makers, state regulators and pot critics ran into controversy early. Many seem to agree that pot cookies and candies should come with identifiable markers or colors. But what about marijuana-infused honey? Or pasta sauce?
Colorado opened recreational marijuana to adults over 21 in January. Since then, sales have boomed for edible pot, considered a tastier or healthier alternative to smoking weed. Now regulators are looking for ways to make sure no one accidentally eats or drinks the drug.
"I want to know what's a Duncan Hines brownie and what's a marijuana brownie, just by looking at it. Whether you're 5 or 50, people need to know what that is," said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, who sponsored the new law requiring edible marijuana to be "clearly identifiable."
Marijuana food and drink makers helping write those regulations didn't seem to oppose stamps or marks on easily-marked products like hard candies or chocolate bars.
But the workgroup tripped up when contemplating all the varieties of foods that can be infused with marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, THC. Liquids, powdered drink mixes, even meats and cereals can be infused with THC.
"How are we going to be able to make these edibles identifiable to the public, so that they know this is marijuana? This is a very, very heavy lift," said Gina Carbone, a volunteer for SMART Colorado, a group critical of the marijuana industry.
Carbone suggested that some edible marijuana products — such as lollipops or gummy bears — shouldn't be allowed for commercial sale because they are likely to appeal to kids.
"We're going to allow every edible imaginable, versus another approach where edibles are regulated," Carbone said after suggesting some products should be taken off store shelves.
But the suggestion got a sour reaction from industry operators and Singer, all of whom argued that the black market already produces unregulated edibles, and that banning food people want to eat is a bad idea.
"We're here to identify products, not to limit items on the market," said Jaime Lewis of Mountain Medicine, which makes pot-infused sweets such as pie bars and chocolate-covered pretzels.
The panel made no decisions Friday and plans to meet twice more before making a recommendation to the Colorado Legislature in February.
The meeting came a day after Colorado adopted emergency edible-pot rules aimed at making it easier for consumers to tell how much pot they're eating. The new rules require edible products to be easily divisible into "servings" of 10 mg of THC, about the amount in a medium-sized joint.
Colorado's rules already require edible pot to be sold in "servings" of 10 milligrams of THC. But many consumers have complained they can't tell what a serving is and eat too much of a heavily dosed product. Those stronger-dosed edibles are holdovers from the medical pot marketplace, where sellers say consumers who have built up strong tolerances won't buy anything that has a dosage less than 100 milligrams of THC.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
ATLANTA (AP) — Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn wants five debates with Republican David Perdue leading up to the Nov. 4 general election.
Nunn said in a prepared statement Friday that the pair should meet across Georgia in events hosted by non-partisan groups.
Perdue's campaign did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Nunn, Perdue and Libertarian Amanda Swafford are running to replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. The Georgia race will help determine which major party controls the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama's administration.
National Democrats view Nunn as their best shot at picking up a Republican seat this fall as Democrats try to maintain their majority. Nunn faces an uphill battle in Georgia, which Obama lost in both his national victories.