Savannah Riverkeepers test Effingham County coal, ash roads for toxins

EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - A cheap solution for Effingham County roads two decades ago could be a costly repair today.

It could mean fixing 150 miles of coal ash road, leading to a big price tag as well as a possibility for nearby residents to have to pay for health hazards.

Effingham County says the materials used on the roads are approved by the Department of Transportation. The Effingham County Administrator, Steve Davis, says, "There's no concrete evidence that I'm aware of, of any health hazards."

The Savannah Riverkeepers looked into that on Thursday. They sampled the road run-off and are sending the data off for testing.

"What's in this? Has it been properly tested," asked Savannah Riverkeeper Executive Director, Tonya Bonitatibus. "It is definitely flowing off into the local creeks. If it does have those hazardous materials in that, that's a problem."

With safety gloves and gear, they took water samples to send off for testing.

"The ash has turned into a thick soup. It's kind of like you mix cornstarch with water, and then when you get to the edges of the road base, it just kind of flakes and crumbles off," Bonitatibus said.

The ash came from the Georgia Pacific Power Plant back in 2001. The county says it was a good resource at the time and didn't cost a dime. The county hasn't removed the ash because they say it would cost approximately $30 million. To then pave the roads, the county says it would cost $150,000 each mile. With 150 miles of coal ash roads, that would be another $22.5 million. The county says those are costs they can't afford, but they're willing to try in chunks.

"Maybe a long-term plan, they can look at removing certain sections each year," Davis said.

In the meantime, they're using sand and dirt to make the roads, at least, driveable.

"It's not the best solution, but it's really the most financially feasible," Davis said.

While the county evaluates their bank account for solutions, the Savannah Riverkeepers are standing by for test results from their test solutions.

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