The former mayor of Cheshire, Scotty Lucas, 81, at his home, with the Gavin power plant in the background. Scotty Lucas is the former mayor of a town that no longer exists. This riverside village became briefly famous in 2002, when American Electric Power, the utility that operates two large coal-fired power plants here, bought it for $20 million — a deal the company preferred over dealing with residents' ongoing complaints about air pollution. Photo: Richard Martin

By Richard Martin
16 October 2014

(The Atlantic) – Scotty Lucas is the former mayor of a town that no longer exists. This double obsolescence seems to faze him little, which is not all that surprising considering that he has outlived his wife, one of his children, and the town he spent most of his 81 years in.

Lucas’s one-story brick home, with a bass boat in the driveway and wrought-iron patio furniture, is one of the few still standing in Cheshire, Ohio. This riverside village became briefly famous in 2002, when American Electric Power, the utility that operates two large coal-fired power plants here, bought it for $20 million—a deal the company preferred over dealing with residents’ ongoing complaints about air pollution.

I visited Lucas, who presided over the now 140-year-old town a few years before the AEP buyout, on a mild September afternoon, as puffy white clouds melded with the smoke and steam billowing from the nearby Gen. James M. Gavin Power Plant. Built in the early ‘70s, Gavin is the largest coal plant in Ohio and one of the largest in the United States. Just down the Ohio River is the smaller, older Kyger Creek plant, which has been burning coal to make electricity since 1954. […]

“It’s not very rewarding to look back on all the work we did [before the buyout],” he said. Lucas remembers when Cheshire didn’t have paved streets or running water, and he remembers working to develop the town. “We did all that. We had three playgrounds, and good schools. It was a great place to raise a family. That’s all gone,” he said.

The plants, though, are still there, consuming about 35,000 tons of coal every day. A gray mountain of coal ash looms above what’s left of the town. AEP, though, may not have entirely escaped liability for the environmental effects of the plants: In early September a new lawsuit was filed against AEP on behalf of 77 contractors and families of contractors who worked at the coal-ash landfill. (Last week, the Sierra Club outlined plans to sue over Clean Air Act violations at the site.) Seeking unspecified damages, the contractors' complaint claims that workers were “exposed, unprotected, to coal-combustion-byproduct waste, a radioactive amalgam of hazardous constituents that pose known risks for human health.” With no one left to buy out, AEP says it plans to fight the lawsuit. [more]

For $20 Million, a Coal Utility Bought an Ohio Town and a Clear Conscience

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