Water is a very important element to Plume. I really struggled when trying to find a way to photograph the various bodies of water in a way that was compelling and made it clear how important water was to the region and industry. Water carries the coal from various places along the Ohio River to the plants (in addition to coal trucks). All of the small towns I was photographing are along this same body of water, doubling as an integral industrial thoroughfare and a site of recreation and regional locality. I mention in my statement that the river plods slowly, and the people tend to reflect an ambivalence that can be felt sitting on the river bank. And unsurprisingly, so many of the environmental and human problems that burning and extracting coal presents are found in the form of water.
Most power plants produce a slurry, which is liquid fly ash, a by-product of coal combustion. You might have heard of the stuff from a spill in Tennessee or more famously, the Buffalo Creek disaster. I really wanted to photograph a slurry pond in SE Ohio, but was unable to find an access point in 2009. Around that time, a report was released that included some of the top EPA regulation violators, and near the top of that list was the ash pond behind Gavin Power Plant. On a late afternoon this past summer, I drove down a side road I had previously overlooked and it took me to a gate owned by the power plant. There was no fence and no guard, just some very large power lines and a large hill:
I could hear the hum of the lines and also distant trucks moving fly ash. Nobody seemed to be too close, so I walked across a large field and up the hill, about half a mile into AEP property. At the top of the hill, here is a look back on where I came from:
And on the other side:
In full view was the toxic slurry pond for the Gavin plant. I was hiking along a main road used by trucks (all on very, very private property) and completely exposed. I made the decision to continue to walk along the ridge to photograph the pond, knowing that there was absolutely no place to duck and hide if I truck came. At one point I saw a truck in the distance and sprinted full speed 800m to the nearest brush. This is especially hilarious considering I had all of my gear, a tripod with a 4×5, a large backpack, and a Mamiya 7 bouncing wildly as a sprinted across the ridge. It was a Sunday afternoon and probably the only chance I’d get to shoot the pond. The power of context is amazing – the light was fading and beautiful, and from a distance, the pond looked equally beautiful.
A couple weeks earlier I had found my way onto some of the largest contiguous reclaimed strip mining sites each with their own body of toxic water. This how Google Maps renders it:
The pin point is Big Muskie Bucket. Here are a few images from that track of land:
Here is a satelliete view of the specific ponds pictured above: