The LG&E power plant in Trimble County, Ky., will not be able to proceed with plans for a new landfill. A permit was denied because of a cave on the property. LG&E said it will find an alternate site for the landfill. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie
The LG&E power plant in Trimble County, Ky., will not be able to proceed with plans for a new landfill. A permit was denied because of a cave on the property. LG&E said it will find an alternate site for the landfill. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie
The location of a cave has halted plans for a fly ash landfill near the Louisville Gas & Electric power plant in Trimble County, Ky., after a permit failed to gain approval from a state environmental agency.

The Kentucky Division of Waste Management denied a permit needed to proceed with the construction of LG&E's proposed 218.3-acre fly ash landfill on Wednesday.

LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan said the permit application was filed in 2011, but the landform inside the boundaries of the proposed landfill caused issues over the last two years.

The feature called Wentworth Lime Cave had been considered a "karst" - a geological formation - by LG&E - which would have allowed the project to continue. Other groups said the feature a cave. In the Division of Waste Management's letter to LG&E denying the application, the agency "determined that the 'Wentworth Cave' meets the definition of a cave set forth in KRS 433.871(1)," which halts the landfill project.

"Obviously, we're going to comply with the Division of Waste Management's decision," Whelan said.

The proposed site near Ogden Ridge Road in Bedford, Ky., was identified as the best location for LG&E because the option was most cost-effective of other locations identified and considered.

"It's the least-cost option for our customers," Whelan said of the denied landfill proposal. "Our next cost option will be more expensive."

The alternate location will add an additional $85 to $115 million to the project over the life of the landfill, she said.

The proposed landfill planned to hold more than 34 million cubic yards of fly ash and would have taken nearly 40 years to fill to maximum capacity. The landfill was to be sealed on the bottom with a plastic liner and clay to avoid contamination.

"A lot of the things will remain the same," Whelan said of the next landfill proposal to be submitted to agencies.

It'll just be in a different location.

Even with the price increase, the company already looks to the next option for a landfill site on the Trimble County property. LG&E plans to file permits for the alternate location at a later date, she said.

The fly ash landfill currently used at the power plant is running out of room, she said. Even though there will be enough space for the next couple of years, a new landfill to store the fly ash will be needed within the near future.

Lauren McGrath, a Sierra Club representative familiar with the issue, credited local community activism and pressures on state agencies for the denied permit.

"We think this is an incredible victory," McGrath said. "It was an amazing surprise."

The proposed landfill near the Trimble County power plant had been the subject of public scrutiny since the company applied for the permit nearly two years ago. Area residents first rejected the idea because of homes, farms and a child care center surrounding the area and the potential decrease in property values.

The project then became an issue with state agencies once the Wentworth Lime Cave was identified by area residents following an October 2011 meeting with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, LG&E and area residents in Bedford, Ky.

State agencies began investigating the cave as Kentucky regulations make it "unlawful to remove, kill, harm or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organism" found in caves. In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began looking into the cave's possible historical significance before approving a wetlands destruction permit also needed for the project to proceed.

Further research by historian Alicestyne Turley, who was hired by LG&E to study markings found in the cave, indicated the cave could have been an Underground Railroad location used by slaves trying escape to freedom across the Ohio River.

Just last week, a resolution unanimously passed the Kentucky House of Representatives encouraging LG&E to consider an alternative location for the landfill and preserve the cave. Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, sponsored House Resolution 78 so the cave could be preserved for future generations to study and learn about area's contributions to the Underground Railroad.

Yet the decision by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management wasn't based on the historical aspect of the cave.

"They cited the Cave Protection Act," Whelan said of the agency. "It had everything to do with the definition of a cave."

Even though the cave won't be harmed because of the denied permit, there are no immediate plans by LG&E to make the site into a historical landmark site.