Historical Precedence

LG&E plan for coal ash landfill
denied because of historic cave

Trimble County residents
have fought plan since 2011

BEDFORD, KY. (April 2013) – Sonia McElroy is one of many concerned citizens in Trimble County, Ky., who has opposed LG&E’s plan to create a coal fly ash landfill near its plant along the Ohio River. McElroy and other opponents of the landfill recently got a surprise boost in their fight when it was discovered that Wentworth Lime Cave, located on the property, may have harbored escaping slaves in the Underground Railroad.
McElroy’s involvement began first of all “because it’s my community. It started off not wanting a 217-acre coal fly ash landfill here,” she said.

Sonie McElroy
Sonia McElroy

Now in the wake of a March 20 decision by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management to deny LG&E’s application for the facility, power plant officials say they will modify their plans and attempt to place the coal ash in a different location. LG&E officials say the move will be more costly for its customers. The decision will preserve the cave
McElroy, meanwhile, has been involved in this project since September 2011 and in contact with the Division of Waste Management in Kentucky and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. McElroy and other opponents were encouraged that the cave would give them the much-needed leverage in stopping the landfill.
The cave “was very possibly used as a holding site in Kentucky,” McElroy said. This means it may have been a temporary hiding place for escaping slaves on their way to the Ohio River and freedom in northern states in the 1800s. “It’s a part of our county history and Kentucky history.”
LG&E consultants hired historian and independent contractor Dr. Alicestyne Turley, Ph.D., to review markings discovered inside of the cave. Turley is director of the Carter G. Woodson Center at Berea College in addition to being an assistant professor of African and African American Studies.
Her concluding Historical Context, Overview and Research Report stated that there were 17 wall inscriptions documented on the cave walls. Information was taken from an earlier archaeological survey of the site conducted on behalf of LG&E in September 2011.

Cave Location

The earliest date found on the cave walls was 1868 and the latest was 1974. Turley wrote that “the cave exhibited inscriptions, mostly names and initials, three of which included actual dates from 1868 to 1916, a time span during which active participants in Underground Railroad activity would have still been alive.” Of these 17 inscriptions, seven of them could plausibly be linked to people or places relevant to the life and times of people in Trimble County prior to the Civil War and possible involvement in the Underground Railroad, wrote Turley.
The only problem McElroy has with Turley’s report is the fact that it is based on photos taken by archaeologists who studied the cave for LG&E. “They just provided her with pictures. She was not given the opportunity to go to the site” to see the drawings first-hand, said McElroy.
While no specific documents have been discovered to prove the Wentworth Lime Cave was used on the Underground Railroad route, “Other caves in the area were used, according to documents given to LG&E,” said Underground Railroad expert Diane Perrine Coon of Louisville. Research has been done to trace the origin of the initials on the walls; all initials can be contributed to local people and families that lived in the area, she said.
Turley’s report substantiates this by concluding, “It is reasonably certain inscriptions within the Wentworth Lime Cave represent the lives of early county and western Kentucky residents. Several of the cave initials correspond with names found on headstones within Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church Cemetery. The presence of inscriptions within the cave indicate the cave was a reasonably well-known location, at least by a handful of county residents.” It is known to researchers that the church had possible connections to the Underground Railroad.
Coon has spent 15 to 20 years researching crossing points of the Underground Railroad. She said there were three major points used by escaping slaves: Marble Hill, which led to Wises Landing (south of LG&E plant); Corn Creek (north of LG&E plant), which led into south Hanover, Ind.; and Cooper’s Bottom, which led to Devil’s Backbone and the Clifty Falls area.
Abolitionists in the area documented Underground Railroad activity in newspapers, autobiographies and court and land records, many of which are held in the Jefferson County, Ind. courthouse. Coon said there is evidence that exists to support the idea that when slaves crossed at the Corn Creek route on their way to south Hanover, there were two limestone caves in the area they used. A one-person cave exists on what was the Samuel Shannon property, and north of this is another cave, Butler Cave, which could hold four to five escaping slaves.
According to Coon, “There was no place to hide the fugitives very well on the Kentucky side, unless caves were used.”
McElroy attended a Section 106 Consultation Hearing held Feb. 7 in Louisville, along with Kentucky State Historical Preservation Office representatives, architects from Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky. “They felt that the site needs to be visited by experts who could make a determination about what to do next, and that more information needs to be gathered on the site,” she said.
Since then, LG&E has been notified by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management that the proposed landfill site doesn’t comply with requirements of the Cave Act in KRS 433.877.
LG&E officials have said the cave is not really a cave, but rather a karst feature. McElroy points out that Mammoth Cave is also a karst formed by water, but yet still known as a large underground cave.
LG&E has submitted alternative analyses “for considering many combinations of sites for a proposed landfill,” said Kimberly Simpson, Senior Project Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is not the only site on the 218-acre property that could be used.
LG&E will file another permit to construct a coal fly ash landfill, and “once we have the details we can then address it,” said McElroy. She believes more artifacts should be looked for and more research done on the cave’s history. “We are planning to get a formal determination of National Register eligibility for Wentworth Cave.”
Coon said she doesn’t “know if the cave can be preserved.” Other sites have spent as much as $4 million to $5 million to preserve such historic sites. Somebody or some entity has to be responsible and “take the reins” to make that happen.
She said a great example is what has been done in Ripley County, Ind. “They did a wonderful job producing a map and driving tour. It was very professionally done.”
A Community Meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Office in Bedford to discuss the project further.

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