“Ashes to Ashes”

“A Georgia town welcomed America's largest coal plant. Now, residents worry it's contaminating their water.”

“Without Tony Bowdoin’s grandfather, Georgia Power might never have come to the quiet town of Juliette. The central Georgia hamlet, just off the Ocmulgee River and a little over an hour’s drive south of Atlanta, is mostly known as home to some of the state’s best shoal bass fishing. Juliette’s only other claim to fame is its turn as the setting for the 1991 Oscar-nominated film Fried Green Tomatoes.

Bowdoin’s grandfather, Marvin, not only helped sell the utility on Juliette, he sold Juliette on the utility’s promises of jobs, benefits, and pensions. By the late 1960s, Georgia Power had started planning to build the Robert W. Scherer Power Plant. Over a decade later, in 1982, its first unit opened in Juliette. The plant breathed life into the old mill town, employing some 400 locals and pumping nearly $7 million annually into Monroe County’s coffers.

But there were downsides: Georgia Power had seized hundreds of acres — including homes — via eminent domain during its early years in town. Tony Bowdoin had also heard whispers about pollution over the years. The 57-year-old had seen the “Save Juliette” graffiti scrawled across a nearby salon and stop sign, but his life’s work — running the family grocery — had left little time to investigate further. So when a neighbor recently called with the news that her tap water contained enough contaminants that she had switched to drinking bottled water, he called an environmental nonprofit to get his drinking water tested.”

Max Blau reports for Grist January 13, 2020.