- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

CHESHIRE, Ohio The modest white frame house that Beulah "Boots" Hern and her husband, Charlie, built in 1954 sits along the Ohio River where the couple spent summer days in their speedboat.
Down the road is the spot where she met him after moving in 1938 and the front yard where she asked him to marry her eight years later.
And on a hill just outside town is the cemetery where he is buried.
"There's a lot of memories here. There's 64 years. This is where I want to live," said Mrs. Hern, 82.
She is one of the dozen holdouts who have not agreed to leave Cheshire by year's end, when most of the 221 villagers expect to be gone.
The rest will leave the town, having made informal agreements to sell their property to American Electric Power.
The company is the owner of a coal-fired electric generation plant that residents say has polluted the area and part of its deal to buy the town is that sellers agree not to file health claims against American Electric Power.
"This is not a health issue. It's not an environmental issue," said company spokesman Pat Hemlepp, adding that the plant's emissions are far below federal and state guidelines.
"It's a real-estate deal."
The terms: The Columbus-based utility would pay $20 million for the village's 90 residences and 200 parcels, which could be used to expand the plant.
Such a large property purchase is unusual.
The offer has pitted town leaders against the holdouts, and villagers against those who live outside town and business owners.
"There's so much confusion and anger. It's tearing lifelong friendships apart," said Rhea Hopkins, 42, a co-owner of Expectations Hair and Tanning who lives outside town. "It's already ruined our community."
Still, others say it is the best deal they could get.
"It's hard to say no to this," said Robert Nay, 72, a former plant worker who retired in 1992. "The money, what they're offering, is more than fair."
The Gallia County Historical and Genealogical Society plans to take video and still photographs of every building and piece of property before the power company takes over the land.
The village, 90 miles southeast of Columbus, saw its first settlers in the mid-1800s, mainly farmers, coal miners and rail yard workers. Into the 1900s, Cheshire was a booming community that held festivals and offered the area's main hardware store, flour mill, blacksmith's shop, cotton vendor and post office.
When the plant was built in 1974, the town welcomed its 310-plus jobs and saw its noise and dust as no more than a nuisance.
"There was never any real concern about health," recalls Postmaster Randy "Buck" Mulford. Locals stop by to gather mail, gossip and, these days, check the bulletin board for fliers advertising homes in nearby communities.
Two years ago villagers started to consider the plant a health hazard. AEP planned to install six 60,000-gallon tanks to hold anhydrous ammonia for cleaning a federally mandated pollution-control system.
Learning that they would have six minutes to evacuate if a tank burst, residents persuaded the company to use a safer form of ammonia.
However, a problem emerged once the $175 million system began operating last year. More than a dozen times last summer, chemicals created a sulfuric acid haze.
Townspeople reported burning eyes, headaches, sore throats and white-colored burns on their lips, tongues and mouths.
The company said it fixed the problem. A federal report found that the emissions were not life-threatening but could aggravate health problems, such as asthma.
Frustrated residents and officials hired lawyers.
With the blessing of Mayor Tom Reese and the village council, the lawyers proposed that the utility, which has annual revenue of $61 billion, buy the village.
Each homeowner would receive roughly three times the value of his buildings and land; renters would receive $5,000 for each year they have lived in Cheshire.
All but six to 12 villagers have signed informal sale agreements, said Ed Cochran, a Cleveland attorney for the residents. He wants a final agreement completed within the next few weeks. The village council has discussed dismantling the town government.
Besides getting villagers' guarantees they won't sue for ailments the emissions may have caused, the company would obtain space to expand its unloading facilities for river barges carrying coal.
Some say that will not end the power plant's problems or liability.
"This is not going to be a panacea for AEP, because you're still going have the pollution, you're still going to have impacted communities, either host or those downwind," said Patricio Silva of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group.
Still, residents say they are relieved that they now can afford to move away.
"I'm not going to leave my family here to breathe this stuff," said council member Ron Hammond, 39.
His 8-year-old daughter, Abby, who can talk about sulfuric acid the way her peers can talk about Barbies, has had trouble breathing since she was a baby. Last summer, she couldn't play outside on the days the blue haze appeared. Her sister, Emily, 10, got sores in her nose from the sulfur.
The family has picked out a house about 15 miles away.
Some are holding out for better deals. Some say they don't have any option but to sell.
"You can stay, but why would you want to? At some point they'll take everyone's land," said Chuck Reynolds, sitting in his wooden rocker on the porch of his house.

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