Scotty Lucas is the former mayor of a town that no longer exists. This double obsolescence seems to faze him little, which is not all that surprising considering that he has outlived his wife, one of his children, and the town he spent most of his 81 years in.
Lucas’s one-story brick home, with a bass boat in the driveway and wrought-iron patio furniture, is one of the few still standing in Cheshire, Ohio. This riverside village became briefly famous in 2002, when American Electric Power, the utility that operates two large coal-fired power plants here, bought it for $20 million—a deal the company preferred over dealing with residents’ ongoing complaints about air pollution.
I visited Lucas, who presided over the now 140-year-old town a few years before the AEP buyout, on a mild September afternoon, as puffy white clouds melded with the smoke and steam billowing from the nearby Gen. James M. Gavin Power Plant. Built in the early ‘70s, Gavin is the largest coal plant in Ohio and one of the largest in the United States. Just down the Ohio River is the smaller, older Kyger Creek plant, which has been burning coal to make electricity since 1954.
Lucas, a hospital administrator, served as Cheshire’s part-time mayor from 1970 to 1998. He kept getting re-elected, he says, because “nobody else wanted to catch the flack.” His successor, Tom Reese, helped negotiate the AEP buyout, which cost the utility $20 million and absolved it from any future liability for damage to the locals’ health or their property. All but a handful of the town’s 450 or so residents accepted the buyout; the elderly and the infirm were allowed to remain in their homes for the rest of their lives.