En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists ques­tion Ge­or­gia Power coal ash clo­sure plans

The Standard Journal - - REGION - By DOUG WALKER RN-T As­so­ciate Editor

The clo­sure of coal ash ponds was brought back to the fore­front across the Southeast in the wake of re­cent flood­ing in North Carolina.

Flood­ing of the Neuse River near Golds­boro, North Carolina, is be­lieved to have been re­spon­si­ble for a coal ash spill at Duke En­ergy’s H.F. Lee steam plant.

Amelia Shen­stone, of South­ern Al­liance for Clean En­ergy, said the spill “is yet an­other tragic ex­am­ple of why coal ash must be ex­ca­vated from pits near wa­ter­ways.”

Coal-fired elec­tri­cal plants, like Plant Ham­mond in Coosa, use the ponds to store ash from burned coal used to cre­ate elec­tric­ity.

The Water­keeper Al­liance in North Carolina claims that fly ash was found in tree branches as high as 7 feet above the river sur­face.

This week the South­ern En­vi­ron­men­tal Law Cen­ter in At­lanta re­newed con­cerns related to Ge­or­gia Power’s plan to close all 29 of their coal ash ponds, in­clud­ing Plant Bowen near Euharlee and Plant Ham­mond.

Ge­or­gia Power is ex­pected to sub­mit a fi­nal plan for the clo­sure of its coal ash ponds to the Ge­or­gia De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources on Wed­nes­day.

While Ge­or­gia Power uses the term “im­per­me­able” as it re­lates to cap­ping and clos­ing the ponds, SELC se­nior at­tor­ney Chris Bow­ers said his group has ques­tions.

“Do they have as­sur­ances that the soil is im­per­me­able? What is the risk of flood­ing to in­fil­trate th­ese sites with wa­ter?” Bow­ers asked Wed­nes­day. “If wa­ter comes in and fills ponds then it’s go­ing to carry th­ese pol­lu­tants out with it.”

Bow­ers said the SELC would like to know ex­actly where the im­per­me­able bar­ri­ers would be lo­cated in re­la­tion to the pond.

“Is it go­ing to be a lat­eral bar­rier, ba­si­cally plac­ing a wall around the pond, or do they re­ally mean an im­per­me­able bar­rier that will seal off the bot­tom of the pond?” Bow­ers asked.

Aaron Mitchell, gen­eral man­ager of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs for Ge­or­gia Power, said the cover of the ponds will be more than a cap.

“Th­ese will be sub­sur­face, de­signed spe­cific to each of the ponds where we in­stall th­ese meth­ods,” Mitchell said. “They will be de­signed to iso­late th­ese ponds from ground­wa­ter. No two will be alike.”

Mitchell said he is com­fort­able that the one pond that will be left and capped at Plant Ham­mond, which sits near the Coosa River, will be safe from flood­ing.

“It will be part of the per­mit­ting process as would any solid-waste fa­cil­ity that Ge­or­gia EPD re­quires,” Mitchell said.

Bow­ers said a bet­ter solution is to re­move the coal ash and take it to an off-site dry-lined stor­age area.

Mitchell said three other ash ponds at Plant Ham­mond will be emp­tied and the con­tents would be taken to the dis­posal fa­cil­ity on Huf­faker Road or an­other ap­pro­pri­ately per­mit­ted dis­posal fa­cil­ity.

Bow­ers pointed to com­ments Mitchell made in a re­cent in­ter­view with the Rome News-Tri­bune re­gard­ing the move­ments of tons of soil to fur­ther sta­bi­lize the large ash pond on the west side of Ga. 100 at the plant.

“That’s em­blem­atic of the in­her­ent risk of hav­ing this stuff lo­cated where it is. You’re al­ways go­ing to be sub­ject to the forces of na­ture — flood­ing, hur­ri­canes,” Bow­ers said.

The ash pond that will be capped in­stead of emp­tied sits east of Pis­gah Baptist Church.

“It’s dry and away from the river so I feel com­fort­able with the plan,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Ge­or­gia Power has op­er­ated fa­cil­i­ties along the coast of Ge­or­gia for decades, and the same kind of plan­ning to pre­vent coal ash dis­as­ters from hur­ri­canes and coastal flood­ing has been used at op­er­at­ing fa­cil­i­ties all over the state.

Bow­ers also ques­tioned the the­ory Ge­or­gia Power has posed related to the dis­cov­ery of high lev­els of ar­senic in one of the ground­wa­ter mon­i­tor­ing wells.

The util­ity has in­di­cated it could be related to long-term use of an ar­senic-laced her­bi­cide years ago.

Bow­ers said the util­ity hasn’t re­vealed the depth of the well that de­tected the ar­senic.

“If it were a shal­low well that may weigh in fa­vor of the the­ory,” Bow­ers said. “If it were a deeper well that may be a dif­fer­ent story.”

Mitchell said the lone well that de­tected ar­senic at Plant Ham­mond was ap­prox­i­mately 37-feet deep.

“That was one well, and 32 oth­ers that were sam­pled all met state stan­dards,” Mitchell said. “We did ad­di­tional test­ing around that one well and found that it was very iso­lated.”

He said that sup­ports his the­ory that the con­tam­i­na­tion is linked to her­bi­cide use at that sub­sta­tion.

Mitchell said he doesn’t know if an her­bi­cide was used in other ar­eas around the plant and that is what they are try­ing to de­ter­mine.

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