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People's Hearing to Protect the Middle Fork a Success!
Faced with a plan to leave 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash in leaking, unlined pits along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion, Illinois' only National Scenic River, and no formal opportunity to voice public concerns over the plan, Eco-Justice Collaborative hosted an independent forum to take public comments on the proposal.
This “People’s Hearing” took place on June 11, 2018, at Bremer Conference Center, in Danville. Local residents from the Protect the Middle Fork Group provided support, and Senator Scott Bennett, Vermilion County Board Chairman Mike Marron, and Danville’s Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, presided over the hearing. Testimony by formal witnesses was followed by a public comment period. A transcript will be available soon, and public comments posted on our website in the next 10 days.
We heard from the Experts
Rick Cobb, IEPA, acknowledged that any closure plan would have ongoing costs for monitoring, maintenance and repair of coal ash pits and riverbank stabilization. Dr. Bruce Rhoads, river flow dynamic specialist, stated unequivocally that the Middle Fork would eventually reoccupy its floodplain, despite attempts to prevent erosion by armoring banks. We also heard from:
- Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network. Andrew explained that capping the pits would not stop groundwater pollution nor the seeping of coal ash contaminants into the river.
- Abel Russ, Environmental Integrity Project. Mr. Russ talked about the hazards of coal ash and the creation of sacrifice zones when unlined coal ash pits are allowed to remain next to waterways.
- Mike Dudas, Dudas Engineering, LLC. Mike highlighted concerns related to the stability of the impoundments.
- Sarah McCoin, resident of Harriman TN. Sarah provided first-hand testimony about her experiences with TVA's 2008 coal ash spill.
Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative, started the program with an overview of the coal ash concerns on the Middle Fork. Rob Kanter, Clinical Associate Professor, UIUC and author, Environmental Almanac, showcased the assets and importance of the river. Chairman Mike Marron and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer spoke of the importance of the river to area residents, and the opportunities to further capitalize on the assets of the Middle Fork for recreation and tourism. Both emphasized the importance of dealing responsibly with the coal ash now, rather than leaving a coal ash legacy for the taxpayer to deal with in the future.
We plan to meet with Governor Rauner next month. Eco-Justice Collaborative will continue to monitor and review Vistra+Dynegy's reports to the IEPA, including plans for closing the coal ash pits and riverbank stabilization. In addition, we will:
- Call on Vistra+Dynegy to be a good corporate citizen and move its coal ash out of the floodplain of the state's only National Scenic River.
- Press IEPA to require financial guarantees, as well as obtain an alternative from Vistra+Dynegy for moving the toxic waste from the floodplain to a lined landfill on Vistra+Dynegy's property.
- Call on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to advocate full removal of the toxic dumps from the floodplain of the Middle Fork. The IDNR is the agency responsible for administering (and protecting) the river pursuant to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
- Work to ensure that the plan that is ultimately approved by the Illinois EPA protects the river and does not leave a legacy of toxic waste that would become the responsibility of the taxpayer and future generations.
- Keep you informed, and ask you to become engaged at key points in the plan review process.
You Can Still Take Part in the People's Hearing!
Each formal testimony has been recorded, edited, and now is available for viewing on EJC's website. Four of the nine are provided below (5 to 12 minutes, each). You also will find handouts and media coverage of the event. A transcript of the hearing and public comments made that evening (videos) will be posted as they are finalized.
It's not too late to take a stand and submit your comments! Your opinion can help determine whether or not 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash is left forever in the floodplain of the Middle Fork, a treasured resource. Comments received on or before July 11 will be taken with hearing transcripts, videos, and other documents and delivered to the Governor and the Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Click here to fill out a comment form. Talking points are provided. find handouts and media coverage of the event. A transcript of the hearing and public comments made that evening (videos) will be posted as they are finalized.
"What is the benefit to Vermilion County if Dynegy leaves its coal ash on the banks of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River?
The recent merger of Dynegy and Vistra has resulted in a company with a combined net worth of $20 billion. Shouldn’t Dynegy be held accountable NOW for cleaning up its waste?"
Pam Richart, Co-Director, Eco-Justice Collaborative
"That stability has to be there in perpetuity, no matter what option. And we’ve been quite frank with Dynegy since the beginning on that. Even the bank stability that was put in on the New East Pond where the river was within two feet of the berm, that’s not really designed for “in perpetuity” without some kind of a pot of money to maintain that over time.”
Rick Cobb, P.G., Deputy Division Manager, Division of Water Supplies
"Eventually, the river will reoccupy portions of its floodplain containing the ash pits. I guarantee you that. I guarantee you that. When? I can’t tell you. But I don't care what you do. As human beings, we will not stop this river. Forever. We will not do it.”
Bruce Rhoads, Ph.D., Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, UIUC
“It was like a really bad movie, What’s really almost hard to believe it has been nearly ten years and we have the same stories going on across the nation. My story is unique, but sadly it won’t be the last story with these consequences”.
Sarah McCoin, Harriman, TN