On Dynegy’s Section 404/401 Permit Application
On June 28th, Dynegy Midwest Generation, LLC submitted a Section 404/401 joint permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to place 22,370 cubic yards of stone and organic fill material along a 1,900 linear foot (> 1/3 mile) stretch of the right bank of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
Due to the success of our earlier campaign, the Corps has mandated that Dynegy’s permit review be covered under an individual rather than general permit. This means that their application will be subject to a public interest review and be opened up for public comment. That’s where you come in!
What is the Section 404/401 Permit?
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States. Section 401 of the CWA requires certification that discharges into Waters of the United States meet all water quality standards, limitations, and restrictions.
What exactly is Dynegy applying for?
This application only covers Dynegy’s plan to place more than 22,370 cubic yards of stone armoring below the ordinary high water mark, extending up to 34 feet into the channel along a 1,900 linear-foot stretch of the Middle Fork. While the closure of the coal ash pits and the bank stabilization are interrelated, the Corps’ jurisdiction and this permit do not cover the coal ash removal, which is the only permanent solution to protect the Middle Fork. Comments need to address impacts associated with the riverbank armoring project. The key points, below, include some analysis of Dynegy’s plan and will help you prepare comments on this project.
What is the Corps looking for?
The Corps reviews permits to balance three factors:
- The relative public and private need for the proposed work.
- The practicability of using a reasonable alternative that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.
- The extent and permanence of the impact of the work on the public and private uses of the water.
What are the impacts of Dynegy’s proposed plan?
Dynegy’s proposal seeks to place 22,370 cubic yards of stone armor below the ordinary high water mark to slow down erosion and temporarily stabilize the riverbank. While it is important to protect the riverbank to prevent catastrophic failure of the coal ash pit, Dynegy’s current proposal will cause significant harm to the river and the public. Dynegy should pursue a less invasive project that minimizes the harm done to the river while allowing them to safely remove the coal ash from the floodplain.
So what can I do to help?
Write the Army Corps of Engineers! The Corps will be conducting a “Public Interest Review” as part of their decision-making process and that means they need to hear from you! Tell them:
- You believe this application requires a public hearing.
- Why you think it’s important to protect the Middle Fork.
- Why you believe the proposed project will do unnecessary harm to the river!
Use your own words to tell the Corps of Engineers why protecting the Middle Fork is important, but please focus on the specific impacts of this riverbank armoring proposal. The proposed work will include placing more than 22,370 cubic yards of stone fill below the ordinary high water mark, extending up to 34 feet into the river channel, and requiring excavation of the riverbed over 7 feet deep! This will have a significant impact on recreational users, on stream flow hydraulics and water quality, and could endanger aquatic life and protected species.
- The project site is just upstream of Kickapoo State Park and sees tens of thousands of kayakers, canoers, tubers, and waders each year. This much stone would damage the esthetic and scenic value of the river as well as making it more difficult to pass during low water periods. With construction likely to take many months and continue during prime recreation season, the project would have a significant impact on recreational use of the river and the economic benefits that it brings to the area. Kickapoo State Park generates an estimated $11-$15 million in revenues for Vermilion County each year.
- Placing 22,370 cubic yards of stone in the river channel in an already erosion-prone area could have significant downstream impacts by increasing flow velocities which could speed-up erosion at other locations and worsen flooding.
- Even when following best management practices (which they haven’t shown in their application!) this much construction activity in the river is bound to release heavy silt loads into the stream. Flow in the Middle Fork can be particularly flashy. Quickly rising water levels leave little time for work to adapt and could cause significant downstream sedimentation with each rainfall event.
- The Middle Fork is one of the most diverse aquatic habitats in the State of Illinois, home to over 57 different species of fish and a variety of mussels, a number of which are state-protected. Heavy silt loads from construction pose a risk to many of these species and could lead to temporary or permanent depopulation.
- This is an area that is actively leaching dangerous chemicals into the river from the adjacent coal ash pits. Any disturbance of the riverbank could potentially release even more of these chemicals into the water. While the coal ash remains, any solution is temporary and allows for further degradation of the river. The only permanent solution is the removal of the coal ash from the floodplain.
- Ultimately, Dynegy will fulfill its obligations to approving agencies and leave. Ongoing monitoring, maintenance and repair of coal ash impoundments and riverbank armoring that will forever be required should not be left to the taxpayer, nor should Vermilion County be left the threat of a coal ash spill in the event a portion of the riverbank armoring were to fail.