In 1956 Illinois Power constructed a coal-fired power plant along the banks of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River in east-central Illinois. The plant was acquired in 2005 by Dynegy.
Over a 55-year period, Illinois Power and its successor Dynegy constructed and operated three separate coal ash disposal pits, depositing over three million cubic yards of coal ash waste. Coal ash is the byproduct that is left over after coal is burned for electricity. It is full of heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, selenium, chromium and cadmium, which can cause cancer and brain damage in humans and are harmful to fish and wildlife.
We know that:
- All three of the pits are in the floodplain, and two are leaking. The third sits over mine voids, raising concerns over its long-term stability.
- The natural forces of the river has eroded protective banks next to the pits. The erosion next to the newest pit required emergency stabilization in 2016, and rates of erosion next to the two oldest ponds of the two oldest pits is 2.5 to 9 times greater than previously presented by Dynegy’s consultants. Gabions (wire cages filled with rocks) installed by Illinois Power next to the Old East and North Ash pits have been ripped away from riverbanks by the powerful forces of the river.
- The Middle Fork is Illinois’ only designated National Scenic River and is used by thousands of visitors for fishing, canoeing and tubing each year. Vermilion County and Danville depend on this river and adjacent open space and recreation areas for tourism and economic development.
Purpose of the Campaign
In 2011 Dynegy Vermilion ceased operation. The industry currently is seeking approval from the Illinois IEPA for a closure plan that would cap the ponds and stabilize adjacent riverbanks, leaving them in place in the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
Now is the time for complete clean up of this toxic waste! This can be accomplished through:
- Removal of toxic coal ash waste from the floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River where it intersects with groundwater; and
- Relocation of this waste to an upland area on Dynegy’s property. The ash should be placed in a properly designed and monitored facility that will ensure the long-term safety of surrounding property and people.
Dynegy hopes to have its “cap and leave” closure plan approved by the IEPA. But covering the ash pits could slow – but will not stop coal ash pollution. This is because covering the pits will not separate the ash from the groundwater, nor prevent the lateral flow of groundwater through the ash from the west toward the river. They also cannot leave their ash in place without stabilization riverbanks. The massive amount of fill and excavation required for this project requires a Section 404 / 401 Permit, which they submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June 2018. Our analysis of that project, and the harm it will do to the river, can be found here. We also believe that the National Park Service cannot approve this stabilization since it the project will violate provisions of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
EJC believes that placing a spotlight on Dynegy’s Vermilion plant is way to address this local issue. We continue to meet with local officials, the IEPA, and the press to make sure that the IEPA gives due consideration to a plan that moves the ash from the floodplain of the Middle Fork onto its property. Our public forum this spring raised the profile of problem of leaving coal ash in the river’s floodplain in perpetuity and to generate testimony and public comments that was delivered to the Governor’s office and IEPA Director.
Stay up to date on Dynegy’s plans by reading the FAQs prepared by EJC and reports by Dynegy posted on our website as an Addendum to the FAQs. The FAQs answer 26 questions about the risks of storing coal ash in the floodplain of the Middle Fork, and the Addendum analyzes Dynegy’s plans submitted to the IEPA.
Send a letter to Governor Pritzker and John Kim, Director of the Illinois EPA. Let each know that Dynegy should be responsible for its ash and not leave a legacy of toxic waste in the floodplain of the state’s only National Scenic River that would become the liability of the taxpayer. Temporary stabilization is required to protect the river now, while agencies are reviewing Dynegy’s plans. But the massive project proposed by Dynegy will harm the river, and step #1 towards leaving the ash permanently in place. Make sure you personalize each letter so that it has the the most impact.
Send a letter to the National Park Service, and tell them they must follow the provisions of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Acknowledge that riverbanks need to be stabilized, but that the ash must be removed to return the river to its free-flowing condition. Any stabilization that is required during ash removal should be removed when that process is complete.
The only way to protect the river and those who depend upon it for recreation, tourism, and economic development is to ensure Dynegy moves its coal ash from the floodplain to a properly-designed facility. We are advocating for relocation the ash on its property, in an upland location away from the river.