FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Coal Ash in the Floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River
Illinois’ Only National Scenic River
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Table of Contents
(with links to each section of the FAQ)
- Why is there coal ash in the Middle Fork?
- What is coal ash?
- How much coal ash is stored in the river’s floodplain?
- Are the coal ash pits lined?
- I’ve heard some people say coal ash is considered “non-hazardous”. How can they say that, if the chemicals in coal ash are so toxic?
- If coal ash chemicals are toxic, why did the U.S. EPA decide to regulate coal ash as a solid waste, rather than a hazardous waste?
- Can Dynegy-Midwest Generation reuse the coal ash at the Vermilion site?
- I’ve also heard that the coal ash is so safe that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has used coal ash pits for rearing fish.
- Is coal ash polluting the groundwater?
- Have coal ash pollutants been entering the river?
- Aren’t the red stains on the bank present at other locations along the river?
- What about the New East Ash Pit? Is it leaking?
- Could a breach of the walls of one or more of the coal ash pits really happen?
- Won’t reinforcing the riverbank permanently stop the erosion?
- If the ash has been there for over 55 years, why should we be concerned now?
- What is Dynegy’s plan for dealing with the ash?
- Will covering the pits stop the groundwater pollution?
- What are the risks of leaving the ash in the floodplain?
- What would be the consequences of a coal ash spill?
- Are there any financial guarantees that taxpayers will not be saddled with long-term maintenance or clean up costs?
- How feasible is it to move the coal ash?
- Who has to approve Dynegy’s plan and what will it show?
- If the Middle Fork is a National Scenic River, wouldn’t the National Park Service want to see the ash removed?
- What is the timeline for IEPA approval of Dynegy’s plan?
- Will there be an opportunity for public comment?
- What can we do?
- Moving the coal ash is the only solution
In 2011, Dynegy Midwest Generation closed its electric power station along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River. The Middle Fork is one of the most biologically diverse streams in the Midwest and the centerpiece of a major recreational area in east-central Illinois. A proposal is now before the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) that could allow Dynegy to leave millions of cubic yards of toxic coal ash in three unlined pits located in the floodplain of the Middle Fork.
Advocates for the Middle Fork are calling on the IEPA to require Dynegy-Midwest Generation to move its ash away from the river and place it into a properly-lined and monitored facility, consistent with current best practices for waste disposal. The following document is intended to provide details and documentation essential for decision-makers to more clearly understand the problems associated with permanently storing toxic coal ash in the floodplain of this National Scenic River. Any plan for closing the three pits should not leave Illinois and Vermilion County residents with a legacy of coal ash that could continue to threaten the river system; require taxpayers to pay for monitoring, repair or replacement of riverbank stabilization; or pay for cleanup, if a breach in one or more of the walls of the pits occurred. Back to top
Location map showing relationship of Dynegy-Midwest Generation’s three coal ash pits to Kennekuk Cove County Park; Kickapoo State Recreation Area; and the City of Danville. Prepared by Eco-Justice Collaborative. 2016.
Why is there coal ash in the floodplain of the Middle Fork?
The Vermilion Power Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, was built by Illinois Power along the west bank of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River in 1956. Dynegy purchased the plant from Illinois Power in 2000, which it then operated until 2011.
Over the 55-year period that the facility produced electricity, plant operators needed a place to store coal ash, the waste material produced from burning coal. They determined they could construct storage for this waste near the power plant by using the existing bluffs along the west side of the river as one “wall” for containment, and building berms to the east next to the river channel, to create a second “wall”. While this solution allowed plant operators to take advantage of existing topography, this siting also placed the three storage pits directly in the Middle Fork’s floodplain, which is an integral part of the river’s natural water conveyance system. Back to top
Image showing approximate boundaries of Dynegy’s coal ash pits was prepared by Eco-Justice Collaborative, 2016. The Vermilion Power Station is in the lower left corner of the graphic.
What is coal ash?
Coal ash is made up of several waste streams including bottom ash (much like the ash from a fireplace), boiler slag (molten bottom ash that has turned into smooth glassy pellets), fly ash (fine, powdery material composed mostly of silica), and flue gas desulfurization material (waste produced as part of the process of removing sulfur dioxide emissions).
Coal ash can contain many harmful chemicals, such as arsenic; mercury; cadmium; chromium; selenium; aluminum; antimony; barium; beryllium; boron; copper; lead; manganese; molybdenum; nickel; vanadium; and zinc. These have been shown to cause birth defects, cancer, and neurological damage in humans – and can harm and kill wildlife, especially fish. Back to top
How much coal ash is stored in the river’s floodplain?
Between 1956 and 2011 when Dynegy closed the plant, Illinois Power and Dynegy-Midwest Generation together placed over 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash in three separate pits. This volume:
- Is equivalent to one NFL football field piled 1,547 feet high with coal ash;
- Would fill the Danville Dans’ baseball stadium with a pile of toxic ash that is 90 stories tall; or
- Would fill Chicago’s Willis (Sears) Tower nearly two times!
Historic mining activity in vicinity of Vermilion Power Station. Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network. June 2017.
Are the coal ash pits lined?
All three pits are unlined. The two oldest storage areas, the North Ash Pond and the Old East Ash Pond are leaking. The third, the New East Ash Pond, was constructed on top of the existing bedrock (shale). Although its sides are lined with clay and trenched into the bedrock (diked ring), it is not considered a lined facility by the U.S. EPA.
This New East Ash Pond sits over areas of historic underground mining, raising concerns over the potential for future subsidence. According to a report prepared by Dynegy’s consultants in 2003 (see page 47):
“The coal mines in the vicinity of the New East Ash Pond System have been shown to have significant collapse features where the overlying shale has collapsed or partially collapsed downward into the void or mined coal seam. The collapse of the shale into the void translates upward through the shale, resulting in fracturing and in some cases surface subsidence.”
I’ve heard some people say coal ash is considered “non-hazardous”. How can they say that, if the chemicals in coal ash are so toxic?
Following the catastrophic coal ash spill in Kingston TN in 2008, the U.S. EPA was prompted to establish rules for regulating coal ash contamination. After many months of hearings and public proceedings, the U.S. EPA determined it would regulate coal ash as a solid waste under Section D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), as opposed to Section C of RCRA, which governs hazardous waste. This is a regulatory distinction, and does not mean that coal ash is either safe or non-hazardous.
Dec. 2008 coal ash spill after dike gave way at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant. Credit Tennessee Valley Authority
Coal ash is dangerous. After the dike gave way at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant, dumping 5 million cubic yards of sludge into the Emory River and across 300 acres of the Swan Pond community of Roane County, the U.S. EPA declared the area a superfund site full of toxic metals and chemicals.
But according to recent reports, workers hired to clean up the site weren’t warned of the dangers, and instead were told the coal ash was safe to handle. Documents and interviews are showing many workers were denied protective gear – in violation of the U.S. EPA’s order declaring the clean-up site a “superfund” operation because of the toxicity of the materials involved. Now, nearly a decade later, more than 150 of the 900 workers employed at the height of the years-long clean up are dying or dead, according to court records. Many of those sick workers and families of those who died are suing Jacobs, the company that handled the cleanup for TVA, in federal court. The case has been set for trial in 2018. Back to top
If coal ash chemicals are toxic, why did the U.S. EPA decide to regulate coal ash as a solid waste, rather than a hazardous waste?
A variety of considerations entered into the U.S. EPA’s decision to regulate coal ash under Section D of RCRA. One was the enormous amount of coal ash that is produced in the U.S. each year (an estimated 140 million tons) and the practicality of handling this volume of material as a hazardous waste. Another was the reality that regulating coal ash under Section C could limit the potential to reuse or recycle certain portions of coal ash waste stream. This process is referred to as “Beneficial Use”.
Not all beneficial uses of coal ash are environmentally safe. However, under certain circumstances, when the chemicals in coal ash can be encapsulated and can be prevented from re-entering the environment, reusing coal ash has environmental benefits. One example is the use of coal ash as an admixture to Portland cement. Whether the ultimate destination of coal ash is disposal or beneficial use, coal ash still contains many chemicals hazardous to human health and must be handled accordingly. Back to top
Can Dynegy-Midwest Generation reuse the coal ash at the Vermilion site?
Dynegy has set a goal of reusing 100% of their newly-generated coal ash by 2020. Australian-based Nu-Rock Technology has proposed the construction of a manufacturing facility at Dynegy’s Baldwin plant in Randolph County, Illinois, in order to make building products out of coal ash.
Dynegy has indicated that they are investigating the possibility of recycling some of the 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash stored at the Vermilion Station. However, this is not guaranteed, and will depend on factors such as the character of the ash; coal ash markets; and costs of recovery and transport. No commitments have been made to recycle at this time. Back to top
I’ve also heard that the coal ash is so safe that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has used coal ash pits for rearing fish.
When asked about this statement, Dan Stephenson, Chief of Fisheries for IDNR replied:
“We do not use coal ash ponds anywhere for fish rearing.
I don’t know where that person got that idea.”
The 22 deep-water ponds in Kickapoo State Park should not be confused with coal ash “ponds”. The ponds in the state park are remnants from early 20th century strip mining that took place in the area. They are not coal ash ponds, but clear-water ponds and lakes that provide a total of 221 acres of water for boaters, canoeists and anglers. Back to top
Is coal ash polluting the groundwater?
Yes, coal ash is polluting the groundwater. Dynegy and the Illinois EPA have both documented groundwater contamination at the site. Over 2.8 million cubic yards of coal waste is stored in the two oldest unlined pits. Because these pits extend up to 44 feet below their surface, they come into contact with the groundwater. In 2010 and 2011, Dynegy’s own reporting showed these pits were contaminating groundwater (see page vi. and pages 45-46). The following July, the IEPA issued Dynegy-Midwest Generation a Notice of Violation of Class I Groundwater Standards for boron, manganese, sulfate, total dissolved solids, iron and pH. These chemicals are indicative of coal ash pollution.
As recently as 2017, Dynegy acknowledged in their filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that they are polluting the groundwater at their Vermilion site (see page 22). As part of their plans to close the three coal ash pits, Dynegy-Midwest Generation must show the IEPA how they intend to stop these groundwater exceedances and protect groundwater from coal-ash pollution. Back to top
Have coal ash pollutants been entering the river?
Yes, coal ash pollutants have been flowing into the river. In 2008, the IEPA found that coal ash pollution was flowing into the river from seeps along the riverbank that abuts the two oldest pits. According to a January 2013 internal IEPA email, an agency representative “had no problem collecting seepage at the base of the berm, which is right on the riverbank.”
Seepage from the Old East Ash Pit into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Photo taken from the river by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative, June 2017.
Water quality analysis confirmed this was ash seepage (leachate, i.e., groundwater entering the surface water), and that boron from seeps at the “lower pond” (the Old East Ash Pit) was present at about three times the chronic water quality standard. This seepage can only be seen from the river. Click here to watch a short video showing seeps actively leaching chemicals along the Old East Ash Pit. This film clip was taken by Eco-Justice Collaborative in June of 2017.
Hydrogeological studies by Dynegy’s consultants have confirmed that groundwater moves from the western side of the river valley, through the North and Old East Ash Pits toward the Middle Fork, discharging into the river (see page 22 of their report). The proposed closure plan would reduce infiltration from above the pits, but not eliminate the flow of groundwater toward the river. Under flood conditions, the rising river water could come into direct contact with the coal ash in the unlined pits. As the water recedes, it would flow back into the river carrying with it coal ash pollutants. This phenomenon would not be eliminated by capping the pits. Back to top
2016 Google Earth Map shows seeping from the Old East Ash Pit into the river channel.
Aren’t the red stains on the bank present at other locations along the river?
Yes, red stains can be found along the bank of the Middle Fork at other locations. They are primarily caused by the oxidation of iron seeping through the riverbank. However, this signature color on the riverbank that abuts Dynegy’s coal ash pits does not mean that only iron is present. The color is a clear indicator of constant seepage, and no other location along the Middle Fork has this extensive, year-round discoloration.
Photo shows seepage along the Old East Ash Pit into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Photo taken from the river by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative, April 2016 and June 2017.
Dynegy’s own reports confirm that the groundwater in this area is contaminated by coal ash pollutants (boron, sulfate, manganese, iron, total dissolved solids, arsenic, and pH – see page vi and pages 44-46). We also know that the iron signatures show that groundwater seepage is flowing into the river. This was documented by the IEPA in 2008 when water quality analysis confirmed coal ash seepage (i.e.: leachate, i.e.: groundwater entering surface water), and boron exceeded the chronic standard by about three times. More details on these exceedances and seepage are provided in the response to the question “Have coal ash pollutants been entering the river?”, above. Back to top
What about the New East Ash Pit? Is it leaking?
We do not know whether or not the New East Ash Pit is leaking. This pit stores over 534,000 cubic yards of toxic waste and rests on bedrock. Records show evidence of historic underground mining in the area raising concern over potential subsidence, which could destabilize the pit and send the toxic waste into the groundwater and/or river (see graphic depicting historic mining activity, above). Back to top
Could a breach of the walls of one or more of the coal ash pits really happen?
Coal ash spills have happened at multiple sites across the U.S. The two most catastrophic occurred at TVA’s Kingston Plant in 2008 and at Duke Energy’s Dan River Plant in 2014. The circumstances contributing to these and other spills are unique to each site.
The bank abutting the New East Ash Pit eroded by 20 feet in just 6 years, requiring emergency riverbank stabilization in November 2016. Photograph by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative, April, 2016.
Key concerns at the Vermilion Station include the continuing erosion of the river channel toward the coal ash impoundments and the associated vulnerability of the embankments. Under the current federal coal ash rule, power plants must post maps showing the extent of inundation in the event of a coal ash spill. Because the Vermilion Station was closed before the federal rule became effective, Dynegy-Midwest Generation does not have to provide an inundation map for the Vermilion Station. This means we don’t know what the extent of a spill might be if one or more of the pits were breached – but we do know that coal ash could flow many miles downstream.
What we also know is that Dynegy had to seek emergency approval from state and federal agencies to shore up the bank next to the New East Ash Pit in the fall of 2016. This was because the river had eroded as much as 20 feet of protective bank next to the ash pit in just six years. According to their own internal correspondence, Dynegy reported that at one location just 10 feet remained between the river and the toe of the slope of the New East Ash Pit, making failure a real possibility. The erosion was so extensive that it also destroyed two monitoring wells.
Severe riverbank erosion near the ash pits has been an ongoing problem for decades. Illinois Power installed gabions (wire cages with rocks) along the bank adjacent to the Old East and North Pits in the 1980s. But the gabions have been ripped away from the bank of the Middle Fork by the powerful forces of the river. This has left the riverbank vulnerable to erosion once again, and the wire mesh that now is located in the river’s channel (instead of on the bank) is a hazard for those who use the Middle Fork for recreation.
The natural erosional forces of the Middle Fork River have ripped away gabions (wire cages filled with rock) installed by Illinois Power to protect the riverbank that abuts the Old East Ash Pit, leaving exposed wires in the channel. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. April 2016.
While action was taken in 2016 to prevent a catastrophic breach at the New East Ash Pit, the severe erosion taking place at the Old East and North Ash Pits remains of great concern to the IEPA. While the agency reviews and considers Dynegy’s proposal to close the coal ash pits, the IEPA is asking Dynegy to have an emergency bank stabilization plan ready, in case the erosion at these two locations progresses to a dangerous level. Back to top
Won’t reinforcing the riverbank permanently stop the erosion?
Reinforcing the bank will offer some protection medium-term, but it is not likely to permanently stop erosion. This is because the bluffs and topography in the area of the coal plant direct the river flow toward the coal ash pits. When the river is at high flow, boulders, downed trees, and ice flows forcefully scour the banks. There is no other route for the river to take (see graphic, below).
These factors, compounded by an expected increased intensity of storm events caused by a changing climate, raise concern that any bank stabilization measure eventually will be compromised by the natural forces of the river. No bank reinforcement will last forever. We know that the river has demonstrated it can erode through even robust bank stabilization. After Dynegy leaves, the responsibilities for repair; replacement; and cleanup, in the event one or more of the impoundments is breached, could fall upon the taxpayer. Back to top
Graphic overlay prepared by Eco-Justice Collaborative in 2016 using Lidar image, Illinois Geospatial Clearinghouse, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois.
If the ash has been there for over 55 years, why should we be concerned now?
Dynegy-Midwest Generation closed the Vermilion Power Station in 2011 and now is seeking IEPA approval for closing its three coal ash pits. This includes addressing coal ash pollution from the two older pits that are known to be leaking. But the IEPA also is requiring Dynegy to show how they intend to prevent a breach in the walls of one or more of the impoundments that could spill coal ash waste into the river.
The reason for concern and action now is because any solution that the IEPA approves will be permanent. Once Dynegy leaves the power-plant site, all future pollution problems; expenses for long-term maintenance; or costs for cleanup, should there be a coal ash spill; could become the responsibility of the taxpayer. Now is the time to ensure that the solution approved by the IEPA protects the river and residents of Vermilion County for the long-run. Back to top
What is Dynegy’s plan for dealing with the ash?
We don’t yet know Dynegy’s final proposal for closing its three pits, since they are currently revising their plans to address prior IEPA comments. However, previous proposals have called for covering the coal ash with an impermeable cap and leaving it in the floodplain of the Middle Fork. Dynegy hopes that federal and state agencies will also approve bank stabilization similar to that put in place along the New East Ash Pit as part of their “cap and leave in place” plan.
But installing lengthy sections of stone along Dynegy’s coal ash pits may be incompatible with the Middle Fork’s designation as a National Scenic River. More information on compatibility with the River’s National Scenic River Designation can be found in the response to the question “If the Middle Fork is a National Scenic River, wouldn’t the National Park Service want to see it removed?” below. Back to top
Will covering the pits stop the groundwater pollution?
Capping the coal ash will reduce the infiltration of rainwater and floodwaters into the ash from above. However, 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.
Although to the naked eye, the coal ash appears to lie well above the river, Dynegy’s hydro-geological studies show that the ash in the North and Old East Ash Pits extends down as much as 30 and 44 feet respectively, intersecting the water table.
North Ash Pond Cross–Section showing continued groundwater flow through ash pit with (or without) cap. Prepared by Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network. September 2016.
A comparison of 2011 water table elevations with ash deposits shows that the ash was saturated with groundwater (up to 21 feet in the North Ash Pit in June, 2011). Even if the ash pits are capped, groundwater will continue to flow through the toxic material and carry coal ash chemicals into the river. Back to top
What are the risks of leaving the ash in the floodplain?
Even if Dynegy is able to reduce the amount of coal ash pollution into the river and groundwater, they won’t be able to eliminate the leaching or seepage of chemicals, or permanently protect the pits from erosion. Leaving the coal ash permanently in the river system means there will need to be continuous monitoring, repair, and replacement of riverbank stabilization along the ash pits; or, in the event of a spill, cleanup along many miles of the river system. Back to top
What would be the consequences of a coal ash spill?
The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River, is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in Illinois. The river supports 57 different species of fish and is surrounded by a public open space corridor that is heavily used for hiking, photography, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, camping, and paddling. Kickapoo State Recreation Area alone serves 1.5 to 2 million visitors every year, and over 10,000 people canoe, kayak, or tube the river annually during warm-weather months.
Tubing on the Middle Fork. More than 10,000 people kayak, canoe, or tube the river every year. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. August 2014.
The release of over five million cubic yards of coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston facility in December 2008 flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property. So far, the cost of clean-up is $1.2 billion and mounting. In 2014, a Duke Energy plant in NC sent 46,000 cubic yards of toxic coal ash into the Dan River polluting the river over 70 miles downstream. The volume of this spill is comparable to about 1.3% of the volume of ash stored in Dynegy’s three pits. And the bill for full cleanup of the N.C. spill has been estimated to be over $300 million. These costs included harm to the environment; lost recreational opportunities; injuries to human health; reduced use of the river as a source of food; and the river’s diminished aesthetic value. These spills should serve as a wake-up call for diligence on coal combustion waste disposal units in Vermilion County.
The Kickapoo State Recreation Area alone generates from $11 million to $15 million in revenues for Vermilion County every year, and the County and City of Danville hope to capitalize on the potential of this 17-mile scenic river corridor to generate additional tourism and related economic development. The river system would be devastated by a coal ash spill. Vermilion County residents would pay the price through lost revenues from both existing and potential tourism; planned economic development; and costs of cleanup. Back to top
Are there any financial guarantees that taxpayers will not be saddled with long-term maintenance or clean up costs?
There are no state requirements that obligate Dynegy-Midwest Generation to post a bond or otherwise guarantee that money would be available for long-term monitoring, maintenance or cleanup in the event of a coal ash spill. Dynegy is reported to have said they have money set aside for facility retirement. However, they are under no legal obligation to use those funds as indicated. If Dynegy goes bankrupt, as they did in 2012 , taxpayers could be saddled with future costs. Even if Dynegy sells the property to another owner, there are no guarantees that future liabilities will be met without taxpayer intervention. Back to top
How feasible is it to move the coal ash?
Coal ash is being moved at many locations across the country. Here are some examples:
- Duke Energy is currently relocating its coal ash to lined facilities at its plants in Asheville, NC, Mooresville, NC, Eden NC, Wilmington, NC, Mount Holly NC, and Belton, SC, and has announced plans to move ash at four other basins in Goldsboro, NC.
- Georgia Power is removing ash from 17 ponds located next to lakes or rivers in Georgia.
- In a recent court decision, the Tennessee Valley Authority was ordered to remove ash at its Gallatin, TN plant and place it in a lined facility that would not pollute adjacent surface and groundwaters.
Groundwater contamination reportedly plummeted after South Carolina Electric and Gas moved its coal ash from its Wateree Plant near Columbia, SC. Back to top
Who has to approve Dynegy’s plan and what will it show?
As a result of its Notice of Violation of Class I groundwater standards, Dynegy is required to submit a Corrective Action Plan to the IEPA for their review and approval. The Plan must document how Dynegy will bring the site back into regulatory compliance.
The IEPA also is requiring Dynegy to have a plan in place to stabilize the riverbank so that the embankments holding back the coal ash are not threatened by a breach. IEPA’s primary concern is making sure that there is not an embankment failure while they are reviewing and processing
Dynegy’s proposed closure plan. Any earthwork or fill proposed within 200 feet either side of the centerline of the river channel along Dynegy’s property must be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Illinois DNR; and the National Park Service. Back to top
If the Middle Fork is a National Scenic River, wouldn’t the National Park Service want to see the ash removed?
Yes, the National Park Service (NPS) has expressed concern about the location of the coal ash disposal pits in the active meander pattern of the Middle Fork, and the potential for coal ash to degrade the stream. In their June 16, 2017 Section 7(a) Evaluation and Determination letter prepared for the New East Ash Pit’s emergency riverbank stabilization project, the NPS stated:
“The location of the fly ash disposal ponds is not consistent with the purpose of the River and the removal of the ash ponds, as well as associated embankments, streamside pump house, and non-operational infrastructure that remains within the river corridor would protect and enhance the River and its values.”
Stone (“rip-rap”) along 485’ of riverbank abutting the New East Ash Pit lies in stark contrast to the natural character of this scenic river. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. June 2017.
The National Park Service explained in their Evaluation and Determination Letter they believed the emergency riverbank stabilization project requested by Dynegy was necessary “until such time the fly ash storage ponds are removed.” But they also stated that the pits present a water quality hazard and obstruction to the free-flowing conditions of the Middle Fork. Their recommendation is to remove and relocate all the coal ash.
“The pond presents a water quality hazard and a constraint to the River’s free flowing condition and natural river processes. The NPS recommends that the proponents consider the mutual benefits of pond relocation for facility management and the River’s values.”
On page 10 of their Evaluation and Determination letter, the National Park Service further states that the riverbank stabilization project does not protect or enhance the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River or its values to the greatest extent possible, and concludes that it is not consistent with Section 10(a) of The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The Old East Ash Pit rises above the river interrupting the otherwise natural, scenic character of the Middle Fork. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. April 2016.
The Middle Fork derives its scenic quality from its forests, tall bluffs and largely undeveloped riverbanks. Few buildings are visible from the river, except for the power plant’s smokestack and the pump house further downstream. The deteriorated gabions along the riverbanks of the two oldest pits; the exposed “rip-rap” that now lines the newly installed stabilization along the New East Ash Pit; and the towering, grassy embankments that form the walls of the three ash pits stand in sharp contrast to the otherwise scenic character of the river.
The smokestack and power plant stand in stark contrast to the scenic and natural character of the Middle Fork. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative. April 2016.
In its Evaluation and Determination letter, the National Park Service recommended the following actions be taken:
- Remove the coal ash pits.
- Remove the rock protection installed for stabilization, when the ash pits are relocated to restore the riverbank to a more natural condition.
- Remove the pump house, downstream of the New East Ash Pit, which no longer is functional.
- Remove the coal plant stack.
- Continue coordination between stakeholders and agencies regarding the long-term restoration potential at the Dynegy site and the need for a comprehensive approach to riverbank management.
What is the timeline for IEPA approval of Dynegy’s plan?
The IEPA has approved a schedule that could bring a decision on Dynegy’s closure plan by the end of 2018. Dynegy’s schedule calls for a November 2017 completion of civil engineering and geotechnical studies that would determine the timing, need, design, and location of riverbank stabilization (should it be needed in an emergency or subsequently approved by applicable agencies as part of the final solution). Cost estimates for pond closure are scheduled for completion by December of 2017. Groundwater sampling and final hydrological modeling are targeted for completion by September 2018. Back to top
Will there be an opportunity for public comment?
No. The decision whether or not to leave millions of cubic yards of toxic waste in pits in the floodplain of Illinois’s only National Scenic River will have long-term implications for Illinois taxpayers. Yet, the IEPA acknowledges that there is no formal process for public input as part of the review and approval of Dynegy’s Corrective Action Plan. A public hearing or public information meeting that could provide residents, businesses and elected officials an opportunity to ask questions and provide input is not anticipated. Back to top
What can we do?
Because Illinois does not have a coal ash rule and the federal rule does not apply to closed facilities, we need to exert pressure on public officials to make sure that the IEPA requires Dynegy to move its coal ash. State Senator Scott Bennett, State Representative Chad Hays, County Board Chair Mike Marron, and Danville’s Mayor Scott Eisenhauer can speak with Governor Rauner and IEPA Director Alec Messina, and insist that moving the coal ash out of the floodplain of Illinois’ only National Scenic River is the only way their constituents can be assured that the three coal ash pits won’t become a future liability for Vermilion County.
Danville’s Mayor Scott Eisenhauer speaks to a crowd of over 70 at a June 5, 2017 Town Hall organized by Eco-Justice Collaborative. Photo by Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative.
Public pressure over the past 12 months is making a difference. Public meetings held to raise awareness in Vermilion and Champaign Counties have resulted in phone calls to elected officials; hundreds of letters to local and state officials; and over 500 letters to Governor Rauner and IEPA Director Alec Messina.
At a June 5, 2017 Town Hall Meeting, Scott Eisenhauer, Mayor of Danville, said he supports moving the ash and believes now is the time to hold Dynegy accountable. State Representative Chad Hays told those who attended the meeting that moving the ash is the best option, and he and local officials have told the IEPA Director how serious a concern this is. He further noted that addressing the coal ash concerns responsibly is not only an environmental issue, but also a quality-of-life issue. Scott Bennet, also present at this June Town Hall, said he has received hundreds of letters this from constituents, and some out of his district, who are concerned about the issue.
Because the IEPA has approved a schedule that could bring a decision by the end of 2018, the public has just over one year to increase the pressure placed on local and state officials, the Governor of Illinois, and the Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Your voice is needed, and can be effective.
What can you do? One of the best things you can do is to meet with state, county, and city officials and board members to review these Frequently Asked Questions with them. Having documented information can help convince them to support efforts to move the toxic waste out of the floodplain. You also can:
- Click here to join the Protect the Middle Fork Campaign! We’ll keep you informed about upcoming meetings, events, and actions you can take.
- Call State Rep. Chad Hays and State Sen. Scott Bennett. Click for a sample script.
- Call County Board Chairman Mike Marron and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer, City of Danville. Use the sample script provided above.
- Call the IEPA Director Alec Messina and Governor Rauner. Click for a sample script.
- Sign this letter to Governor Rauner and IEPA Director Alec Messina. Be sure to personalize it to make it most effective
- Sign and send this letter to State Senator Scott Bennett, Representative Chad Hays Vermilion County Board Mike Marron, and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer. Let them know what your specific concerns are by personalizing the letter.
- Write a letter to the editor, using these FAQs as a guide. Click for a quick tutorial.
- Host a letter-writing “party”, using the FAQs as a guide.
- Help organize a meeting with your church, school, service club, or neighborhood group. We’ll bring fact sheets, our video, slides, and make a 30-minute presentation. Contact us via this form if you are interested.
- Host an informational meeting at your home with your friends to raise awareness and engage others. It’s easy. We’ve created a guide for your use, and will provide you with videos, slides,letters and fact sheets.
- Share what you’ve learned about the threat of having coal ash stored in the floodplain of Illinois’ only National Scenic River on Facebook and Twitter.
- Table at events. Contact us via this form to let us know you are interested, and we’ll provide the materials you need
.Moving the Coal Ash Is the Only Solution
Relocating the ash is the only way to ensure that the health, safety, and well-being of Vermilion County residents is not compromised by leaking coal ash pits or a potential breach in the walls of one or more of these pits. The coal ash should be moved out of the floodplain of Illinois’ only National Scenic River to a properly-lined cell (on Dynegy’s property, if possible) and monitored. Other states are requiring this. Why wouldn’t we? Back to top
Download these FAQs in .pdf format with hyperlinks and attached footnote (194 pages)
Download FAQs in .pdf format with hyperlinked footnotes only (22 pages)
Download Addendum to the FAQs
The Addendum includes analyses of Dynegy’s most recent submittals
919 West University Avenue, Champaign, Illinois 61821
Phone: 217 607.1948 (office) or 773.556.3417 (cell)
November 13, 2017