Bank Stabilization Plan
by Lan Richart, Co-Director
July 10, 2019
It’s Back to the Drawing Board …
Thanks in great part to a grassroots campaign to protect the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Dynegy Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Texas-based Vistra Energy, has decided to withdraw its proposal for water quality certification and rethink its proposal for a massive bank stabilization project along Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Dynegy’s preferred plan for addressing the coal ash problem along the river has been to armor the river bank and cap the unlined, leaking coal ash pits, leaving them in place.
In June of 2018, Dynegy had submitted a Joint Section 404/401 Application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois EPA seeking permission to install over 20,000 cubic yards of stone rip-rap along the bank of the river adjacent to its unlined coal ash pits. Before it could be constructed, the project needs approval by multiple state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Illinois DNR and the Illinois EPA.
Dynegy’s proposal was met with significant opposition because of its size and potential impact on water quality and recreation. In a June 6, 2019 email communication to the Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service noted that it was unlikely the project could be approved, as designed, because it could negatively affect the qualities for which the river was designated a National Scenic River.
Section 401 Application Withdrawn
In a letter dated June 27, 2019, Dynegy’s attorneys notified the Illinois EPA that it was officially withdrawing its Section 401 Application for the project. Although the Section 404 portion of the application has not been officially withdrawn from the Corps of Engineers, Dynegy is working with its consulting engineers to revise the project, presumably to reduce its scale and impact on the river (source: information obtained by Eco-Justice Collaborative under the Freedom of Information Act). Dynegy is expected to submit a revised plan by August of this year. A new Section 401 application will be required by the IEPA and a new public notice issued at that time. The Corps of Engineers is expected to allow the existing Section 404 Application to remain open, pending the timely receipt of revised plans.
Ash Pits Closure Part of Enforcement Action
In the meantime, Dynegy’s plan for closing the actual ash pits is in the hands of the IEPA and the Attorney General’s office. A June 2018 Notice of Violation of water quality standards issued to Dynegy by the IEPA has been referred to the Attorney General’s office for enforcement. The enforcement action is expected to address the closure of the coal ash pits, river bank stabilization and possible monetary fines.
The Importance of Public Pressure
In its campaign to protect the Middle Fork, Eco-Justice Collaborative has pushed for removal of the contaminated ash to a properly lined and monitored upland area on Dynegy’s property. Within the last year, due intense public pressure, the IEPA has required Dynegy to evaluate the removal alternative. Similarly, EJC and organizations such as Prairie Rivers Network have called for the IEPA to require that Dynegy provide financial assurances in the form of a surety bond, trust fund or irrevocable letter of credit, ensuring that taxpayers are not left with cleanup costs if the company is unable to fulfill its obligations.
EJC also believes that major decisions, such as those determining the fate of toxic coal ash, warrant meaningful public involvement. Lacking that commitment from public agencies in 2018, EJC hosted its own public hearing on the plan, documenting concerns over leaving the ash pits in place for future generations. Although the public hearing held by the IEPA in March of this year focused solely on the bank stabilization and its effect on water quality, the event offered an opportunity for nearly 300 people to voice their concerns about the project.
The Fight is Not Over
Despite recent successes, the fight to secure long-term protection for the Middle Fork is far from over. In the coming months, Eco-Justice Collaborative will continue to monitor agency actions related to the Middle Fork coal ash issue and push for a resolution that permanently removes the ash from its location next to the river, ensures that future generations are not left with a toxic and financial liabilities of polluting coal ash, and that the public remains informed and engaged in decision-making. We thank you for your many contributions to protect the Middle Fork, and hope that you will continue to support efforts to keep the river safe for generations to come.
Coal Ash Is Being Moved in Other States
Are we asking for something that can not be done? A recent article by the Southern Environmental Law Center reports that last month, the Tennessee Valley Authority reached a settlement with the State of Tennessee, agreeing to excavate 12 million tons of coal ash from its unlined disposal site near Nashville. That’s roughly twice the volume of ash present at the Vermilion Station. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Protection has ordered Duke Energy to remove the ash from nine unlined pits at its facilities. Georgia Power also has announced that it will be excavating 21 million tons of ash from its unlined pits at its Bowen power generating facility. Coal ash from every unlined waterfront pit in the state of South Carolina is being removed, while the state of Virginia has ordered Dominion Energy to excavate the ash from all of its pits in the state. We think that Illinois’ only National Scenic River deserves similar protection.