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EJC Objects to Dynegy’s Section 404 Permit
Click to read EJC’s letter of objection to the U.S. Army Corps of Engneers

This past summer, Dynegy Midwest Generation submitted an application for a Joint Section 404 / 401 Permit to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (DA) for riverbank stabilization, which is step #1 in their plan to cap and leave their toxic coal ash in the floodplain of Illinois’ National Scenic River. If permitted, Dynegy will:

  • Build a riverbank stabilization project along 2,000 feet of eroding riverbanks next to Dynegy’s two oldest ash pits. This includes the installation of 11,500 cubic yards of riprap and stone toe protection, and 2,000 cubic yards of soil and live branch layering.
  • Excavate and remove approximately 9,000 cubic yards of existing riverbed and bank material below the ordinary high water mark. Excavation would extend over 30 feet into the river channel, and over seven feet below the bed of the river. In some sections, the construction zone would reach approximately 70 feet into the river.

On November 26, the DA issued a Public Notice for the project, which opened a public comment that ended on January 10th. During that time, Eco-Justice Collaborative worked with community, environmental, business organizations and the general public to submit nearly 300 comments to the DA, raising concerns over the project and asking for a public hearing.

On January 7, 2019, Eco-Justice Collaborative (EJC) sent our detailed comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (DA), officially objecting to the issuance of a permit by the DA for Dynegy Midwest Generation’s riverbank, and asking the DA to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (see Code of Federal Regulations, Part 32, Section 65.41). The following is a summary of our letter of objection, including the legal basis of our request for an EIS. The full letter can be viewed here.

The DA cannot separate the purpose of the project from need.  The reason the project is being proposed is to protect coal ash pits located behind the eroding riverbanks.  – Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative


Purpose and Need Not Met
The Public Notice issued by the DA indicates that the purpose of the project is to “construct streambank stabilization”. However the purpose of the project cannot be the project. In this case, riverbank stabilization is being requested to protect unlined, leaking, coal ash pits, built in the river’s floodplain. There is no other need to stabilize banks along this 17.1-mile, meandering scenic river. Therefore, the purpose of the project should be expanded to identify need, and a full set of alternatives developed and provided for public review and comment per requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

Excavation would dig up to 8 feet of river bed, and construction extend 70 feet into the river channel. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Building the Project Would Significantly Affect the River
The proposed riverbank project is part of a larger plan to cap the pits and leave the ash permanently in place. However, construction would impact the river in the following ways:

  • Disturb soils and riverbed sediments contaminated by leaching coal ash chemicals, degrade water quality and redistribute coal ash pollutants downstream where they may be ingested by fish and other aquatic biota or come in contact with recreational users of the river. Chemicals include arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, manganese, molybdenum, and sulfate. These are characteristic of coal ash and are known to be harmful to public health. They can cause cancer, reproductive problems and neurological disorders in humans and wildlife.
  • Disrupt nearly 5 acres of stream bank and stream bed for the 9 to 12 month construction period, with the potential to adversely impact the river and its biological systems. The cumulative impacts of existing pollution and additional stress generated by in-stream construction and the dispersal of contaminated soils from the bank and bottom of the river could negatively affect aquatic biota in the river. This includes threatened and endangered mussels and fish (e.g., Bluebreast darter).
  • Alter the stream channel, resulting in changes to hydraulics that could have cumulative negative effects on areas immediately downstream.
  • Add over 1/3 mile of hardscape that could have lasting impacts on downstream flow dynamics, bedload and sediment transport, which could adversely affect important fish and invertebrate populations downstream.
  • Require construction in the river, because there is insufficient room between the channel and the coal ash impoundments to place equipment. The construction zone would extend up to 70 feet into the channel. This would inhibit or prevent recreational use of the river for significant periods of time, particularly since construction would need to take place when water levels are low, which generally coincides with prime recreational months.
  • Degrade the scenic value of the river by placing 2,000 feet of rip rap along this otherwise undeveloped river corridor. The scenic qualities of the Middle Fork are what make this river an important recreational destination for tens of thousands of people each year, forming the basis for a robust recreational economy.

There is a practicable alternative that the DA is not considering.  And that alternative is to move the ash out of the floodplain, away from the river. Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative


Protecting the River by Removing the Ash
It is our opinion that a practicable alternative exists that would have less impact on the aquatic system. This includes removing the waste from the floodplain, and relocating it on Dynegy’s property away from the river and its floodplain. It may be possible to recycle – or beneficially reuse – some of the ash, thereby minimizing the volume of the waste that needs to be stored on site. Using coal ash to make concrete, for example, is one way to physically change the coal ash and encapsulate the toxic elements while reusing a waste material.

Dynegy’s closure plan proposals submitted last fall indicated they expected to be able to recycle about 60% of the ash, reducing the amount of ash stored on site to about 40%. Reusing the ash not only protects the environment, but can help local companies build better, more durable roads, bridges, and other projects. Responsible cleanup—excavating the ash and putting it into a landfill or recycling it for use in concrete—will create more and longer-lasting cleanup jobs, improve nearby property values, help drive economic development, and generate tax revenue.

Interim Stabilization Required
The Middle Fork is a naturally-meandering river that is moving west toward Dynegy’s three unlined ash pits, which collectively hold 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic ash. The river is severely eroding abutting riverbanks, raising concerns that impoundments will be destabilized and send millions of gallons of toxic ash into the river.  This would have severe consequences to the ecology of the river system and cost to residents and businesses in Vermilion County.

This National Scenic River needs to be protected.  Riverbanks next to the coal ash pits need to be stabilized as long as the toxic waste is remains in the river’s floodplain. But such stabilization should be temporary and targeted, while a thorough evaluation of this project (including purpose and need; analysis of alternatives; and proposals for mitigation) are conducted per requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act. If the coal ash is moved, interim bank stabilization may also be necessary, but large-scale and environmentally-damaging bank stabilization could be avoided.

Download EJC’s January 7 Letter of Objection to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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