You Can Help Protect the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River
Illinois’ Only National Scenic River
Send a letter to urge Governor Rauner to support complete closure and cleanup of these ash pits to preserve the health of the Middle Fork River and protect the communities that depend on it. Be sure to personalize your letter for the greatest impact.
Help us fundraise for a 2018 Spring People’s Hearing. The IEPA has no plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal. Help us bring comments and concerns of Vermilion County residents and businesses directly to the Governor’s desk.
Join the campaign! Just fill in the form below and we’ll keep you informed about campaign events, milestones as they develop, and actions you can take to pressure Dynegy to move its coal ash out the floodplain of Illinois’ only National Scenic River.
Failing coal ash storage pits from the now-shuttered Dynegy Vermiion coal-fired power plant near Oakwood, Illinois are polluting the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. The ash pits are located in the river’s floodplain, just upstream from Kickapoo State Park and other protected lands where families recreate and thousands of people canoe or tube down the river each year.
The Middle Fork is the only National Scenic River in Illinois. It was designated Illinois’ first state scenic river by Gov. Jim Thompson in 1986, and a National Scenic River by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan in 1989. What makes it so special? It supports a great diversity of fish – from tiny, colorful darters to larger sport fish such as channel catfish and smallmouth bass – as well as mussels, crayfish and a multitude of other invertebrates. The Middle Fork is distinguished from most other streams in the area by its high bluffs, rock and gravel bed, and its remarkably clean water. Most of the area along the river is forested. Three areas support plants and animals so rare that they are protected as state nature preserves.
What is Coal Ash?
Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash contains high levels of toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, zinc, cadmium and selenium that can poison wildlife and threaten human health. It is typically stored in pits (also called ponds) at the facility where it is generated.
Why the Ash Pits Pose a Threat to the River
All three ash pits at the Dynegy Vermilion plant are unlined. The company’s own reporting indicates that the two oldest pits are releasing harmful pollutants into the groundwater. The third, more recently-constructed storage pit, was built on existing shale over a mine void. This raising concerns that this pit could be destabilized by subsidence. According to a 2003 report by Dynegy’s consultant (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.”
The natural movement of the river also is eroding the embankments of the coal ash pits, raising concerns about a potential breach. The one that took place near Kingston, TN in 2008 resulted in a 1.1 billion gallon coal ash spill into the Emory River. Duke Energy’s 2014 coal ash spill near Eden, NC, which covered 70 miles of the Dan River with gray sludge. Attempts by Dynegy to control the erosion with wire cages filled with rock have failed. A newly released report by Stantec Consulting Services Inc. shows the erosion rate at the North and Old East pits to be from 2.5 to 9 times greater than previous estimates.
“These ash pits should have never been built next to the river and over mine void. They are obstructions in the natural river system and will continually be subjected to the erosional forces of the Middle Fork, no matter how much new armoring is put in place”. – Pam Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative
Unfortunately, Dynegy wants to leave its waste in place. Dynegy hopes to close the ponds by capping them with a “geosynthetic cover”, installing new riverbank stabilization along the Old East and North Ash Pits similar to that put in place along the New East Ash Pit, and monitoring groundwater. Click to read more about the threat these pits pose to the river.
Advocates for the Middle Fork, including area residents; Eco-Justice Collaborative, and Prairie Rivers Network, contend that Dynegy’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Dynegy’s ability to move forward with options for riverbank stabilization that have been proposed by their consultant is not yet clear, given the extent of erosion that has already taken place, and will require approvals by state and federal agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS believes the ash pits should be removed because they present a water quality hazard and constrain constrain the free-flowing condition and river processes.
Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois EPA should require Dynegy to relocate all three coal-ash pits far from the river onto its more than 900-acre property. This is the only solution that will fully protect the river and Vermilion County and the City of Danville who depended on it for recreation, tourism and economic development. But they won’t hold a hearing. Shouldn’t those most affected by a proposal that could leave 3.3 million cubic yards of coal ash – enough to fill Chicago’s Willis Tower nearly two times – be allowed the opportunity to comment and shape the final outcome of a proposal that could leave them with a coal ash legacy forever? If you agree, sign the letter to Governor Rauner and help us raise funds for a Spring 2018 hearing.