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Middle Fork Advocates Call for Open Discussion of Dynegy Coal Ash Proposal

A recent engineering study has confirmed that the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River is rapidly eroding banks that protect unlined coal ash pits located in the river’s floodplain, just north of Kickapoo State Park. The report shows that the rate of erosion is from 2.5 to 9 times faster than previously predicted. This news has prompted local river advocates to prepare a public information document that evaluates the impact the coal ash pits have on the river, and to call for an open forum or “People’s Hearing” next Spring. The purpose of this forum or hearing is to discuss the controversial proposal by Dynegy Midwest Generation to cap the ash and leave it in the floodplain of Illinois’ only National Scenic River, the centerpiece of Vermilion County’s recreational economy.
Stantec Consulting Services was hired by Dynegy Midwest Generation to study riverbank stabilization options that would hold back the ash long-term. Stantec found that erosion is now so severe that in many locations there is no longer enough room to accommodate the equipment required to construct proposed alternatives without either:
  1. Cutting into and regrading the coal ash embankment;
  2. Reconstructing a portion of the riverbank lost to erosion (which would require fill in the river’s channel); and/or
  3. Working with a long-reach backhoe from the river.
Dynegy’s ability to move forward with proposed riverbank stabilization options remains uncertain, and requires approvals by state and federal agencies. If approved and constructed at one time, the 1,700 feet of armoring will take six to eight months to complete and would need to be constructed during the summer recreation season.
Dynegy’s consultant also noted that any riverbank stabilization will require ongoing monitoring and maintenance after it is built, supporting concerns raised by river advocates regarding the lack of financial assurances. The IEPA claims it does not have the authority to require the utility to post a bond or provide other financial guarantees that might defray these costs should Dynegy or any future landowner fail to fulfill its obligations.
To ensure that the public has the most up-to-date information as Dynegy moves closer to obtaining approval for closing its ash pits, Eco-Justice Collaborative produced a document entitled Frequently Asked Questions, Coal Ash in the Floodplain of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River (FAQ).  This document answers 26 common questions and includes references, correspondence, reports, and graphics.  The FAQ’s purpose is to inform the public about the risks of leaving the waste in the river’s floodplain and to document Dynegy’s response to the IEPA for closing the coal ash pits after they received a 2012 Notice of Violation for exceeding Class I groundwater standards for a variety of coal ash contaminants.

Coal ash contaminants leaching into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River

“A decision to permanently leave millions of cubic yards of toxic waste in three unlined pits built in the Middle Fork River’s floodplain could have long-term implications for Vermilion County and Illinois taxpayers. Yet, many people are not familiar with the ongoing erosion and leaching of coal ash contaminants that threaten the river. The FAQ document will both inform Vermilion County residents, and provide the background they need to ask their elected officials to advocate for the protection of the river system”, says local resident, Kristin Camp, a member of the newly-formed Protect the Middle Fork citizens group.
Dynegy has publicly-stated that coal ash is not hazardous. The newly-released FAQ references a report by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Earthjustice that calls coal ash a toxic threat, and cites cases of human health damages at leaking facilities across the nation.  The FAQ also counters Dynegy’s claims by pointing to the fact that the U.S. EPA classified the 2008 Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill at their Kingston Fossil Plant near in Roane County, Tennessee as a superfund site, because of its toxicity. 
Because the three pits contain enough toxic ash to fill Chicago’s Willis (Sears) Tower nearly two times, opponents of a plan that would leave the coal ash in place want public participation in the decision-making process. But the IEPA currently has no plans to hold a public hearing or information meeting on the proposal.
If the IEPA won’t hold a public hearing on a plan that could place the river and Vermilion County residents at risk, we will”, says Lan Richart, Co-Director, Eco-Justice Collaborative.  “A People’s Hearing, coupled with information provided by the Frequently Asked Questions and subsequent addendums, will help residents voice their concerns and comments on closure plans for the ash pits, once they are developed.
It is expected that Dynegy will submit costed proposals for closure alternatives to the IEPA in December, and approval of the final plan is expected in the fall of 2018, after groundwater modeling has been completed.
Danville’s Mayor Scott Eisenhauer worries a potential coal ash spill would be catastrophic for the ecology of the river system and the recreational economy of the area. “We need a permanent solution that will protect both the river and the people of Vermilion County”, says Eisenhauer, “and that means Dynegy must move its coal ash out of the floodplain of the Middle Fork and dispose of it in a safe manner. To do anything less means the company is counting on the fact that the taxpayer will take on all future liabilities”.  
Copies of the Frequently Asked Questions and an addendum that draws from Stantec’s report, can be viewed or downloaded at www.ecojusticecollaborative.org

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