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Will Vistra Do What’s Right for the Middle Fork?
Two weeks ago, we reminded the Illinois EPA that July 6th marked the eighth year anniversary of the first Notice of Violation to Dynegy Midwest Generation for groundwater contamination at its Vermilion Power Station in Vermilion County. We also reiterated our concerns that riverbanks have yet to be protected from future storm events, where erosion is most severe.

In 2012, Coal ash chemicals were found to be leaking from unlined coal ash pits located along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.  Much has happened since then, as Eco-Justice Collaborative and other advocates for the Middle Fork have called for the removal of the ash to a safe, properly lined facility away from the river and out of the groundwater.  You, who care about the river and want to protect the health and safety of those who use it, have attended meetings; written letters; signed petitions; spoken at public hearings; and held your elected officials accountable.  

Today, the destiny of the coal ash impoundment closure is in the hands of the Illinois Attorney General’s office, after the IEPA referred the case for possible litigation. Although we no longer have access to information about the closure plan, we continue to talk with the IEPA about ensuring a public hearing is held, and they are committed to making that happen. We also are asking the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to re-establish a citizens’ Advisory Committee originally mandated by the Corridor Management Plan, adopted when the Middle Fork was designated as a National Scenic River. The Committee would review and comment on all new projects proposed within the river corridor, including  bank stabilization associated with the coal ash relocation or removal.

River advocates and elected officials have repeatedly raised their concerns over the past several years. Vistra, the current owner of the coal ash, is, being called upon to do the right thing once again.  The company has adopted an Environmental Principles Policy and has stated a commitment to closing its retiring facilities in a manner that takes into account the impacts on local communities.  We expect them take their environmental policy seriously, and relocate the coal ash from the floodplain to a location on their property far from the river.  Their own documentation shows this is possible, although more costly – in the short run – than ash relocation.

Leaching chemicals and bank erosion next to the coal ash pits on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion. Photo by Pam Richart, EJC
Protect the River with Bank Stabilization
Even if Vistra agrees to move its coal ash from the Middle Fork’s floodplain, river bank stabilization will be required to protect the river while ash is relocated.  Last year, Vistra’s proposal to deposit over 20,000 tons of rock along a 1,900 foot stretch of the river adjoining the two northern pits was withdrawn after massive public resistance and a preliminary determination that the plan would be inconsistent with the river’s designation as a National Scenic River.  Short-term, remedial action is necessary to ensure that the banks do not fail while ash is removed, or during a major storm event.  This is beyond the jurisdiction of the IEPA and federal permitting agencies, so we are calling on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to monitor erosion at critical locations and require protections that will prevent a tragic coal ash spill such as have occurred in other parts of our country.

EJC is regularly in touch with agencies, and will continue to send information as it becomes available. This includes updates on closure; a public hearing; protective, temporary bank stabilization; and the re-establishment of an Advisory Committee for projects planned within the National Scenic River Corridor.

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