Bay Journal

Coal ash storage near the Potomac to be discussed at public meeting

  • By Whitney Pipkin on January 23, 2017
Dominion consolidated coal ash in a single lagoon at its  Possum Point Power Station and drained the water; it now seeks a permit to cover the ash for long-term storage on site.  (Whitney Pipkin)

Coal ash storage at one of Dominion Virginia Power’s plants will be the subject of yet another public meeting on the evening of Jan. 26.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is hosting the meeting at 7 p.m. at Potomac Senior High School in Dumfries to provide information about a proposed permit the company is seeking to permanently store coal ash at its Possum Point power station in Prince William County.

Coal ash-tainted water at the site was the subject of an impassioned public meeting at the end of 2015, when the company first sought updated wastewater discharge permits to drain ponds that were storing the ash into tributaries of the Potomac River. The DEQ and the state water control board granted Dominion the permits it needed to drain those ponds, despite the threat of legal action from environmental groups.

Two lawsuits over permits to Dominion’s plants on the Potomac and the James rivers were dropped after the company agreed to treat the wastewater beyond what the DEQ permit required. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network has continued to oppose the discharge process at Dominion’s Possum Point power station and plans to formally oppose the state’s issuing of the solid waste permit that Dominion is seeking for the site.

The company has consolidated all of the coal ash at the site in one former pond that has been drained in preparation for covering and permanently storing the coal-burning residue in place. Environmental groups have contended that pits storing the ash, which can contain toxic metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, would continue to leach into the groundwater and surface waters surrounding these plants. Periodic water monitoring by the company for 30 years after closure would be required under the draft permit.

The company contends that its plans to store the ash in place would prevent contaminants from leaching and avoid the cost and risks of transporting the ash to an off-site landfill, which environmentalists have floated as an alternative.

Dominion’s plans, which are detailed in its proposed solid waste permit, entail covering the dry ash with synthetic materials intended to keep out water, then topping that with clean dirt and vegetation. The pit at Possum Point has a layer of clay on the bottom, but the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, for one, is concerned that it will not prevent future leaching into groundwater and the contamination of nearby wells used for drinking water.

“As it stands now, we oppose Dominion’s plan to simply cap-in-place all the ash at the site in” a designated pit, Phillip Musegaas, legal director at the network, wrote in an email. “This ash pond has a history of leaking into groundwater and likely into the creek, based on Dominion’s own groundwater sampling. And despite Dominion’s repeated assertions, Pond D does not have an impermeable liner to prevent groundwater from moving through the ash in the pond and offsite.”

Musegaas wrote that his organization would like the see Dominion conduct an analysis of alternatives for permanently disposing of the ash, including excavating and removing the ash to a lined landfill.

Dominion has decided to do that at another of its coal plants, where it also has stored ash in a lagoon. The company said in November that it would no longer drain the storage impoundment at its Chesapeake Energy Center plant on the Elizabeth River but would excavate and transport the ash to a landfill instead.

Dominion spokesman Rob Richardson said at the time that the company is making decisions about permanent coal ash storage on a case-by-case basis based on what makes the most sense for each site. Dominion still plans to store the ash in drained lagoons at both its Possum Point and Bremo Bluff power stations, the latter one west of Richmond on the James River.

The session next week will be the first to provide the public with information about plans for the storage of the ash. The meeting is not part of the required public participation process for the permit but an informational meeting.

It will take place at 7 p.m.  Jan. 26 at Potomac Senior High School at 3401 Panther Pride Drive in Dumfries, VA. In case of inclement weather, the meeting will be moved to Feb. 2 at the same location.

(This post originally misidentified the agency considering a solid waste permit for ash storage at Dominion's Possum Point power plant. It is the state Department of Environmental Quality. Bay Journal regrets the error.)

About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin

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