Dynegy reaches interim agreement with state, will propose plan to remove coal ash from Middle Fork

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Several environmental groups announced Wednesday that Dynegy Midwest Generation has made a provisional agreement with the State of Illinois to remove the coal ash located along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

A press release from the Prairie Rivers Network, Eco-Justice Collaborative, and Earthjustice says the power company’s plans will be presented to the public by Dec. 17.

The advocacy groups say the agreement requires Dynegy to take steps to protect the river in the meantime while the closure plan is developed. Those extra measures include preparing a Safety Emergency Response Plan — which entails building a groundwater collection trench to keep polluted water from leaving the site — and plans to dewater the coal ash impoundments.

Additionally, Dynegy will have to inspect the river monthly for bank erosion in case emergency stabilization work is needed.

The release adds that Dynegy will have to get approval from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency before the ponds are dewatered and the trench is constructed. Environmental advocates say that will allow for public input to make sure the river and the community are fully protected by the measures.

“For decades, coal ash was dumped irresponsibly into unlined ponds at the Vermilion Power Station where a “toxic soup” including arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and sulfate has leached into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion and surrounding groundwater,” says the release. “Concentrations of boron and sulfate – primary indicators of coal ash contamination – were repeatedly found in groundwater at the site above levels deemed safe by Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA.”

Eco-Justice Collaborative and Prairie Rivers Network says they’ve been working for years to bring attention to the “damaging pollution and grave threat” that the ash ponds present. These hazards have also emphasized the the need to remove the coal ash out the floodplain, the release says.

Earthjustice says they filed two lawsuits that are still pending, on behalf of Prairive Rivers Network. One is in federal court and the other was filed before the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

The advocates say these lawsuits demand that Dynegy comply with environmental laws and stop polluting Illinois’ only National Scenic River.

“Without the relentless advocacy of these groups, Illinois EPA may never have taken action to protect the river and stop the pollution,” says the release.

The advocates say Dynegy was found to be in violation of IEPA rules in 2018 for pollution caused by the coal ash.

“That violation was referred to the Illinois Attorney General in May 2019, leading to today’s agreement.”

Prairie Rivers Network’s statement

“This interim agreement between Dynegy and the State of Illinois is a good step towards protecting the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River from Dynegy’s coal ash pits,” says Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “The bottom line is that Dynegy must propose a plan that removes the coal ash from the river’s floodplain. We will need to take a close look at many steps of the process, including a number of interim protective measures that Dynegy is required to propose.”

Earthjustice’s statement

“I am glad to see the Illinois EPA calling on Dynegy to finally remove its toxic coal ash from the banks of the Middle Fork,” says Jenny Cassel, Senior Attorney at Earthjustice. “We look forward to engaging in the process set out in the Coal Ash Pollution Protection Act to ensure community members’ voices are heard and the river restored to its scenic glory and preserved for future generations.” 

Eco-Justice Collaborative’s statement

“The Interim Order announced today is a significant milestone in the long campaign to clean up the coal ash on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Our work now will be to ensure that the terms of the order are carried out in a manner that permanently protects the river and the communities who depend on it. For us, this means removing the coal ash and protecting the natural integrity of the river,” says Lan Richart, Co-Director of Eco-Justice Collaborative.

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