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Central Georgia's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports, and more | Macon, Georgia | 13WMAZ.com

Environmental groups fight Georgia Power coal ash disposal plans

In a letter to the state's EPD, the Southern Environmental Law Center argues that Georgia Power's plan to close its coal ash ponds will not protect groundwater

JULIETTE, Ga. — Environmental agencies have raised concerns with Georgia Power's coal ash ponds at five power plants; including Plant Scherer in Juliette. 

The ponds are used to dispose of coal, but they can contain dangerous chemicals like mercury and even arsenic.

The state Environmental Protection Division routinely monitors them to make sure no toxins seep into groundwater.

The division tightened regulations on the ash ponds a couple years ago, and now Georgia Power has to shut them down for a safer, "dry ash handling."

Robert Theriault enjoys kayaking around Lake Juliette.

"Just to get outdoors, and you know have a healthy outdoor lifestyle," said Theriault.

As far as what's behind the trees, "it provides power for the area that's all I know." He doesn't know much about Georgia Power's Plant Scherer.

However, Georgia environmental groups say they want protect neighbors from its coal ash ponds. 

Coal ash is what's left over after coal burns, and it can contain toxic chemicals.

Jen Hilburn with Altahama Riverkeeper says they have tested wells around the plant.

"When you're finding these heavy metals in your drinking water, it's very easy to make that association and worry about that," said Hilburn. 

That's why she wants to change how Georgia Power closes down those coal ash ponds.

"In essence, what we're looking for is to have all the coal ash dug up, out of these unlined ponds, and put into a lined and caped facility away from our waterways; ideally onsite," said Hilburn. 

In a letter to the state's Environmental Protection Division, the Southern Environmental Law Center argued that Georgia Power's plan to close its coal ash ponds will not protect groundwater.

They say there's evidence that coal ash is currently submerged in groundwater around Scherer.

"As I sit and talk to people, and I see them watch the evaporation of their personal health and their wealth, because they just happen to be situated where a major industrial plant is located," said Hilburn. 

She says they are working to change state regulators' mindset.

Theriault wants to keep enjoying the water. "Everybody wants a safe healthy environment to be in and raise the children in," he said.

The Georgia EPD declined comment for this story.

13WMAZ asked Georgia Power about its coal-ash ponds, and by email, spokesperson Craig Bell sent this statement:

  • Georgia Power is and will remain committed to the open communication and transparency of our ash pond closure plans and groundwater testing results. Our plans have always been, and continue to be, in compliance with all federal and state laws and regulations. The letter issued by the Southern Environmental Law Center to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) contains incorrect assumptions and several critical inaccuracies that mislead the public of our ash pond closure process. 
  • We stand by the data delivered from our approximately 500 groundwater monitoring wells installed around our ash ponds and on-site landfills to actively monitor groundwater quality. Monitoring is being conducted in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. 

Based on the extensive data collected, the company has identified no risk to public health or drinking water, including at Plant Scherer.

Georgia Power Ash Pond Closures:

Georgia Power took early action to quickly and safely begin closing all of its ash ponds. Our multiyear closure strategy is aggressive, and we are making great progress, while remaining committed to working quickly and safely, protecting water quality every step of the way and complying with all state and federal requirements.

We are in the process of completely excavating 19 ash ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers with the remaining 10 being closed in place with site specific plans using advanced engineering methods and closure technologies, such as slurry walls, consolidation of the closure footprint, and expanded cover systems designed to enhance groundwater protection. We’re excavating the ponds nearest waterways where these advanced engineering methods and closure technologies cannot be put in place. 

Each ash pond closure plan considers multiple factors at each site, such as pond size, location, geology and amount of material, and each closure is certified by a team of independent, professional engineers. Ash pond closures are authorized by federal and state law and are designed to be fully protective of human health and the environment.

Since 2016, Georgia Power has installed approximately 500 groundwater monitoring wells around its ash ponds and on-site landfills to actively monitor groundwater quality. Monitoring is being conducted in compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. The company has also engaged independent, third-party contractors for sampling and accredited independent laboratories for analysis. The first round of testing was completed with results published in August 2016, more than 18 months ahead of federal requirements, and the company continues to post testing results on Georgia Power’s website and report them to Georgia EPD.

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