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Residents: EPD not doing enough to protect Coosa River

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Coosa Valley residents assailed the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in Rome on Wednesday night for not doing enough to protect the Coosa River.

The EPD conducted a public hearing on the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System draft permit for Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond at the Rome-Floyd ECO Center.

About 75 people showed up for the public hearing, the vast majority wanting to see the EPD get even tougher with Georgia Power, which is seeking a renewal of its permit to discharge Plant Hammond’s wastewater into the Coosa River and Smith Cabin Creek.

Ian Karra, a local representative of the Sierra Club, said that failing to limit the discharge of toxic metals related to the dewatering of coal ash ponds until 2023 gives Hammond an extra five years to dump the metals into the Coosa River. He said limits should be imposed and enforced as of November 2018.

Karra said that a cooling tower at Plant Branch — now closed — reduced the temperature of water going back into the river by as much as 20 degrees.

“We believe the Coosa River deserves the same relief from thermal pollution as Lake Sinclair,” he said.

Jeff Larson, EPD assistant branch chief for Watershed Protection and manager of the Wastewater Permitting program, explained there are “substantial changes” in the permit regarding thermal loading and dissolved oxygen. Both changes are more stringent than those contained in the 2004 Total Maximum Daily Load document, he said.

Larson also said there are substantial permit changes specific to coal ash.

Cherokee County, Alabama, Commission Chairman Kirk Day said his county’s concerns center on thermal pollution and its impact on fish mortality. Fishing on Weiss Lake is an economic engine for Cherokee County, he added.

Day said he would be supportive of a plan to require cooling towers for treatment of discharges from the power plant.

Carolyn Landrem, another speaker from Cherokee County, said federal regulations require that limits on the discharge of toxic materials be done as soon as possible — “Yet in the permit the EPD allows Georgia Power nearly six years to comply with these mandatory restrictions.”

Maddie Bess, an environmental science major at Berry College, said she believes the EPD really needs to more seriously address the level of toxins being discharged into the river.

“We talk about selenium, arsenic and cadmium, these are pretty nasty toxins,” she said.

Aaron Mitchell, the general manager for environmental affairs at Georgia Power, said the EPD had made the new draft permit “much more restrictive, expanding monitoring requirements, addressing new federal rules and establishing more rigorous reporting obligations.”

Mitchell said thermal limits for discharges would be based on dynamic conditions in the Coosa River, while at the same time guaranteeing Georgia Power some certainty about operation of the plant.

Mitchell also said that changes related to dewatering of coal ash ponds requires approval from the EPD at least 90-days prior to commencing water removal activities.

“The draft permit requires expanded monitoring of that dewatering discharge as well as monitoring of the river and requires us to report that monitoring data to the EPD on an ongoing basis,” he said.

The data also would be made available to the public on the company’s website, Mitchell said.

Studies of the impact of Plant Hammond discharges on fish and biological diversity are already underway, he said, and would take two to three years to complete.

Additional public comments may be sent to EPDcomments@dnr.state.ga.us (use “NPDES Permit Issuance — Georgia Power — Plant Hammond” in the subject line) or mailed to Georgia EPD, 2 MLK Jr. Drive, Suite 1152E, Atlanta, GA 30334. The deadline to have them considered is Friday.