Georgians from Valdosta to Rome voiced concerns that if an unlined ash pond at Plant Hammond were left as is, it would set a dangerous precedent for others across the state.
Georgia Power is seeking a permit to cap-in-place Ash Pond 3 at the plant west of Rome in Floyd County. On Tuesday night a virtual public hearing brought dozens of residents from all over the state. They expressed a steady stream of objections to the cap-in-place request for the 25-acre ash pond just to the east of the abandoned power plant.
During the EPD presentation prior to taking comments, a spokesman said that before the closure and construction of a cover over the ash pond in 2018, “stormwater was allowed to infiltrate approximately 50 feet of ash uncontrolled and that groundwater levels in the ash ranged from zero to nine and half feet.”
Coal ash contains traces of toxic chemicals ranging from boron and strontium to cobalt, arsenic, and hexavalent chromium.
A woman identified as Linda Bell said she was a former Rome resident who now lives close to Plant McDonough in Cobb County.
“I think this being the first hearing, it will likely set the precedent for what is designed for Plant McDonough,” Bell said. “I don’t think it’s going too far to say you’re going to set the precedent for all other states, so this is a very important decision.”
Bell and most of the speakers said they want Ash Pond 3 to be completely excavated and the coal ash stored in lined pits a safe distance from the water supply.
Gini Seitz of Juliette, the site of Plant Scherer, called the cap-in-place plan unethical and immoral.
“It is irresponsible for Georgia Power to leave a million tons worth of toxic coal ash submerged 50 feet into the ground forever,” Seitz said.
The ash pond actually contains over a million cubic yards of coal combustion residue.
Chris Bowers with the Southern Environmental Law Center argued that the draft permit contains numerous flaws.
“So-called free liquids must be eliminated within the waste pit, and the waste pit must be closed such that the probability that the future impoundment of water sediment or slurry is precluded,” Bowers said. “Coal ash sitting in an unlined pit beneath the water table renders these standards impossible to meet.”
Ga. Power says it meets all safety standards
Georgia Power Director of Environmental Affairs Aaron Mitchell said the plan to close Ash Pond 3 complies with all federal and state performance standards.
The utility has put 18 monitoring wells in place on site.
“The engineering methods are specific for this pond and are designed for the protection of groundwater during and throughout the closure,” Mitchell said. “The conditions in the permit will require corrective action for the groundwater if needed — and I think it’s important to note that test results from the monitoring performed at Hammond Ash Pond 3 meet the federal primary drinking water standards today.”
Rome resident Shelly Peller wondered how the close-in-place permit is even being debated.
“We need to do everything we can to ensure that our groundwater is safe, that our soil is safe, that our waterways are safe. It doesn’t sound like it’s rocket science,” Peller said. “It’s for those downstream. People talk about environmental migration — there are parts of the country that are losing their water.”
There was no actual debate during the virtual hearing. Georgia EPD personnel made note of the comments and told participants that responses to questions would be responded to in writing and posted online.
Vivian McWilliams alluded to the fact that three other ash ponds at Plant Hammond are being excavated and the ash relocated to other off-site disposal pits.
“What’s the difference with this site?” McWilliams asked.
Former Berry College professor Steven Bell claimed the site should not be called an ash pond but a “toxic mountain.”
Citizens clamor for change of plan
“Everyone deserves access to clean and safe water and there is a cheaper way and a right way. I’m asking you guys to do it the right way,” said Cailie Duvall, a mother of four and resident on Weiss Lake.
The Coosa River flows from its beginning in Rome past Plant Hammond and into Weiss Lake before making its way to the Florida panhandle coast.
“It’s not too late to correct course ... require Georgia Power to excavate AP 3 and move the coal ash to a modern, dry, lined facility with a leachate collection system,” said Coosa River Basin Initiative Director Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman.
Georgia Power’s Mitchell concluded his comments by pledging that the utility is committed to a safe, effective closure of Ash Pond 3.
The Georgia EPD will continue to take written comment on the ash pond closure through Sept. 10. Comments may be made via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.