Resolution expressing fly-ash concerns up for vote tonight

DANVILLE — The Vermilion County Board tonight will consider approving a resolution expressing concern with the storage of fly ash at the former Vermilion Power Station — and its potential threat to the Middle Fork River.

The board will consider the resolution at its meeting at 6 p.m. on the second floor of the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex, 6 N. Vermilion St., Danville

County attorney Bill Donahue said the resolution was crafted in response to Prairie Rivers Network officials' recent presentation about fly ash, a by-product of the coal combustion process, to the county board's health and education committee. He said the committee decided that county officials should draft a resolution on the issue and send it to the full board for possible approval.

Earlier, several local residents voiced their concerns to the board about the fly-ash impoundments, or manmade ponds, that butt up against the Middle Fork.

"No one is against coal," said Donahue, adding that much more is now known about coal ash than when it was first being handled many years ago.

The proposed resolution states that the county recognizes coal as a legitimate energy resource that's played a large part in its economic development. But, the resolution goes on to say, more current research has shown that by-products of coal use, particularly fly ash, have the potential for damage to important resources in Vermilion County, such as the Middle Fork River.

The resolution also expresses concern with the currently proposed plan to deal with the ash.

The Dynegy-owned power plant closed in 2011, but the ponds remain on the property, along with fly ash generated by the facility. Those ponds are failing and releasing harmful pollutants into the nearby river and could fail entirely, according to Prairie Rivers officials.

In July 2012, the state Environmental Protection Agency issued violation notices to Dynegy after it was discovered that two ash ponds were leaking contaminants into the groundwater. Dynegy submitted a corrective-action plan, which would involve closing the ponds by capping them with a "geosynthetic cover" and monitoring groundwater. The state EPA is still considering that plan.

"We certainly feel that's insufficient," said Carrie Otto, grassroots organizer for Prairie Rivers, of the proposal to cap the impoundments.

Prairie Rivers is calling on the power company to move the fly ash out of the existing impoundments and into a newly built high-and-dry containment area that is properly lined to combat seepage and is away from the river and its floodplain. Prairie Rivers also contends that one of the ponds was built over an underground mine, making it more of a risk for failure.

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