SPRINGFIELD – The state's Middle Fork and Kickapoo nature areas will soon be connected as part of a federal air pollution settlement involving millions of dollars and more than 1,000 acres of land in Vermilion County.
Under the agreement released Monday, Dynegy Midwest Generation will pay a $9 million civil penalty and spend $15 million in projects – including the Vermilion County land – to compensate for unlawful emissions from five coal-fired power plants.
The closest of them is the Vermilion Generating Station in Oakwood.
Middle Fork Wildlife Area and Kickapoo State Recreation Area just west of Danville would be one "superpark" in about a year, said Tom Flattery, director of realty development at the state Department of Natural Resources.
He said the land amounted to 1,135 acres along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River between the two areas. Kickapoo now has 2,800 acres; the Middle Fork wildlife area consists of 2,700 acres of grass, forest and cropland.
The Middle Fork is designated a National Scenic River, north of Interstate 74.
The Vermilion County land has an estimated worth as high as $3 million, Flattery said.
"We don't know yet whether the full park will be called Middle Fork or Kickapoo," he said.
In the settlement, Dynegy agreed with allegations cited in the Clean Air Act case that Illinois Power, now AmerenIP, and Dynegy as its successor, violated the Clean Air Act at the Baldwin Power Generating Station in Baldwin. The case was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state.
The Justice Department noted it was joined in the case by a coalition of citizen groups, including Prairie Rivers Network.
"In addition to providing significant air quality improvements for the Metro East area of the state, this settlement will have an impact on Illinois' rivers, lakes and streams by reducing mercury pollution from (the) Vermilion power plant," said Jean Flemma, executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network, a statewide river conservation group based in Champaign. "We are also very pleased that a large amount of land along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River will be preserved for future generations to enjoy."
She said the land will provide wildlife habitat as well as recreational opportunities along the river.
AmerenIP spokesman Leigh Morris said the settlement has nothing to do with his company and it will not affect the company or its customers. Ameren bought Illinois Power from Dynegy in a deal that was cleared by regulators last year, but Dynegy still owns the power plants cited in the settlement.
EPA officials added that the settlement will relieve AmerenIP of any civil liability under the Clean Air Act and related federal and Illinois regulations for Baldwin and other plants.
David Byford of Dynegy in Houston said "the agreement is good for everybody."
Dynegy agrees to reduce emissions at five coal-powered plants: the Oakwood plant, the Baldwin station; Havana Generating Station in Havana, Ill.; Hennepin Generating Station in Hennepin; and the Wood River Generating Station in Alton.
"We will reduce emissions, which is very doable through installation of some proven technologies," Byford said.
In 1999, the Baldwin plant was putting out about 245,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and 55,000 tons of nitrogen oxide a year. Since then, Dynegy has reduced sulfur dioxide emissions at the plant by more than 90 percent by conversion to a cleaner, low sulfur coal, and cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 65 percent through better emission control equipment, the EPA said.
In coming years, Byford said adding $500 million worth of pollution control technology, such as scrubbers and baghouses, would further reduce those gases at all five plants, as well as reducing particulate matter, or soot.
This will reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions from Dynegy's Illinois coal-fired plants by 54,000 tons a year.
The settlement is under the auspices of the federal court in East St. Louis, which is seeking public comment.
You can reach News-Gazette staff writer Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at email@example.com.