Editorial | Ask for hearing on coal-ash pits

Editorial | Ask for hearing on coal-ash pits

For one more week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking comments on a plan by Dynegy Midwest Generation LLC to stabilize the banks of the Middle Fork River near coal-ash pits at its former power plant in Vermilion County. What's needed — and should be requested — is a full public hearing on the plan.

In 2010, Dynegy Midwest Generation LLC announced that it soon would close the Vermilion Power Station, a small coal-fired power plant that had operated, mostly under the old Illinois Power Co., since the mid-1950s. Along with the plant, Dynegy inherited an environmental headache with decades of coal ash, a byproduct of coal burning, that was stored in pits along the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.

Part of what makes this an environmental headache for Dynengy is that the Middle Fork is one of the most pristine rivers in Illinois. And the portion that passes the old power plant, and the ash pits, has been designated a national scenic river. But the coal ash contains a diabolical stew of chemicals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and boron.

Dynegy proposes to protect the coal ash pits from eroding into the river by adding a combination of rock riprap, clean soil and the layering of live brush. The stabilization process would be along about one-third of a mile of the scenic Middle Fork.

But opponents of the plan, which include a number of local governments, individuals, Vermilion Advantage and the Prairie Rivers Network, argue that Dynegy's offer would ruin the scenic value of the river and disrupt the use of the river — a favorite among Midwestern canoeists and kayakers — for up to a year during construction.

Some opponents contend that the best outcome would be for Dyngey to completely remove all of the dangerous ash and ultimately open the site for acquisition and environmental protection.

But first the Corps of Engineers has to act on Dynegy's plan. The agency is accepting comments from the public until Jan. 10. Local leaders are asking for a public hearing in Vermilion County before any decision is made. That's an appropriate request, if for nothing else than to allow the broadest input from the people most affected by any riverbank mitigation effort.

This is no time for a half-hearted response from an absentee landowner and a federal agency on something that has a substantial impact on both the environmental and economic future of Vermilion County. Dynegy's plan should have a full, public and local hearing in Vermilion County.

Public comments should be directed to the following address by Jan. 10: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District; ATTN: Sarah Keller; 8902 Otis Avenue, Suite S106B; Indianapolis, IN 46216.

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