Letter to the Editor | River is facing a serious threat

Letter to the Editor | River is facing a serious threat

The Middle Fork River is Illinois' only National Scenic River. It is threatened by 3.3 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash, deposited by Illinois Power and its successors over 55 years.

The week of Feb. 19, a major storm affected the Middle Fork watershed and significantly rearranged the geography around the coal ash pits.

Vistra-Dynegy, the owner of the coal ash pits, has been prodding the Illinois EPA to approve a closure plan ignoring pollution found by Dynegy's own contractors, cap the ash pits, stabilize eroding riverbanks and leave. Unfortunately, experience shows this river meanders, and some previously stabilized banks have not held up as intended.

This storm scoured the banks, including major stretches along Dynegy's ash pits, bringing water levels in the Middle Fork to the highest they've been in 24 years, and breeching a levee that separated a strip mining lake from the Middle Fork.

Gabions (rock-filled wire cages) along the upstream end of the north ash pit have been ripped from the riverbank and now lie in the river channel. Deteriorated gabions once present in long sections along the old east ash pit no longer exist. Leachate is seen seeping into the river over an increased length of the bank. Recently, the area got another 3 to 5 inches of rain, and it is unclear what additional damage has been done. But the river moves, and it is only a matter of time until the waste is afloat, capped or not.