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By JACK BRIGHTON

CU-CitizenAccess.org

OAKWOOD — A former Vermilion County coal plant heavily criticized for contaminating groundwater has received a violation notice for alleged contamination of the Middle Fork River.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cited Vistra Energy Corp., formerly known as Dynegy Midwest Generation, for alleged violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act at the Vermilion Power Station near Oakwood.

The notice was sent following an EPA stream survey of the Middle Fork River near three coal-ash ponds owned by Vistra.

The survey found that rock-filled gabions, meant to prevent riverbank erosion under the ash ponds, had been damaged and found downstream or were "completely missing."

The Illinois EPA also found several seeps with "heavily stained reddish-brown discoloration" along the riverbank bordering the Vistra property. The violation notice says the seeps had discharged into the river, staining sediment and rocks, and that "the discharge created offensive conditions in the Middle Fork."

Dynegy merged with Vistra earlier this year. Vistra Energy did not reply to requests for comment.

Sanjay Sofat, chief of the Illinois EPA Bureau of Water, says the seeps may violate state environmental laws.

"We have sent a violation notice to the company in June of 2018 alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the Pollution Control Board regulations. And you may also know that there's a citizen's suit filed in the federal court, and we'll be monitoring that very closely," Sofat said.

Environment groups and Vermilion County officials have raised questions about ongoing contamination from the Vermilion coal ash ponds.

A lawsuit against Vistra was filed in May by the Prairie Rivers Network, claiming toxic chemicals and heavy metals from coal ash are contaminating groundwater and entering the Middle Fork River through the seeps noted by the Illinois EPA.

An earlier violation notice was issued in 2012 to Dynegy for exceeding groundwater quality standards at monitoring wells near the coal ash impoundments.

Water samples at some wells showed concentrations of boron of up to 20 times the allowed level of groundwater standards, and excessive levels of manganese, sulfate and iron, according to the 2012 Illinois EPA notice.

Vistra is preparing a proposal to the Illinois EPA for permanent closure of its Vermilion coal-ash ponds.

"They have to consider all possible remedies," Sofat said. "Then they are supposed to tell us the actual remedy that they've selected."

CU-CitizenAccess.org operates under the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois and focuses on local investigative reporting, with an emphasis on social, justice and economic issues. The project began with funding from the Marajen Stevick Foundation and the UI and a matching grant from the John S. Knight and James L. Knight Foundation.