A deal between the state and the owner of an abandoned power plant should be good news for all those who value Illinois’ only national scenic river.
It’s been more than 10 years since the old Vermilion Power Station, about 30 miles northeast of C-U, produced any electricity. But it continues to produce pollution, and without some crucial government intervention, it will continue to pollute groundwater for decades.
That’s why a legal agreement reached last week between Texas-based Vistra Energy and the state of Illinois is so important. It says that Vistra will drain three large coal-ash ponds on the power plant site. Vistra owns the property that for years was operated by Illinois Power Co. and a series of successors.
Those coal-ash ponds are unlined and contain 56 years’ worth of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, boron and manganese that are a byproduct of coal-fired power generation that has been slowly leaching into groundwater and the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River.
The Middle Fork is Illinois’ only national scenic river and hosts thousands of canoeists, kayakers and other tourists each year.
What’s most important about the deal is that at first, Vistra had hoped to just cap the coal-ash pits and leave the hazardous slop in place. That was a half-hearted effort that wouldn’t have stopped the slow seepage of chemicals into the Middle Fork and possibly drinking-water sources near the old plant.
The new agreement requires Vistra to drain the three pits, remove and safely dispose of the coal ash and undertake other remediation efforts. More details will be provided at a public hearing later this year.
Vistra acknowledged “the unique nature of the site” in agreeing to remove the coal-ash sludge.
It’s good to see the state of Illinois, in particular the Illinois Pollution Control Board and the state’s Environmental Protection Agency and the attorney general’s office, aggressively acting to protect citizens and natural resources. The Middle Fork agreement could be a template for action at about two dozen other coal-ash sites around the state.