Interim Agreement Reached on Protecting the Middle Fork of the Vermilion
Yesterday, the State of Illinois and Dynegy Midwest Generation reached an interim agreement regarding violations of the Illinois Environmental Protection Act at the Vermilion Power Station. By the agreement, Dynegy will propose plans to remove the coal ash from the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, and those plans will be presented to the public at a meeting on or before December 17, 2021.
The agreement also requires interim measures that will protect the Middle Fork while Dynegy develops a closure plan to remove the coal ash. These measures include the preparation of a Safety Emergency Response Plan, a work plan for constructing a groundwater collection trench to prevent contaminated groundwater from leaving the site, as well as plans for dewatering the coal ash impoundments. Dynegy will be required to conduct monthly inspections of the river bank erosion to anticipate the need for temporary, emergency bank stabilization. Dynegy will need to obtain Illinois Environmental Protection Agency approvals before dewatering and constructing the trench, allowing public input to help ensure those measures best protect the community and the Middle Fork.
For decades, coal ash was dumped irresponsibly into unlined ponds at the Vermilion Power Station where a “toxic soup” including arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and sulfate has leached into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion and surrounding groundwater. Concentrations of boron and sulfate — primary indicators of coal ash contamination — were repeatedly found in groundwater at the site above levels deemed safe by Illinois EPA and U.S. EPA.
For years, Eco-Justice Collaborative and Prairie Rivers Network have called attention to the damaging pollution and grave threat at the site, underscoring the need to move the toxic coal ash out of the floodplain. On behalf of Prairie Rivers Network, Earthjustice brought two still-pending lawsuits — one in federal court, one before the Illinois Pollution Control Board — to demand that Dynegy comply with environmental laws and stop polluting Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Without the relentless advocacy of these groups, Illinois EPA may never have taken action to protect the river and stop the pollution.
The Illinois EPA issued Dynegy a violation notice in 2018 for pollution caused by the coal ash. That violation was referred to the Illinois Attorney General in May 2019, leading to today’s agreement.
“This interim agreement between Dynegy and the State of Illinois is a good step towards protecting the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River from Dynegy’s coal ash pits,” said Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “The bottom line is that Dynegy must propose a plan that removes the coal ash from the river's floodplain. We will need to take a close look at many steps of the process, including a number of interim protective measures that Dynegy is required to propose.”
“I am glad to see the Illinois EPA calling on Dynegy to finally remove its toxic coal ash from the banks of the Middle Fork,” said Jenny Cassel, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “We look forward to engaging in the process set out in the Coal Ash Pollution Protection Act to ensure community members’ voices are heard and the river restored to its scenic glory and preserved for future generations.”
“The Interim Order announced today is a significant milestone in the long campaign to clean up the coal ash on the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River. Our work now will be to ensure that the terms of the order are carried out in a manner that permanently protects the river and the communities who depend on it. For us, this means removing the coal ash and protecting the natural integrity of the river,” said Lan Richart, Co-Director of Eco-Justice Collaborative.
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