A coal ash pond being excavated at a shuttered power plant in Glynn County appears to have flooded during Hurricane Irma, according to a local environmental advocate.

Altamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn, who took a flight over the shuttered facility Sept. 13, said the ponds, which are near the Turtle River and adjacent marshes, looked as if the pond had been washed over by storm surge.

“At the time right before Irma, they had all of the water out of the pond — they did that under their existing (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System), or as I call it, pollution permit, which we’ve never been happy with,” Hilburn said. “So, the pond was empty (of water) and had ash still in it, and they were in the process of excavating that ash and moving it out of there.”

Dewatering of the McManus coal ash pond concluded in March, in which following treatment, water was discharged into Burnett Creek, north of the site.

“The dike that they have (to prevent) the coal ash pond water from entering the marsh — or the waters of the U.S. — is not very high,” Hilburn said. “I don’t know the actual footage of it, but I’ve been next to it multiple times in a kayak, and you can imagine if you could stand up in your kayak you could almost see over it. It’s a very small-elevation dike, and so that storm surge pushed water into the pond.

“Unfortunately, in a storm like that — even in our normal tidal cycles — that’s not just a one-way event. So, the water was covering the pond, I suspect, and the ash was flowing somewhat freely between the pond and the marshes.”

Georgia Power contends nothing of the sort happened, and that the coal ash remaining in the pit did not reach the marsh.

“Based on our inspections during our immediate response at Plant McManus and testing we performed at the site, we found no evidence that any coal ash left the Plant McManus’ ash pond during Hurricane Irma,” Georgia Power spokesman Craig Bell said. “Inspections conducted before and after Irma show that Plant McManus’ dike is intact, that no breaches occurred, and that no conditions exist that pose a threat to dam safety or integrity moving forward.

“These inspections were performed in addition to our routine dam safety inspections that continually document dike integrity. We have provided EPD information on our post-storm inspection as well as our testing information.”

Flooding of the pond would mean a second round of dewatering. Hilburn said Plant Branch in Milledgeville incorporated a stricter dewatering plan regarding heavy metals monitoring included in its new NPDES permit, and she said she would like to see stricter standards worked into the McManus permit, as well.

The McManus permit is up for renewal, and the state Environmental Protection Division received Georgia Power’s draft permit, which would allow the company to discharge 2.88 million gallons per day of “treated low-volume wastes and ash transport water commingled with stormwater” into Burnett Creek.

That is the same as what was included in the November 2016 McManus coal ash pond dewatering plan. A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Brunswick High School auditorium.

The EPD is receiving written comments on the permit through Nov. 10.

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