Changes are ahead for coal ash pond dewatering at Plant McManus, but a Tuesday night meeting showed those changes are not yet thorough enough to meet the expectations of local environmental advocates and legislators.
Jeff Larson, manager of the wastewater regulatory program for the state Environmental Protection Division’s Watershed Protection Branch, outlined at the event at Brunswick High School the draft changes to McManus’ “pollution permit,” which would govern testing and handling of coal ash and the dewatering process going forward.
He said essentially that language in the permit would change Georgia Power’s duties from managing a coal ash pond to managing the disposal of coal ash, effectively the last regulations needed at the site since the remaining coal ash is to be excavated and removed.
Further, the updated coal ash dewatering plan Georgia Power would have to submit to EPD would have increased testing of the treated water expelled into Burnett Creek, along with increased testing of the water both upstream and downstream of the outfall pipe.
At present, the creek is tested once a month and the expelled treated water — effluent — twice a month. That would increase to twice a month for the creek and every week for the effluent.
“Under the current design configuration and operation of this system, EPD has evaluated the submitted data that’s coming in, and the data indicates there is no reasonable potential to violate water quality standards,” Larson said.
Several environmental advocates spoke regarding the pending regulations, including Altamaha Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn. Hilburn began by congratulating Georgia Power on working to close its coal ash ponds, with the hope that ash gets excavated and placed into lined and capped facilities away from waterways.
“The newer plan is a lot better than we were seeing before, and as was mentioned, we’ll be looking at testing four times a month, versus twice a month, so we’re excited about that,” Hilburn said. “That’s a move forward. But, we still have some pretty serious concerns. One of those concerns is we really don’t have any exceedance limits. So, yeah, what happens if we find high amounts of arsenic?”
Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Chris Bowers also spoke at the meeting, mentioning arsenic in particular, and how evidence of it in the groundwater near coal ash ponds plummeted once the coal ash was excavated.
“There is nothing in the plan, and there will be nothing in the (pollution) permit that I am aware of — I hope to change that — to have actual limits, so they say, ‘OK, we hit a certain amount of arsenic. Now’s a time to stop and review our treatment systems,’” Hilburn said.
The EPD has yet to finalize its draft permit — hearings like the one Tuesday night are part of that process.
Rainwater and Hurricane Irma-induced marsh flooding inundated the coal ash pond and delayed the dewatering at McManus. Testing and investigations by Georgia Power, which were overseen by EPD, noted no coal ash pollution outside the pond side or off the plant property as a result of the hurricane.