Coal ash removal from Plant McManus in Brunswick is about 30 percent complete, according to a Georgia Power official.

Georgia Power provided an update on Wednesday regarding its plan to cease operation and stop receiving coal combustion residuals at all 29 of its coal ash ponds, including Plant McManus and Plant McIntosh located Rincon.

Closure at some sites will be complete in three years, others will take longer, said Aaron Mitchell, Georgia Power’s general manager of environmental affairs.

“Both Plants McManus and Plant McIntosh will be excavated,” Mitchell said. “We are 30 percent complete with the excavation of Plant McManus, which is not operational, and will be all done by next year. Plant McIntosh is still in operation and will be converted to dry ash before we begin excavation.”

Jacob Hawkins, a Georgia Power spokesperson explained that managing ash in a dry manner allows for disconnection of the ponds from plant operations so the company can stop receiving ash.

The plan is to completely remove the ash from 17 ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers where advanced engineering methods — such as installation of impermeable concrete barriers designed to isolate the closed pond from groundwater — may not be feasible, officials said.

Georgia Power’s remaining 12 ash ponds will be closed in place using advanced engineering methods, officials said.

“Our strategy is going above and beyond what is required,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been working diligently on closure and conversions and have made significant progress.”

Environmental groups have kept a close eye as Georgia Power moves forward with its plan.

The Georgia Water Coalition, a group of more than 230 organizations with the mission of protecting Georgia water resources, feels Georgia Power’s close-in-place strategy does not go far enough and wants the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to not allow the company to use the method.

The group questioned why the power company is not excavating all of its ash ponds.

Hawkins responded saying the close-in-place ponds are unlined and were not required to be lined during the time coal ash was first stored in them. He stressed that concrete barriers will keep the groundwater isolated from the ash pond.

Jeff Cown, land protection branch chief for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, told The News that federal regulations do not require Georgia Power to remove the coal ash and won’t require the company to dig it up.

“We will monitor it, and if a significant release of contaminant occurs, we will then assess it and require a corrective action, which could be asking them to remove it,” Cown said.

According to Hawkins, the decision on which ponds would be excavated and which would be closed with coal ash in them was based on years of analysis by engineers and on the ponds’ locations, geology and rock makeup.

Throughout the closure process, Georgia Power is also monitoring groundwater around all of its ash ponds and reporting the results to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division as well as on the company’s website.

Additionally, more than 500 groundwater monitoring wells will continue to operate even after the ponds are closed, company officials said.

Georgia Power acknowledges that arsenic was found in wells at both Plant McManus and Plant McIntosh.

Cown said Georgia Power notified the EPA of the arsenic as required by state law and that it was the first such discovery. He said it is too early to tell whether there will be consistent levels of the contaminant found elsewhere.

“They have seven more times according to federal regulations, for detection monitoring to see if the contaminant is showing up consistently,” Cown said.

On Wednesday, Mitchell said there hasn’t been much change in the test results and that another recent test showed arsenic at both McIntosh and McManus.

“We do not believe it’s impacting our neighbors,” Mitchell said. “Out of our 236 wells, 219 meet sate groundwater standards.”

As of Wednesday, Georgia Power is reporting complete removal of the ash from three of the 17 ponds located adjacent to lakes or rivers, as well as substantial progress made on three additional ponds that are expected to be fully excavated before the fourth quarter of 2017.

Representatives are also reporting significant construction work completed on five of the 12 ponds to be closed in place, with one pond scheduled for completion this year, one pond in 2017, and the other three to be completed by 2018.

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