It’s third time unlucky for the Plant McManus coal ash pit as yet another tropical cyclone’s turned it back into a pond, forcing another dewatering process on the part of Georgia Power. The Altamaha Riverkeeper conducted a visit to the site via the adjacent marsh Thursday afternoon to assess the situation.
“So, we know they’re going to go under the dewatering process, and then, as you know, excavation is what we want — we want them to excavate all of this,” Riverkeeper Jen Hilburn said. “But, we also need them to be responsible to the community, and they’re not being so. You can put an aqua dam on top of it. If you think of a kid’s swimming pool that you blow up, it’s sort of like a big, long one that you can do along the edges of the pond.”
Georgia Power stated in a Friday response to The News that the company’s removed 95 percent of the ash from the site, with around two acres of the total 82 acres left to excavate, which the company notes are located “farthest away from the waterway.
“Georgia Power’s commitment to protecting water quality of surface waters, such as lakes and rivers, includes comprehensive and customized dewatering processes during ash pond closures,” Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said. “The company’s process treats the water to ensure that it meets the requirements of the plant’s wastewater discharge permits approved by the (state Environmental Protection Division) and is protective of applicable water quality standards.
“With dewatering, treatment system operations and discharges are an on-going process and intermittent in nature due to numerous factors such as weather and rainfall.”
The dewatering process is set to resume this month.
Georgia Power maintains its coal ash ponds are designed and managed to handle severe weather.
“Ash surface impoundments are inspected regularly by professional dam safety engineers,” Kraft said. “In addition to our routine inspections, we work with Georgia EPD and keep them informed before, during and after major storms.
“Georgia Power had personnel on-site leading up to Hurricane Dorian’s approach along the coast making additional hurricane preparations and there was no inundation of the pond. The pond’s integrity and the approximate two acres with remaining ash on site remained intact.”
The company additionally constructed a new berm to “further enclose and protect” the remaining coal ash at the site.
Near the coal ash pond, in the marsh, a peculiar muck floats on the water and coats the abundant spartina. That muck has been of some controversy in recent years. Hilburn and Altamaha Coastkeeper Susan Inman contend it’s not a natural feature of the marsh, and point out its significant concentrations near the coal ash pond. Hilburn said the substance doesn’t behave like regular marsh mud. Inman said the color’s also notably different.
“You’ve been around marsh mud, it’s not this color, it doesn’t hang on to the spartina,” Inman said. “It would actually kill the spartina if it hung around it that often. And also, it doesn’t smell like our stinky marsh mud, healthy marsh mud. It has no stank to it at all — the sulfur isn’t there. It’s all the nutrients that just aren’t there anymore.”
Allegations of wind-blown sediment from the pond into the marsh in 2016 weren’t corroborated by later EPD investigation.
According to that EPD report, “No ash deposits were observed on marsh, dike or causeway vegetation. Neither was ash observed on the surface water. The banks of the tidal creek north of the impoundment did not show any evidence of sediment runoff.”
Hilburn collected a sample of the muck found Thursday and is having it tested for the presence of elements commonly found in coal ash.