Jim Hatch and his grandson were in Hatch’s 20-foot boat June 7 on Burnett Creek when they became stranded, stuck in the ashy-colored muck for several hours before the tide rose enough to where they could get loose.
The creek wasn’t like this, he told The News, until Georgia Power undertook the shutdown of Plant McManus and the dewatering of the coal-fired power plant’s coal ash pond.
“We’ve always had a channel at low tide,” Hatch said, adding that the creek shouldn’t add 3-4 feet of silt in roughly a year. He said before this period, it was possible to go through the creek at low tide without much of a problem, but that’s changed. And the docks on his and neighbors’ properties now go down to the muddy bottom.
“Everything from our use and enjoyment to our property values are being affected,” Hatch said.
However, according to emails and records submitted to the state Environmental Protection Division by Georgia Power, the McManus dewatering project fits — with one exception — within the specifications of Georgia Power’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the site.
According to the permit, the limit of total suspended solids in the treated water released from the coal ash pond is 30 milligrams-per-liter — or parts-per-million — on average for the month, and 100 mg/L for an individual day.
Dominic Weatherill, now principal scientist for Georgia Power, was an environmental analyst for the company when he sent an email to EPD on Aug. 22, 2016 advising the agency of topping the maximum suspended solids level.
“I want to inform you of an effluent limit exceedance at Plant McManus,” Weatherill wrote. “We have just received confirmation from our lab that the effluent TSS on Aug. 10, 2016, was 126 mg/L versus the 100 mg/L maximum permit effluent limitation. We are still evaluating the cause of the exceedance, but our initial assessment has concluded that bacteria/algae build-up in the effluent pipe is the reason.”
A letter from Georgia Power to EPD four days later concluded the same.
“A review of the wastewater treatment system and process control data has indicated that bacteria and algae build-up in the effluent line was the cause of the exceedance,” according to the letter. “On Aug. 10, the internal influent and effluent TSS process control data was 19 mg/L influent and 8.5 mg/L effluent prior to final discharge.
“Based on this process control data, the exceedance is clearly related to intermittent operations allowing algae build-up in the effluent line, then resumed discharge causing sloughing of the algae. Cleaning of the discharge line began on Aug. 17 and a procedure for increased inspection and cleaning of the line has been implemented to prevent any recurrences.”
For the most part, testing of the effluent at the site of discharge on Burnett Creek revealed TSS levels below 10 mg/L, until midway through 2017. At that point, TSS levels in double-digits became more the norm than not, in a pattern that continues now, according to statistics supplied by Georgia Power to EPD.
In July 2017, both tests turned up 12 mg/L in the effluent, but that rose to 23 mg/L and 26.5 mg/L in the October 2017 samples, 26.5 mg/L and 29 mg/L in November 2017, and 33.5 mg/L and 14 mg/L in the December 2017 samples.
Through the first part of 2018, those levels dropped, but still show results between 10-15 mg/L. And while these samples show higher levels that before mid-2017, they are still well within the limits specified by the NPDES regulations.
Hatch said the area around the McManus site isn’t properly fenced with protections to prevent sediment runoff into the creek. In June 22, 2016, local environmental advocate James Holland filed a complaint with EPD regarding possible wind-blown sediment leaving the site and entering the marsh at Cow Pen Creek.
A follow-up investigation on July 7, 2016, by Alice Vick of EPD — accompanied by two Georgia Power employees — did not corroborate the allegations.
“There was no visible evidence of sediment leaving the site by either wind or water,” according to the EPD report on the investigation. “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.”
The report concluded, “Sections of the interior of the ash pond were covered with mulch and sprayed with water to control dust. At the time of the visit, adequate measures were in place to prevent off-site movement of ash, dust and sediment.”
Hatch said he would like to see the marsh returned to the condition it was in before activity closing down McManus began.
“It seems they should be responsible for putting this back to the way it was,” he said.