Full Story: Bay Journal – Article: The coal ash conundrum

When Virginians got wind in December that water from coal ash impoundments was going to be drained into the Potomac and James rivers, the usually lackluster meetings where such decisions are made suddenly became hotbeds of public engagement.

More than 1,000 public comments poured in over a pair of permit changes sought by the utility company, Dominion Virginia Power. The vast majority of them opposed — many vehemently — the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s recommendation that a state board approve permit changes for power stations near Quantico and Charlottesville. The changes would allow Dominion to collectively drain more than 200 million gallons of wastewater from long-standing coal ash ponds into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

But approve the board did, voting 5-1 on each case at a hearing on Jan. 14.

After attending the final hearing, Martin Gary, executive secretary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, wrote in the first of many comments on social media that he found the decision to be “in diametric opposition to [the opinions of] every informed person on this issue.”

“I’m still trying to find someone, anyone who thinks this is the best way forward,” he wrote on Facebook.

Since then, a series of appeals filed by environmental groups, a Virginia county board and the state of Maryland have questioned whether the permits go far enough to protect water quality, human health and aquatic life.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is representing the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and the James River Association in separate appeals over the permits. Virginia’s Prince William County Board of Supervisors has also appealed the permit for the station in its jurisdiction, located where Quantico Creek meets the Potomac River…

It didn’t help Dominion’s case with the public that, the same week the discharge came to light, the company’s Crystal City electric substation was identified as the source of an oil sheen on the Potomac River that killed 21 birds in early February. After initially denying any connection, company spokesman Rob Richardson acknowledged responsibility for contaminating local waters with a mineral oil spill that had occurred a few days before. He pledged Dominion would “move with all due haste to… ensure the remaining cleanup work is done.”

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors pointed to those instances in appealing Dominion’s permits, contending they cast additional doubt on the company’s ability to monitor itself and comply with regulations as it prepares to drain the largest impoundment at its Possum Point facility.

“Given the accelerated timetable to make this happen, we are just not in a position to trust Dominion,” said Frank Principi, Woodbridge supervisor on the board. “Simply because Dominion is complying with state or federal guidelines doesn’t mean that it’s not going to contaminate our river system.”

Full Story: Bay Journal – Article: The coal ash conundrum