Recently, a constituent contacted Supervisor Principi with questions on the draft DEQ permit for the second phase of Dominion Virginia Power’s closure of coal ash ponds at Possum Point in Dumfries, Virginia. Below are the Supervisor’s responses:
What is the current plan for the Possum Point facility? What is the intended lifespan of this facility? Dominion has proposed that the 5 million tons of coal ash all be moved to Pond D and it be “capped in place.” I am requesting that they perform an alternatives analysis to determine whether capping in place, recycling, or transportation off-site (or some combination) is a more appropriate – safer – alternative. If DEQ approves the cap in place methodology, the coal ash would remain on-site forever. Transporting it off-site also contains significant health and safety risks vis-à-vis groundwater contamination, fly ash, and risks to other communities.
Are hazardous chemical byproducts of coal ash seeping into the groundwater surrounding Possum Point? Coal ash contains heavy metals known to be carcinogens and harmful to human health and the environment. Elements including selenium, chromium, boron, nickel, cadmium, etc. in “parts per million” are present in coal ash. While some organizations assert that groundwater contamination is occurring on-site, we have no evidence to back up their claims. The DEQ draft permit requires Dominion to establish a system of wells to monitor the groundwater on a monthly basis going forward. Should contamination be determined, the permit requires Dominion to take steps to mitigate the pollution.
What is the cost of stopping storage of coal ash at Possum Point, and what is the cost of repairing the coal ash holding ponds to the point that they no longer contaminate groundwater? I’m not certain Dominion knows the answer to this question entirely and they have not shared this with the community. This information would have to be provided to the community if we can get Dominion to agree to the alternatives analysis. With this analysis we can then make sound decisions based on science and costs. One of the requests I have made to Dominion is to share their Emergency Operations Plan in order that the community will better understand the costs associated with a possible catastrophic event (hurricane, slope failure, pipe failure below Pond D. Please be reminded that this permit is the second of two required by the state. The first permit, already approved, regulated Dominion’s “dewatering” of the coal ash – filtering the contaminants out of what will be discharged into the Potomac River. The County sued Dominion and negotiated a settlement that further protected the community and environment.
If coal ash is not to be stored at Possum Point, and Possum Point continues operations, what is the proposed plan for coal ash storage? Please understand that Dominion discontinued the use of coal to generate electricity in 2003. The five ponds of coal ash accumulated for 40 years of using coal at this plant. Dominion now uses natural gas to generate electricity so the plant will continue operations for several years (with or without the coal ash storage on-site). One of the alternatives the community would like Dominion to consider is transporting the coal ash off-site to a landfill that was built to store coal ash, perhaps in another state). To do so, Dominion would either have to ship it by truck, rail, or barge. Given the five ponds spread over 130 acres, this would necessitate several thousand truckloads (on local roads through local communities), fewer rail cars, and even fewer barge shipments. Transportation off-site is not without its risks and is the most expensive alternative.
What is the estimated cost of all of this to the county taxpayer/Dominion utility customer? I have been asking the same questions to Dominion, DEQ, and our own County Attorney. While there is no cost to taxpayers to cap in place (assuming no groundwater, surface water, or fly ash contamination), there would be a cost to assist in the response and recovery to a catastrophic event, e.g., police and fire involvement. I do not know whether and to what extent ratepayers will be absorbing these costs in our monthly bills. I have requested that Dominion consider a “cat” (catastrophe) bond to ensure the financial resources are available immediately if the need arises. The Tennessee Valley Authority spill was 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez and was estimated at $1.3 billion – a figure that even Dominion could not afford in short order.
Please understand that this is a very complicated, costly set of issues presented to our community and we are doing everything possible to ensure Dominion and DEQ will do the right thing. At my urging, the County has hired subject matter experts, outside counsel, and heavily lobbied our state elected officials to oversee DEQ in this process. That said, legislation mandating certain actions by Dominion was just killed earlier this week in the General Assembly. I would encourage you to review the draft permit, which you can find on the DEQ website. We’ve also posted information on NewWoodbridge.org and Dominion has a page on the topic as well.