A series of speakers at a public hearing Wednesday night urged state regulators to stiffen requirements for Dominion Virginia Power to dump treated coal ash wastewater into the James River from its Chesterfield Power Station near Dutch Gap.
Critics said Dominion shouldn't be allowed to endanger groundwater, local watersports enthusiasts or the rare Atlantic Sturgeon that's making a comeback in its native waters of the James.
Speakers also urged that Dominion be required to dig up its coal ash from Chesterfield, its largest coal-fired power plant, and remove it to properly sealed landfills away from the James floodplain. They said this could easily be done by rail, which is how Dominion brought coal to the plant.
Peter Martin of Hands Across the Lake, a Chesterfield County-based environmental group, said that Dominion has been polluting area waters for years around the power station.
“All of this data shows groundwater movement,” he said, referring to evidence that toxic heavy metals have percolated from coal ash pits into the water below.
Thomas A. Pakurar, another Hands Across the Lake member and a retired chemical engineer, said that the technical basis for the permit standards are years old and don’t reflect new technology.
Jamie Brunkow, Lower James riverkeeper, said that water now leaving the plant site can be much warmer than water in the James. He noted that Atlantic Sturgeon, a once plentiful fish that was hurt by centuries of man-made pollution, finally seems to be making a comeback.
Dominion official Cathy Taylor said that standards at Chesterfield will be tight and that her firm has invested $1 billion in environmental improvements there over the years.
Dominion plans to dewater polluted liquids from 13.4 million cubic yards of coal ash at two ponds at its Chesterfield plant about 15 miles south of downtown Richmond. The water will be treated and then pumped into the James River for about a year until the ponds are dried.
Dominion plans to seal the tops of the ponds and leave them there permanently while monitoring ground and surface water for high levels of dangerous pollutants such as arsenic and hexavalent chromium.
Dominion has come under fire in court for alleged pollution at its Chesapeake Energy Center. The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has sued in federal court saying that arsenic has leached into the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.
The Sierra Club is pushing for Dominion to remove both water and coal ash from its ponds and transport them to inland landfills that are fully lined. Dominion says doing so would be too expensive.
A decision in the case is expected soon.
The comments came at the hearing at Thomas Dale High School, which lasted about an hour.
Several State Police and Chesterfield County police officers maintained guard at the doors.
Nearby was a joke exhibit of two gallon jugs of water, dubbed “Coal Aid,” which was said to be the handiwork of Dominion chief Thomas Farrell and DEQ boss David Paylor. The stand offered free drinks of water supposedly cleaned under the standards of Dominion’s proposed permit.
The permit will be decided by the State Water Control Board at a meeting in late September.