Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart had strong words for the state board that gave Virginia Dominion Power its blessing Thursday to move forward with plans to treat and flush about 200 million gallons of coal-ash water into Quantico Creek.
Stewart said he’s “disgusted” by the State Water Control Board’s vote and called Dominion “a horrible corporate citizen.”
“They don’t care about the public or anything other than the bottom line,” Stewart said of Dominion in an interview after the vote. “And they don’t give a damn about polluting the creek and endangering the public health. As a county, our first duty is to protect public safety, and Dominion isn’t doing that, in collusion with the state government.”
Stewart also didn’t mince words about the State Water Control Board, a group of citizens appointed by the governor to ensure the Department of Environmental Quality acts in the public interest.
“It just goes to prove that the state Water Control Board is a toothless organization that essentially just toes the line of the DEQ and Dominion,” he added. “Obviously, they’ve lost their way. Obviously they’re just a rubber stamp for whatever DEQ and Dominion wants.”
While it’s not uncommon for Stewart to pointedly speak his mind, he’s been particularly critical of Dominion Power for this and other recent controversies, including a plan to string a new high-voltage power line through parts of Gainesville and Haymarket to serve a new data center. (Stewart supports the data center but not the proposed route for the power lines, an issue scheduled for state consideration later this year.)
On Tuesday, Stewart announced the Board of Supervisors would hire an outside consultant with expertise on coal ash to advise county leaders on Dominion’s plans to consolidate and clean up five coal-ash ponds at the Dumfries-area Possum Point Power Plant.
Dominion already holds a discharge permit, monitored by DEQ, that allows it to release storm water and industrial wastewater into the creek, under certain regulations. But Dominion needs a modification to that permit to flush an estimated 215 million gallons of water from the toxic coal ash ponds, which is what the State Water Control Board approved Thursday.
Stewart said the supervisors would decide whether the county should take legal action to try to stop the dewatering of the ponds depending on the consultant’s advice.
If the county files an injunction to stop the cleanup, they won’t be alone.
Phil Musegaas, legal director for the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, said the environmental organization plans to appeal the permit and file an injunction to stop the dewatering.
Musegaas said the Potomac Riverkeeper Network will push to have the water treated to “drinking water standards,” which is possible, he said, by using certain technologies. Also, they want the coal ash moved away from the waterfront, preferably to a synthetically lined landfill.
“The main problem here is they are allowing this discharge of all these metals, which at high levels are dangerous to human health,” Musegaas said. “We have no choice now but to seek an appeal to this permit.”
Dominion, meanwhile, maintains that its permit application complies with all state and federal regulations and is “fully protective of human health, water quality and aquatic life in the Potomac and Quantico Creek,” said Cathy Taylor, the utility’s director of electric environmental services.
DEQ staff also recommended approval of the permit, based on its recent revisions, which includes new effluent limits and testing to monitor a “toe drain” beneath pond D, that DEQ officials acknowledged in December has likely been leaking coal ash contaminants into Quantico Creek for decades.
Bryant Thomas, a DEQ water permitting manager who gave an overview of the permit modification to the State Water Control Board, said the permit also contains stricter testing and discharge limits for the dewatering.
Dominion must limit the drawdown to 2.88 million gallons a day and must conduct tests on the nearby waterway three times a week to make sure no pollutants exceed the permit’s limits.
The permit requires Dominion to submit testing results to the DEQ weekly and mandates that the discharge be stopped, and mitigations put in place, if Dominion becomes aware that monitored contaminants exceed the permit’s limits.
Those speaking against the permit included state Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat whose district includes Possum Point; Kevin Brown, mayor of the Town of Quantico; Martin Gary, executive secretary of the Potomac River Fisheries Commission; and representatives from the Sierra Club, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and an open-water swimming group.
All urged the board to delay or deny the permit.
“Once you pump that stuff into the creek… it’s there forever. There’s no turn back on this,” Surovell said. “You all need to consider the concern of the public and give that a lot of weight…. I think the mood of the public is very clear.”
Only one board member voted against approving the permit: Roberta Kellam, of Franktown. She said she’d never heard such strong opposition to a permit application, “particularly from local and state government stakeholders,” in her five years on the board.
Kellam asked if the board could delay the vote to have more time “to address some of these concerns.”
But David Grandis, a representative from the Virginia Attorney General’s office, said the decision to extend the public comment period “rests only with the director” of the DEQ, David Paylor, who does not see a legal reason to do so.
“So the board is not at liberty, at this point, to extend the public comment period or revoke the permit without the applicant’s [Dominion’s] permission,” Grandis added.
Paylor said state law dictates the 90-day public comment period and said it’s the board’s responsibility to make “expeditious decisions.”
Paylor added, however, that the board is free to make their own decision as to whether the permit satisfies state law.
“There is absolutely no rubber-stamping here,” Paylor said. “We will make our recommendation here, but it is up to the board, based on what you’ve heard and read in the public record, whether we’ve adequately satisfied the laws and regulations.”