Environmental groups and state and local officials are sounding alarms about a Dominion Virginia Power plan to clean up coal-ash ponds at the Dumfries Possum Point Power Plant in a manner they say could put groundwater and the Potomac River at risk of contamination from toxic chemicals.
The Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Sierra Club, Prince William Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, and Senator-Elect Scott Surovell, D-36th, are protesting the plan and calling on residents to do the same at a public hearing Tuesday evening.
The event will be held at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Northern Virginia Regional Office, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge. The office near the U.S. Post Office off Prince William Parkway.
An informational meeting will begin at 6 p.m. with the hearing following at 7 p.m.
Dominion is seeking a DEQ permit to “dewater” remaining coal-ash ponds at the Possum Point Power Plant, located on a peninsula between Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.
Dominion now burns natural gas and oil at the 648-acre power station to make electricity.
But from the late-1940s until 2003, it burned coal. The result was coal ash, a byproduct known to contain a mix of toxic chemicals including lead and arsenic.
Dominion stored the sludgy ash in five different ponds along the banks of the Potomac River. Over the years, the operation accumulated about 4 million cubic yards of ash.
Two of the five ponds have been closed for decades. Dominion buried them with soil, and now trees and brush grow on land that has since been strung with power lines.
Dominion has received a permit to consolidate ash from the remaining ponds and is now seeking permission to treat and drain the water – tens of millions of gallons – into Quantico Creek, which drains into the Potomac River.
Dominion says its plan complies with standards set by the DEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residuals rules.
But Principi and others say the rules are not stringent enough and allow contaminant limits “far higher” than permitted in other states.
“The technology exists to greatly reduce the level of contaminants in coal ash water, beyond what this proposal offers,” Principi said in a recent statement. The DEQ “must demand that Dominion meet the limits being used in dewatering projects in other states.”
Principi also recently tasked county public works staff with looking into the process and reporting back on any concerns they might have about threats to the Potomac River.
On its website, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network says it’s “gearing up to fight Dominion’s latest effort to avoid cleaning up its coal ash mess” at the power plant.
The Riverkeepers charge that the DEQ permit application fails to include any limits on dangerous metals discharged into the river and “completely ignores the impact this massive discharge may have on Quantico Creek, a critical spawning area for striped bass and catfish.”
The Riverkeepers have been monitoring the water that is already draining into the creek, via toe drains at the ponds. They are calling for tests of water drawn from local residents’ wells to find out if the chemicals have already leeched into the groundwater.
The DEQ is accepting written comments on the permit application until Dec. 14. They can be sent to Susan Mackert, 13901 Crown Court, Woodbridge, VA 22191.
“Emptying of pollutants into Quantico Creek and ultimately the Potomac River would be detrimental to tourism, economic development and the health of residents and visitors,” said Principi. “We owe it to future generations to hold Dominion to the standards demanded by other states.”