The Prince William County Board of Supervisors has asked a state regulatory board to deny Dominion Virginia Power permission to treat and flush about 200 million gallons of treated coal-ash water into Quantico Creek.
The Virginia State Water Control Board is set to decide Thursday whether to allow the utility to begin cleaning up its remaining toxic coal-ash ponds at the Possum Point Power Plant in Dumfries by “de-watering” the ponds, or treating and flushing the water into the creek.
In letter sent Monday to Cindy M. Berndt, the water board’s director, the supervisors say they are concerned that Dominion’s draft permit “is not sufficiently protective of our citizens’ health and the environment.”
The letter also says neither Prince William County residents, nor local officials, have had enough time to review and comment on Dominion’s plans.
The letter is the board’s second attempt to keep the permit from moving forward. In December, the supervisors joined other state and regional agencies – including the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission – to ask that Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to extend its 60-day comment period.
But DEQ denied the request, noting that it met legal notification requirements by informing local officials of Dominion’s plans in October and publishing notices in the Washington Times.
Dominion was scheduled to take supervisors and other local elected officials on a private tour of the power plant – and the coal-ash ponds slated for cleanup – Tuesday morning. The tour was not open to the press, according to Chuck Penn, a Dominion spokesman.
In a recent interview, Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, said the board is considering legal action, including filing an injunction, if the water control board approves the permit Thursday.
Principi said he believes the matter is being unduly rushed, especially in light of the recently discovered unpermitted toe-drain that is suspected of leaking toxic chemicals from pond D, one of three coal ash ponds remaining at the site, directly into a marsh that feeds Quantico Creek.
Principi said more testing from contaminants should be done on the creek – and area drinking wells – before allowing Dominion to begin discharging the coal ash water.
(After initially refusing to pay to test private drinking wells for coal-ash related contaminants, the Virginia Department of Health is now contacting residents to provide free testing on a case-by-case basis, a development Principi said was the result of pressure from local officials.)
“We think [Dominion has] been contaminating the water for decades. We’re afraid these ponds have been contaminating the river, the creek and leaking into the groundwater,” Principi said. “Hopefully calmer heads will prevail and there will be more testing of the water, rather than having the permit approved and doing it after the fact.”
But that is exactly what DEQ is proposing in the permit, according to a staff report included in the water board’s meeting agenda. In response to the 425 comments collected by DEQ during its 60-day public comment period – including a hearing in Woodbridge Dec. 8 – DEQ says it will monitor the surface water for coal ash contaminants at least three times a week during the de-watering process and at least once a month in the area around the existing toe drain.
“Discharges from the coal ash ponds have been occurring since the power plant began operation,” the staff comments say. “The draft permit as well as the revised, proposed permit was prepared in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations and policies to maintain the water quality standards applicable to the discharge receiving waters and all applicable beneficial uses.”