Dominion coal ash ponds

Dominion coal ash ponds at Possum Point. By Roger Snyder/For

Prince William County is lawyering up for a potential fight against Virginia Dominion Power’s controversial plan to treat and flush more than 200 million gallons of toxic coal-ash water into Quantico Creek.

During their meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to spend up to $40,000 for a consultant and outside lawyer to help county staff analyze the details of the permit modification approved by the Virginia State Water Control Board Jan. 14.

The permit allows the utility to continue cleaning up five coal ash ponds at the Dumfries-area Possum Point Power Plant, located on the peninsula between the Potomac River and Quantico Creek, by treating and discharging up to 2.8 million gallons of coal ash water into the creek per day when the dewatering begins.

Prince William County Attorney Michelle Robl said the county has until Feb. 16 to file its intent to appeal the permit with the Prince William County Circuit Court.

Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, said the supervisors hope to hire outside counsel as soon as possible so they can decide at their next meeting, Feb. 9 whether to take legal action.

Principi said the board would also invite a representative from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to the meeting to give a presentation on the permit and Dominion’s plans to close its coal ash ponds.

If Prince William officials appeal the permit, they would be essentially be suing the DEQ, the state agency that oversees the State Water Control Board. Robl said the county has not taken any similar action against a state agency in recent memory.

Dominion’s plan has come under fire by environmental groups as well as state and local officials, who say the permit’s limits on various coal-ash pollutants – including arsenic, lead, copper and chromium – are too high. As an example, the level of arsenic allowed in the discharge is 15 times what is allowed in North Carolina, according to lawyers with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network.

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to make electricity, which took place at Possum Point Power Plant from its construction in 1948 until 2003. Dominion has been storing coal ash in holding ponds located around Possum Point and three other coal-burning plants around the state.

On Jan. 14, the State Water Control Board approved permits allowing Dominion to discharge coal ash water into Quantico Creek, a tributary to the Potomac River, from Possum Point Power Plant, and into the James River from the Bremo Power Plant. A petition protesting both permits has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures in recent days.

Coal ash was unregulated until the 2014 Dan River spill, when a pipe under a coal ash pond at a Duke Energy plant broke, releasing 39,000 tons of coal ash and 24 million gallons of untreated coal ash water into the Dan River near Eden, N.C. Duke Energy pleaded guilty to several criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act in connection with the spill.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, was sharply critical of the state water board’s decision last week and called Dominion “a horrible corporate citizen” for moving forward with the dewatering plans despite widespread concern.

Dominion disputes Stewart’s charge and says its plan fully complies with state and federal rules under the EPA’s rules for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals. Pam Faggert, Dominion Virginia Power’s vice president and chief environmental officer, said it would likely be “a period of months” before the dewatering process begins.

Dominion must first submit engineering plans for treating the coal ash water to DEQ staff for their review and approval.

“It would be our intent, after we receive the permit, to submit the engineering plans promptly,” Faggert said.

The utility has already moved coal ash and water from four ponds at Possum Point to a fifth pond, known as Pond D, which has a clay liner. Dominion will need a separate solid waste permit to close Pond D, which the utility plans to do by sealing it with a synthetic liner and topping it with 24 inches of dirt. The entire cleanup is expected to take about three years.


(11) comments

frank papcin

how can they clean that up?---to be safe to mix with water people use for recreation or anything else--watering the food we eat?--the water we swim in?--the fish that swims in it and we catch & eat?


I think the idea that our local waterways are suppose to be used for recreation or fishing died with the birth of capitalism. The bottom line is more important than the fundamentals of life because, you know, we have investors to keep happy.
Check out the impaired waterways layer. Once you see the state of our water resources take a look at where people like Michael Burry and T. Boone Pickens are putting their bets.

"Fundamentally, I started looking at investments in water about 15 years ago. Fresh, clean water cannot be taken for granted. And it is not — water is political, and litigious. "

Drink up while you can!


Just curious, what happens to those lined ponds when they encounter natural disasters like a hurricane or earthquake. Are the linings gonna hold up or just complicate an already messy situation?

Paul Miller

It's just coal ash. The reason its kept in open pools is because it is relatively harmless - actually the coal ash isn't harmful at all as far as I know, but those ponds tend to collect low concentrations of toxic metals, too, which is why regulations exist to monitor nearby well water.



Relatively speaking, would you drink the coal ash water being as it isn't harmful?

The combustion process creates all sorts of fun stuff, hence the reason the DEQ regulates your vehicle exhaust in this area. Same kind of crap happens with coal combustion, but the scope of this waste is much larger, the money involved much greater, and our lovely agencies who are suppose to be protecting our environmental resources are using semantics to justify why their boss took the bribe. Now some money gets shuffled around to some law firm to make it look like your politicians care, but at the end of the day Dominion has to do something with this waste and as a business trying to maintain profitable sustainability they will seek the options which has the least impact on their business.

Paul Miller

Would I drink it? No, and I wouldn't choose to drink any other stagnant pond water, either. For that matter, I wouldn't choose to drink running water from the Occoquan or Potomac. But I would enter your house (if invited), despite the fact you may have coal-ash in your drywall.

Paul Miller

Aren't half the board members lawyers already? Why do they have to hire another lawyer, just to engage in what probably will be nothing more than tilting at windmills? Seems like a waste of our tax dollars.


Bingo, 9/10 times a for profit law firm is involved the cause has already been lost. Keep making casual observations like that and eventually you will get the game.


The lawsuit sounds a bit political and may be a response to hysteria. This is no Love Canal or Flint, Michigan. There are strict regulations developed by the EPA for the disposal of coal ash. Paul Miller is right; its relatively harmless. If the EPA regulations are followed, the disposal should not be problematic.


Anyone who thinks this release of toxic water is safe is naive. Google "Dan River coal ash pond spill". The whole point is to avoid a Dan River or Flint, Michigan situation. Yes, I know Flint is a different scenario, but the key is we need to act before our water is irreparably damaged. Read up on it and get the facts before you make up your mind. And email the PWC supervisors to let them know you are behind the lawsuit. This is not political. They're looking out for our interests in this case across party lines. We should applaud them.


Lol. Naivety not a problem here. Dan River is exactly one of the reasons the coal ash needs to be handled environmentally responsibly as soon as possible. We don't need to be bogged down in lawsuits waiting for a natural or man made disaster. Forgive me if I withhold my applause.

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