Skip to comments.Conservationists' lawsuit targets Conway's Grainger Steam Plant
Posted on 06/15/2012 12:35:54 PM PDT by Coffee... Black... No Sugar
Conservationists' lawsuit targets Conway's Grainger Steam Plant
By KATHY ROPP
Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to force Santee Cooper to move two ash coal impoundments away from Conways Grainger Steam Plant and to clean up the contamination along the Waccamaw River that they claim the ash coal has caused.
In the lawsuit, filed this week in Horry County court, the Conservation Groups claim that the impoundments are unlined, so contaminants, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, have been leeching into the Waccamaw River.
According to the lawsuit, tests of wells near the Grainger Plant have shown arsenic levels more than 200 to 300 times higher than the legal limit of 10 parts per billion.
Santee Cooper spokesperson Mollie Gore called the lawsuit a distraction and disruption, and said its possible that concerns about the impoundments will be remedied before the lawsuit can get before a jury.
She is also adamant that no arsenic is getting into the river and that the coal ash is not causing any environmental problems.
Gore said the testing that the environmentalists refer to has been done by Santee Cooper in shallow wells built for the specific purpose of testing. The high arsenic levels were not found in the river, and Santee Cooper officials dont believe any of the arsenic is getting into the river, Gore said.
Quite frankly, we think the lawsuit is disappointing and disruptive because weve been already working with them, and now its going to take some of our resources to focus on this lawsuit, Gore said.
The three groups, the Winyah Rivers Foundation, Inc., commonly referred to as the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the S.C. Coastal Conservation League and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy claim that the pollutants have been draining into the Waccamaw River since at least the 1990s, and that Santee Cooper knew it.
In fact, they claim that in 2009 the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control notified Santee Cooper in writing that it was in violation of the states Pollution Control Act because it did not have a permit to discharge the substances.
The environmentalists say Santee Cooper had a permit, but it expired in 2006, and its officials didnt try to renew it because they had concerns about arsenic limitations.
Gore also disputes this claim, producing a letter to Jay Hudson, manager of Santee Cooper in Moncks Corner, dated March 30, 2006, and signed by Betty Lou Foster, with DHECs National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System administration, which gives Santee Cooper permission to continue operating under its expired permit until a new permit could be issued. Gore called this a common practice.
Gore says there is no reason to get rid of the coal ash because it is contained in fully regulated and permitted situations. Moving it would require digging another impoundment, lining it and then transferring the ash, quantified in the lawsuit as 650,000 tons. All of this would be tremendously expensive, Gore said.
The three Conservation Groups work to keep the Waccamaw River in good shape so people can enjoy hunting, fishing, paddling, swimming and traveling the Waccamaw.
They say that water used for drinking is taken from an area below the steam plant and they believe the ash coal impoundments constitute a very serious issue facing the State, its people, and its environment.
The conservationists have also worked to map out the river, using a Blue Trail, sort of a hiking trail on water, which helps people unfamiliar with the water paddle the area in what they refer to as ecotourism, which they believe is beneficial to businesses and restaurants in the area of the trail, which runs by Downtown Conway.
The Grainger plant is located on the U.S. 501 bypass and at the end of Marina Drive in Conway.
The 46-year-old plant has been facing air quality problems in recent months, and Santee Cooper officials recently decided to idle the plant because bringing the plant up to new federal air standards would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which makes it totally unfeasible.
Santee Cooper would have had to balance those costs, which would have been passed along to customers, with the benefits of having an up-to-date plant, and officials said they couldnt justify it.
Even before officials decided to idle the plant and transfer most of its already-small staff, the plant was running infrequently.
It was activated at peak times, which include the hottest summer days.
The plants staff was cut from about 40 to 20 within the past two to three months. The remaining employees handle building and landscape maintenance and environmental testing.
As early as September of 2011, Santee Coopers vice president of corporate communications Laura Varn, told the Horry Independent that Santee Cooper officials were worried about proposed coal combustion residuals rules that called for coal ash to go into landfills instead of being recycled.
Varn said then that Santee Cooper recycled 90 percent of its ash into cement blocks, concrete, roadbed materials and drywall.
The new rules require power companies to close their service ash impoundments within five years and instead dispose of the ash in a landfill built to accept hazardous waste.
A second proposal required facilities to retrofit impoundment ponds with an additional liner.
Santee Cooper countered then that coal ash isnt hazardous, that South Carolina already has strict regulation on industrial waste landfills and that the new proposals threatened the utilitys recycling program.
The lawsuit claims that the coal ash at Grainger is located in two ponds, one covers 39 acres and the other covers 43 acres, both in wetlands areas adjacent to the river. The impoundments are separated from the river by an earthen dike.
The environmentalists fear that an earthquake would be particularly injurious because it could cause silty soils in the dike to liquefy posing a risk not only to the Waccamaw Watershed, but also the Winyah Bay Watershed, the Conway community, Horry County and South Carolina.
Already, they say, heavy rains partially submerge the dike.
SCPSA (The S.C. Public Service Authority) has never obtained a permit for its arsenic pollution of groundwater and thereby the Waccamaw River at Grainger, and it has never taken steps to end and remediate its arsenic pollution. Instead, it has only monitored the arsenic pollution. Over the years, SCPSAs arsenic pollution at Grainger has continued unabated and, if anything, has increased, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also complains that the public was not given a proper chance to voice its opinions about the ash coal because public hearings that go along with the permitting process were never held.
They want a judge to order Santee Cooper to stop disposing all coal combustion byproducts into the impoundments at Grainger, to use dry disposal of all new coal combustion byproducts in a lined facility out of the floodplain, to monitor it properly, to remove all existing coal combustion byproducts and contaminated soil from the impoundments within a reasonable amount of time and to store them properly, to prevent any more contaminated groundwater from flowing into the Waccamaw, to prevent the coal ash impoundments from leaking, seeping and flowing into the Waccamaw, except any that has been properly permitted and to clean up the groundwater beneath the plant.
The presence of arsenic in the testing wells is not a new issue. In fact, Gore said, Santee Cooper has been working with DHEC and the environmental groups that filed the lawsuit to find out why the arsenic is showing up in the wells and to eliminate it.
According to Gore, a suggested resolution to the situation is scheduled to go to DHEC before the end of the year, sooner than it is likely that the environmentalists case will get to court. However, she said, the distraction of the lawsuit could change the schedule.
Gore wanted to make it clear that Santee Cooper is not trying to get a permit to discharge arsenic into the river.
What we are doing is trying to work out a way to remediate the fact that it is showing up in our shallow well testing she said, adding that all of the testing shows that the issue is confined and isolated.
Two lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center Frank S. Holleman III of Chapel Hill, N.C., and J. Blanding Holman IV of Charleston filed the lawsuit on behalf of the conservation groups.
This power generating facility has been keeping the lights on in Myrtle Beach for decades. It is is perfect working condition and is well kept.
The EPA has promulgated regulations which have choked this functioning operation out of useful life. Now the “conservation” crews are dragging the carcas into the courts to make sure it is never revived.
60-80-100 years ago in this area, the citizens were in awe of the majesty of power in their homes. Isn’t it amaizing that America’s prosperity is so developed and that we are so satisfied with our electric power that we can choose it’s source of generation? And that we can, oh so quickly, turn our backs on a functional facility that was once the beacon of the community.
Trash it. But know that 90% of the rest of the world would love to have it.
This is easy to fix. The power companies should get up and say that they can no longer afford to produce power from coal fired plants because of EPA rules and lawsuits like this. Shut them down and sit back and watch.
Would be a long hot summer with no lights.