Bay City Times
Two massive ash landfills that hold the concentrated residue of coal burned at a power plant in Bay County have been leaking toxics to the Saginaw Bay for years.
The Lone Tree Council, a Bay City area environmental group, uncovered the issue while combing through state records on plans for a new 800-megawatt power plant at the Consumers Energy Karn-Weadock facility in Hampton Township.
The group, along with the newly formed Citizens Exploring Clean Energy, is calling for the state Department of Environmental Quality to hold a public meeting to discuss the leakage and related issues with residents.
State regulators acknowledge the landfills have been discharging toxics like arsenic, boron and lithium in excess of state standards meant to protect aquatic organisms, drinking water and public health.
Terry L. Walkington, supervisor of the DEQ Waste and Hazardous Materials Division in Bay City, said the discharges are likely inhibiting the growth and survival of tiny aquatic organisms in "a small area" outside the landfills.
Fish eat those critters as food, and a regulated "hot pond" discharge channel for the Weadock landfill is a popular fishing spot.
But the heavy metals leaking from the landfills aren't bioaccumulative, and don't pose a risk to public health or the water supply, Walkington said.
Consumers Energy officials say they've been working to address the leaking with numerous studies since high concentrations of arsenic were first identified in landfill monitoring wells in 1982.
"It appears that this is an attempt by the Lone Tree Council to deliberately try and scare the public," said Karn-Weadock spokesman Kelly Farr.
Consumers Energy and the DEQ are negotiating a consent agreement to shore up the landfills and set requirements for continued monitoring of the ash piles.
Officials with the utility say they're spending $3 million to install a slurry wall, keyed into underlying clay, to stop a 292-acre Weadock ash landfill from leaking. The company has similar plans to fix a 172-acre Karn ash landfill in coming years.
"We believe we have a good story to tell in that we've taken some proactive measures to address this situation," said Farr.
The company also is spending another $49 million to install a new dry system to dispose of its ash using air and pipes. The residue is now moved through pipes using water.
But members of the Lone Tree Council and Citizens Exploring Clean Energy are concerned that the process for settling the landfill leaching has gone on behind closed doors and point to documents that show the landfills weren't built properly in the first place.
"We are supposed to be excited about an expanded coal-fired complex and we discover that the company has been historically negligent about its wastes," Lone Tree Chairman Terry Miller said in a news release to be issued today.
"Here is one of the two largest utilities in the state showing an incredible level of irresponsibility. How many decades have seen arsenic leaching into the bay, the source of our drinking water?"
DEQ documents show that the two ash landfills were constructed from the 1940s through the 1970s on bay bottomlands and wetland areas.
At the time of construction, the landfills were supposed to be isolated from the bay by clay walls keyed into underlying clay. But the utility didn't create a sealed barrier.
"We weren't able to build it as tight as we wanted to in the first place, so there were some gaps," said Gary Dawson, Consumers' director of environmental services, land and water management in Jackson. more