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Edwards power plant operators want to cap off the site's ash pond. Some activists say that sets up a 'ticking time bomb'

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Sierra Club
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The company running the E.D. Edwards power plant south of Bartonville wants to cap the site's ash pond when the plant closes later this year. That plan is raising concerns from environmental activists.

Vistra Energy's engineering team argues that option makes more sense than building a landfill on-site or transporting toxic coal ash to an offsite landfill. They claim it would take about 13 and a half million miles of truck traffic over the next seven years to shift the contents of the 91-acre ash pond to a Hopedale landfill located 24 miles away.

"We have concluded the closure in place is the most appropriate closure approach, as it offers the most benefits as is certainly articulated in the CAA (Clean Air Act)," said Phil Morris, Vistra's senior director of environmental health and safety. "A closure in place greatly reduces impacts to workers, the local communities, as well as the environment, due to the reduced construction time and activities."

Morris said this also allows for faster development of the 37 megawatt battery energy storage facility Vistra wants to construct on the site after the coal plant's closure.

Residents and activists at a public hearing on the 783-page draft ash pond closure plan expressed concerns about contamination seeping into groundwater from the unlined ash pond, particularly if the Illinois River floods the low-lying area more frequently as climate change warms the environment. Many say they want the ash moved off-site.

"The honorable thing would seem that corporations who have enjoyed over 70 years of profits from these plants would ensure that the future integrity for the public, for those who are least able to afford medical bills and problems for their health, wouldn't have to face a future where there are more risks from this type of heavy metal poisoning and other contamination leaving the site as a ticking time bomb on our riverfront," said Joyce Blumenshine, the secretary of the Heart of Illinois Sierra Club.

Vistra's engineers say they will remove free liquids from the ash waste before closing the pond in place, making it the least risky option for people and the environment.

The company's employees said the ash pond will be protected against 100-year-floods, based on federal rules. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gives a 1% probability for a 100-year-flood to occur on any given year.

Vistra will be required to monitor the groundwater on the Edwards coal plant site for a minimum of 30 years, or longer if it isn't meeting environmental standards by then.

High levels of boron and sulfate on the ash pond site, per a groundwater analysis. High boron concentrations can negatively impact both agriculture and animal health, including humans.

Vistra representatives declined to speak with a WCBU reporter following Wednesday's public hearing in Peoria. All inquires were directed to a corporate spokesperson.

The closure plan will be submitted to the Illinois EPA by July 1. A federal Clean Air Act settlement requires Vistra Energy to cease coal-burning power production at the E.D. Edwards plant by the end of this year.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.