The purchase agreement for the former Tanners Creek Power Plant property was due to expire at the end of June.
Ports of Indiana and Tanners Creek Development have agreed to extend a purchase agreement for the former Tanners Creek Power Plant site for another six month, Governor Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday, June 26, 2019. File photo.
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) – As the environmental remediation of the former Tanners Creek Power Plant in Lawrenceburg continues, plans to redevelop the property into Indiana’s next inland port are again being delayed.
Governor Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that Ports of Indiana and property owner Tanners Creek Development, LLC have again agreed to extend the option “to decide if it will purchase land near Lawrenceburg that could be the site of the state’s fourth port.”
The purchase agreement had been set to expire on June 30, 2019.
This is the second extension of the agreement. Ports of Indiana and Tanners Creek Development, a subsidiary of Commercial Development Company, first signed a $8 million purchase agreement in September 2017. Last November, the two parties agreed to extend it to the middle of 2019.
The latest extension takes the agreement out another six months. According to the governor’s office, the additional time will enable Tanners Creek Development to complete its environmental remediation plan for the site and submit it to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
A fourth port has been pitched as a potential economic boon for southeastern Indiana. Indiana’s three existing ports – two on the Ohio River in Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon, and a third on Lake Michigan at Burns Harbor – contribute over $7.8 billion per year to the state economy and support nearly 60,000 jobs.
Tanners Creek Development’s cleanup ongoing, but what will be sufficient?
Since purchasing the former American Electric Power coal-fired power plant in 2016, Tanners Creek Development has decommissioned and demolished the former power plant building.
However, millions of tons of toxic coal ash – the by-product of coal burning at the power plant over six decades – stored in landfills across the 725-acre site remain a threat to local drinking water. The landfills – some with a protective liner underneath and others without – extend below the groundwater level. IDEM inspectors also observed last year large areas of fly ash in unpermitted and unlined areas of the site.
With harmful ash so close to the aquifer, the situation is a risk to a drinking water source relied upon by many Dearborn County citizens.
The environmental remediation plan the state is waiting for Tanners Creek Development to complete includes official closure of the ash ponds and landfills. But when that status may be granted is difficult to predict.
Tanners Creek Development submitted revised closure plans to IDEM in March still seeking to cap the Fly Ash Pond in place by 2021 at a cost of over $7 million. The revised plan also included a new two-year groundwater monitoring plan for another ash storage area known as the Main Ash Pond.
IDEM’s Office of Land Quality Solid Waste Permits section wrote back to Tanners Creek Development on May 31, requesting additional information on the revised plan within 15 days. No record of a response is on IDEM’s Virtual File Cabinet as of June 26.
As required by IDEM, Tanners Creek Development has continued to monitor the groundwater quality using monitoring wells stationed around the ash landfill. The spring 2019 round of semiannual testing by EnviroAnalytics performed in April and reported to IDEM on June 7 detected “no statistically significant increases” in boron, calcium, molybdenum, potassium, sodium, strontium, and sulfate.
EnviroAnalytics informed IDEM that without any increases, the landfill’s monitoring wells will remain in detection monitoring with the next round of sampling scheduled for October.
The EnviroAnalytics sampling has been watching what was uncovered in a Phase II subsurface investigation by ATC Group Services, a consultant to Ports of Indiana, as it conducts its due diligence on the condition of the property.
The ATC report – briefly published on IDEM’s Virtual File Cabinet late last year then later removed, but not before observers downloaded copies – found water sampling from the monitoring wells indicated the presence of other contaminants including arsenic, barium, chromium, cadmium, lead, manganese, lithium, and selenium.
A geoscientist hired by Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities shared his findings with Lawrenceburg Common Council and citizens in March. Intera Geoscience & Engineering Solutions vice president Dr. Jack Whittman explained that most of the City of Lawrenceburg’s drinking water supply comes from groundwater which flows from the aquifer north of the city. The former power plant site is on the south end of the city.
However, the Intera study did not look as closely at the wellhead for Aurora Utilities and Lawrenceburg-Manchester-Sparta Conservancy District, which are in closer proximity to the ash landfills. Tanners Creek Development consultant EnviroAnalytics Group’s own studies of the groundwater movement shows it flowing from beneath the ash landfills toward the general direction of the Aurora and LMS wells.
Federal EPA, court action may play a role in cleanup timeline
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. ruled last August that that provisions in the Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency coal ash rule needed to be stronger to address contamination. It ordered the agency to stop power plants unlined and clay-lined ponds from receiving waste.
However, the current Trump Administration EPA is in the process of rolling back coal ash regulations.
An ongoing lawsuit from environmental groups could further change the EPA’s coal ash rule.
Environmental watchdog groups watching the Tanners Creek situation, including the Hoosier Environmental Council, have taken the stance that any fly ash in the ground so close to an aquifer is unsafe. The organization is advocating for a plan which would have the fly ash landfills excavated and the material relocated away from a water source.