Will Tanners Creek Fly Ash Stay Or Go? Revised Closure Plan Doesn’t Satisfy Environmental Watchdog

The coal fly ash in the ground at Tanners Creek would continue to threaten Aurora Utilities and LMS Conservancy drinking water wells if the ash ponds are allowed to be capped in place.

A map of the ash pond complex at the former Tanners Creek Power Plant site in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Image by Tanners Creek Development LLC. 

(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - Revised plans for dealing with coal fly ash landfills at the former Tanners Creek Power Plant site in Lawrenceburg are under review by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Property owner Tanners Creek Development LLC submitted to IDEM in March a revised closure plan for an area designated the Fly Ash Pond, as well as a new groundwater monitoring plan for the area known as the Main Ash Pond.

Nothing in the revisions changes the Hoosier Environmental Council’s view that closing the ash ponds in place is the highest-risk plan for dealing with the millions of tons of toxic coal combustion residual which piled up from six decades of the Tanners Creek Power Plant generating electricity.

Groundwater contamination from the ash threatens nearby drinking water wells utilized by Aurora Utilities and Lawrenceburg-Manchester-Sparta Conservancy.

As we mentioned at the Town Hall event in Lawrenceburg, we have seen no evidence that the (drinking water) wells are contaminated at this time,” says Tim Maloney, HEC’s senior policy director. “Yet if closed in place, the ash ponds will continue to affect the underlying groundwater indefinitely, and well beyond the 30-year post closure care period required by the federal rules and state guidance.”

Eagle Country 99.3 contacted Commercial Development Company, of which Tanners Creek Development LLC is a subsidiary, seeking comment on the revised FAP closure plan and MAP groundwater monitoring plans. The company did not respond.


Reviewing The Revised Fly Ash Pond Closure Plan

The company’s fourth revision of the FAP closure plan (PDF) was prepared in response to an IDEM request for more information on multiple points in an earlier version of the plan. It makes changes to the groundwater monitoring plan and a report on subsurface data.

Yet, the most recent FAP closure plan still seeks to cap the ash pond right where it sits today.

According to Tanners Creek Development’s revised FAP closure plan submitted to IDEM, “The infiltration of liquids into the ash is minimized through the installation of a modern closure cap system that will cover all the ash materials and will extend beyond the lateral extent of the subsurface liner system of the Fly Ash Pond.”

The ash pond is equipped with a PVC liner at the bottom of the fly ash. A similar plastic liner would be placed above the fly ash and covered with soil and cover vegetation to encase the fly ash inside. Surface water controls would also be installed.

The company estimates the cost of the FAP closure, which it hopes to complete by early 2020 if the plan is approved by IDEM, at $7.1 million.

However, sampling of groundwater from the monitoring wells around the ash impoundment has already indicated the presence of contaminants in the groundwater. Detected contaminants include arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, cadmium, lead, manganese, lithium, selenium, and molybdenum, according to the ATC Group Services Phase II Subsurface Investigation Report.

The ATC report was completed for Ports of Indiana, which has a purchase agreement in place for the property eyed as the potential home of a new, inland port on the Ohio River. Just as IDEM inspectors observed at the site last fall when it issued violations to Tanners Creek Development, the ATC report details large amounts of fly ash deposited in unpermitted areas of the Tanners Creek property.

The coal ash had been open dumped there for years prior to Tanners Creek Development purchasing the property in 2016, after the power plant was decommissioned. 

Read the 237-page ATC Group Services Phase II Subsurface Investigation Report here (PDF).


Increased Groundwater Monitoring Planned At The Main Ash Pond

The revised Main Ash Pond groundwater plan (PDF) submitted last month is a piece of the MAP closure plan. The MAP area is unlined with ash already being saturated by groundwater, according to multiple analyses of the site.

In the new, proposed groundwater plan, Tanners Creek Development proposes adding more monitoring wells around the site in order to collect more data over a two-year period. Samples would be taken quarterly, according to a correspondence sent to IDEM from Patrick Kennedy, an engineer for EnviroAnalytics Group.

“A site characterization report will be submitted after the groundwater monitoring wells have been installed and a report will besubmitted after the completion of each groundwater sampling event,” Kennedy wrote to IDEM.

The results of the two years of water testing will be used in reviewing the MAP closure plan, which may yet change before IDEM allows it to be put into action.

EnviroAnalytics Group is another subsidiary of Commercial Development Company.


Environmental Group Would Rather See “Clean Closure”

Maloney says the Hoosier Environmental Council maintains that the FAP, MAP, and unpermitted ash areas should be excavated and relocated to a safer, more modern landfill. IDEM should reject any plans to close in place, he says. 

Other states are increasingly requiring the method called “clean closure.”

“Virginia just passed a new law requiring clean closure at coal ash sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed in that state. Duke Energy -- which has leaking coal ash ponds at four of its Indiana power plants -- has now been required to excavate the ash at all of its North Carolina sites. Georgia Power is excavating ash at 19 of its sites. And Indiana's NIPSCO, which operates power plants in northern Indiana, has announced it will clean up all of its coal ash ponds and move the ash to a re-engineered landfill at its Schahfer power plant,” Maloney says.

He is hopeful IDEM will require the same at Tanners Creek. Federal rules on coal combustion residuals do not allow closure in place if fly ash continues to be in contact with groundwater. 

“If Indiana fails to adopt a similar rigorous approach to cleaning up the leaking coal ash sites in the state, it will mean that we don't value our water resources and drinking water supplies very highly.”

The Hoosier Environmental Council is conducting a more thorough review of the updated proposals for fly ash at Tanners Creek. Formal comments will likely be submitted by HEC when IDEM opens its public comment period.

Last month, a geoscientist hired by Lawrenceburg Municipal Utilities shared findings that underground water movement in the area brings water to LMU’s drinking water wells from the north, safely away from the Tanners Creek fly ash areas.

Although LMU customers’ water may not be at a high risk, the geoscientist’s report did not look as closely at groundwater flow toward the Aurora Utilities and LMS Conservancy wells, which are located much closer to the Tanners Creek ash landfills. Other reports tracking the groundwater flow at Tanners Creek show water for those wells flow directly from beneath the ash ponds.


Geoscientist Hired By City Utility Finds No Fly Ash Risk To Lawrenceburg Water Supply

Hoosier Environmental Council Updates Citizens On Findings At Tanners Creek, And It Isn't Good

IDEM Finds Large Amounts Of Fly Ash In Unpermitted Areas Of Tanners Creek Plant Site

Ports Of Indiana, Tanners Creek Development Extend Purchase Agreement

IDEM: Lawrenceburg Ash Pond Closure Plan On Hold As Federal Cases Linger

Public Hearing For Tanners Creek Ash Pond Closure Plan Could Happen Oct. 11

Environmental Groups Urge IDEM To Deny Revised Fly Ash Pond Closure Plan

Tanners Creek Development, IDEM Answer Citizens On Fly Ash, Groundwater

After Out-Of-State Fly Ash Halted, Questions Over What's Already In The Ground At Tanners Creek

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