ATSUMA, AL (WAlA) — For decades coal burned for power has piled up in ash ponds like the one at Plant Barry in northern Mobile county.
In recent years significant levels of heavy metals toxic to people and the environment have been found in groundwater at the plant’s ash pond.
The burning question now: what to do with all that waste?
Before the utility can close ponds in Alabama public meetings must be held.
One of those meetings took place in Satsuma Tuesday evening.
Environmental groups like Mobile Baykeeper don’t believe it was publicized as well as it could have been considering how much the issue affects everyone.
Alabama Power says its been very transparent about the plans and had notices in newspapers across the state, making sure to take precautions with COVID-19.
They say having the meeting in person was the best option because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the need to host these meetings as soon as possible.
Alabama Power representatives say because of the nature of the content being discussed having a virtual meeting was not ideal considering all of the information they wanted to show and the open dialogue they wanted people to have with their experts.
As they move to close the ash pond, Alabama Power has two choices given by the government: dig it up and move it to a landfill or leave it in the ground and seal it.
Alabama Power has chosen the latter.
“And we’re actually going above closing in place cause we’ll be consolidating this material farther away from the river, adding a variety of additional protections, monitoring, a cap that seals it from above and at Plant Barry we’re actually tying underneath Plant Barry a clay layer that provides an extra layer of protection,” said Michael Sznajderman.
While they say this is the best, safest option Mobile Baykeeper fears it’s a “disaster waiting to happen.”
“There’s 22 million tons of coal ash behind a dirt dam. If that dam were to fail it’s a release coming straight down the river into Mobile Bay, onto our beaches. The volume is 20 times the size of the BP oil disaster,” said Casi Calloway with Mobile Baykeeper.
Alabama Power says a failure like that is unlikely.
“We have had these coal ash pond structures in place for several decades. We have never had any type of structural failure. They are monitored and inspected on a regular basis to ensure that there is no issue.”
About 100 people showed up to the meeting Tuesday.
More public meetings will be held.
More information on the coal ash closures can be found here.
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