NRG plans rip rap project for ash landfill area

Indian River Power LLC recently filed a permit application with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) to stabilize 4,863 linear feet of shoreline along Indian River and Island Creek at Burton Island in Millsboro with rip-rap revetment.

The permit includes placement of rock on 5,500 square feet of state-regulated tidal wetlands and creating 11,000 square feet of low marsh tidal wetlands at the east end of Burton Island, at the Indian River Generating Station.

The application was put up for public notice Aug. 20 and people in the community can comment on the project for 20 days after the notice was issued, including requesting a public hearing – which does have to be requested.

Burton Island is an old landfill at which Delmarva Power and Light (former owners of the power plant) disposed of ash along the eastern two-thirds of Burton’s Island from 1957 to 1980.

According to the state, the site’s berms were built from ash and dredge spoils, and any excess water ran into Indian River or Island Creek.

In 1980, a new Phase I landfill began operation and the Burton’s Island disposal ash area was no longer used, but it remains in place. In 2005, a DNREC employee noticed erosion of the shoreline and an investigation started. NRG Energy (the current plant owners) and DNREC negotiated a voluntary cleanup program, which started in the winter of 2008.

This is the second phase of shoreline stabilization at Burton’s Island.

Dave Gaier, spokesperson for NRG said that they completed the first phase of the Burton Island shore stabilization project in 2009, at a cost of about $4 million. He said the phase covered about two-thirds of the island and weathered the November 2009 nor’easters “very well.”

He said the project was identified as an “ideal method to protect the shoreline from erosion” and was developed in close consultation with, and received specific approvals and permits from, DNREC, the EPA (as part of a joint process) and the Army Corps of Engineers, among other agencies.

“Further, DNREC determined this project as permitted would eliminate any exposure to the environment along the shoreline,” he said.

He explained that this final phase is similar in concept to the completed sections and has been submitted to DNREC for approval. Upon approval, construction is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2010.

Gaier added that they plan to complete the project, which will provide a protective barrier around the entire island, by mid-2011. He said they don’t have a final cost yet for that phase, but he said it would be “a significant investment.”

Because some of the rock will replace tidal wetlands, Jim Chaconas – an environmental scientist with the Subaqueous Lands section of DNREC – explained, NRG has agreed to replace the wetlands at a two-to-one ratio (every square foot that is displaced, they will replace with 2 square feet). Chaconas said the displacement is “an unavoidable impact.”

When asked if this were a permanent fix to the erosion at the site’s shoreline, Chaconas said, “It’s pretty big rock out there. It’s relatively permanent.” He also said that, over this past winter, when the weather was quite harsh, they did find erosion in more areas, and “[NRG] took it upon themselves to contact us.”

John Austin, a retired EPA chemist who has been vocal about clean-up efforts regarding Burton’s Island and the groundwater testing in the areas of the Phase I landfill, among other environmental issues concerning area coal-fired plants, said he is “in no way opposed,” to what NRG has proposed.

“It’s a benefit to the environment. And it would keep a storm from greatly dispersing the materials,” said Austin. He did say that a hardened shoreline is not as “friendly” as a natural shoreline, but, he said, “It needs to be stopped until they figure out how to clean it up.”

Austin went on to describe the problems at Burton’s Island as two-fold: Wave action eats away into the shoreline, and, coupled with rising sea levels, allows fly ash to wash out in the waters; the second issue is rainwater that percolates down into the water table with every tidal cycle.

The original investigation into the shoreline erosion called for the Burton’s Island area to be divided into three parts: the shoreline, the actual landfill (ash pile) and subtidal sediments.

This new permit deals only with the shoreline erosion and not the landfill itself, as shoreline erosion was agreed upon by the state, NRG and environmental consultants as the first priority.

Regarding the landfill area, Austin said that a slurry wall would be a solution – albeit a more expensive one – calling it a “quantum step up to stop contaminated groundwater from reaching Island Creek and Indian River.”

Chaconas said that, for erosion control, they believe that rip-rap works better.

Austin also noted that when many people talk about remediation for the ash pile itself, they suggest it simply be carted away, to solve the problem of erosion and exposures to heavy metals once and for all, but cost is an issue.

But, he continued, “They do all of this work to harden the shoreline, and it can all be undone by sea-level rise.”

Austin has also been critical of the state regarding testing for contaminants around the Phase I landfill, another unlined landfill adjacent to Burton’s Island. (A Phase II lined landfill permit was amended in 2008, contested and heard by the Environmental Appeals Board, and ultimately permitted).

Austin added that the fact that the monitoring wells detected contaminants in 2008, and were then re-sampled in 2009 and 2010, should have “tripped the site into RCRA [the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] corrective action under the regulations. The law is quite explicit. It says they ‘must,’ and it never happened.”

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) corrective action gives EPA the authority to control hazardous waste from the “cradle-to-grave,” including the generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. It also sets forth a framework for the management of non-hazardous solid wastes.