DNREC officials discuss plan for ash landfill cleanup

The Citizens Advisory Council to the Center for Inland Bays heard from DNREC representatives at their April meeting about the remedial plan of action at Burton’s Island landfill near Indian River.

The Burton’s Island landfill is not in use anymore as an active landfill, but NRG does operate a Phase I landfill for current coal fly ash waste and has just been permitted a Phase II landfill for coal fly ash.

Last May, citizens heard the plan of action for the site, where coal fly ash from the Indian River Power Plant was disposed for many years. The plan pertained only to the areas designated as Operable Units 1 and 3, because of the magnitude of the total area needing to be studied. OU1 is the shoreline; OU2 is the landfill/disposal area itself, and OU3 is offshore, the sub-tidal sediments and the waters outside of the footprint of the erosion control project.

In 2005, a DNREC employee noticed erosion at the site, which sent the remedial plan of action into swing. DNREC obtained sediment and soil samples at the site that they found to be contaminated with hazardous metals above acceptable risk standards.

DNREC notified the current owner, Indian River Power LLC, an affiliate of NRG Energy, of those test results, and they entered into a voluntary cleanup agreement with DNREC’s Division of Air & Waste Management, Site Investigation and Restoration Branch (SIRB) to address the contamination. That agreement led to the drafting of the plan.

Construction of the interim erosion control (on OU1 and OU3) should be complete in about another month. Greg DeCowsky of DNREC’s SIRB said they plan on meeting with NRG at the end of May to start the next round of field work. OU2, or the “meat of the project,” the actual ash pile itself, consisting of an unlined area of 144 acres of coal fly ash, is the next area to be studied.

“The remedial investigation on OU2 has begun,” said DeCowsky.

He also said a Natural Resource Damage Assessment will be done in parallel with the remedial investigation to determine loss of habitat, injury to fish, diminished quality of fisheries and other outdoor pursuits, loss of shoreline habitat, affect on groundwater, injury to terrestrial wildlife, potential loss of upland habitats due to its construction. He explained that that means when lost productivity of wetlands of fisheries has happened, there is a “debt owed to the area.”

“We have jurisdiction to go after the responsible party for restoration of resources,” he explained. “Not just the principal but also the interest.”

He added that that can mean companies either participating in restoration projects or “giving us the money to do it.”

Slough’s Gut, a 24-acre marsh enhancement project at James Farm Ecological Preserve, was the last step in a NRDA stemming from a 2000 fuel spill at the Indian River Power Plant (then owned by Delmarva Power).

When asked if Delmarva Power, the original owner of the plant, would be held accountable if any damages were found, DeCowsky answered, “If I have anything to say about it, they will.”

NRG brought the plant in 2001 and, after the erosion was found in 2005, entered into the voluntary agreement to participate in the remedial plan of action to clean-up the erosion and further study the site. “Delmarva Power has not been actively pursued basically as a courtesy to NRG,” said DeCowsky.

CAC Chair Ron Wuslich asked what would happen to responsibility if Exalon purchased NRG, as on Oct. 19, 2008, Exelon offered to acquire all of NRG’s outstanding common stock in an all-stock transaction. (The combined company would be the largest U.S. power company, according to Exalon.)

“[Exalon] said they would sell Delaware assets within six months,” to which DeCowsky quipped, “They are not going to be able to sell within six months,” but did allude to the fact that a takeover could change things. “So far NRG has showed good faith in the voluntary agreement,” he said. “We may take a different approach with Exalon.”

He added that their investigation’s objective is to find out everything they can about the ash pile and how it affects the quality of the ecosystem. “OU2 is the meat of the investigation. We are going to study groundwater, wind dispersion, impact on wildlife — anything we can think of.”

When asked by Harry Haon of the CAC if DNREC had the authority to mandate action based on their findings, DeCowsky said yes.

“We do have the authority to do that and to collect monies. And the Natural Resource Damage Assesment is an area where we do anticipate actively going after Delmarva Power.”

After the remedial investigation, DNREC’s SIRB will do a feasibility study to determine the best course of action. After that, they would suggest a remedial plan of action where they look at many aspects such as short- and long-term effectiveness, technical practicability, a detailed analysis of remedial alternatives, and community acceptance.

DeCowsky estimated the remedial investigation to last one to two years and at least another year for the feasibility study before a plan of action is proposed.