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News & Events

In The News

EPA coal ash standards a setback for environmental groups
12-20-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Dylan Lovan, Travis Loller and Dina Cappiello, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Six years ago, there was a massive spill of coal ash sludge in Tennessee. Three years later, tons of coal ash swept into Lake Michigan. Last February, there was another spill and gray sludge spewed into the Dan River in North Carolina.

With each disaster, environmentalists sounded alarms and called for the byproduct of burning coal to be treated as hazardous waste. On Friday, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first standards for the coal-burning waste, but they were hardly what environmental groups were hoping for.

The EPA ruled that the ash can be treated like regular garbage, meaning regulating the stuff will be left up to states and watchful citizens.

"We had to go to court to force EPA to issue this first-ever coal ash rule, and unfortunately, we will be back in court to force coal plants to clean up their ash dumps and start disposing of their toxic waste safely," said EarthJustice attorney Lisa Evans.

Added Scott Slesinger of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "Unlike the majority of environmental standards — which are backstopped by federal enforcement — this rule all but leaves people who live near coal ash dumps to fend for themselves." read more


EPA won't regulate coal ash as hazardous waste
12-19-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Bruce Henderson
The first federal rules on coal ash from power plants, released Friday, set the bar generally lower than North Carolina did in responding to Duke Energy's February spill into the Dan River.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it will regulate coal ash as solid waste, such as municipal garbage, instead of as a hazardous waste. Ash contains elements that can be toxic in water.
That decision leaves it to utilities to comply with the new federal rule, without federal enforcement. States can adopt similar standards if they choose, but enforcement is otherwise left to citizens by filing lawsuits.

"It's good that EPA is setting the first national standards for groundwater monitoring and cleanups," said Eric Schaeffer, a former EPA enforcement chief now at the Environmental Integrity Project. "But we're concerned that it relies too much on industry self-policing."

Industry groups praised the federal decision, saying the designation as non-hazardous would continue to make ash available for reuse in products such as concrete. Environmental advocates said EPA missed a chance to rein in a waste that's known to contaminate water.

The federal rule requires groundwater monitoring and says contaminating ash ponds have to be closed. It sets design, siting and inspection standards for ash ponds or landfills, including protective liners for new ones.

North Carolina's law, which took effect in September, bans new ash ponds and closes existing ones over 15 years. It expands groundwater monitoring, already underway, that has found contamination at each of Duke's 14 North Carolina power plants.

Unlike the EPA rule, the state doesn't allow inactive ash ponds to be capped without further study of their environmental impacts.

Industry practices and some state standards already eclipse the EPA in some ways, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has filed citizen lawsuits against Duke.

"This is not the industry standard, but the industry minimum," Holleman said of the federal rule.
read more


Northern Indiana Residents Will Appeal DNR Dam Repair Order
10-15-14 | Indiana Public Media | By Gretchen Frazee
A group of northern Indiana residents plans to appeal a Department of Natural Resources order that requires them to begin repairs on six dams in their neighborhood by the end of the month.

The residents of Hidden Hills in Miami County have consulted engineers who say repairing the dams would cost a quarter of a million dollars per dam.

That cost would be shared among 20 residents and the Miami County government.

The ongoing battle has lasted more than nine months.

Larry West, a Hidden Hills resident and Miami County commissioner, argues the dams are the DNR's responsibility.

He says the law the DNR is citing was created several years after the dams were built. read more


DNR: Fix dams or face $10,000 a day fines
10-13-14 | Kokomo Tribune | By Carson Gerber
PERU – The owners of six deteriorating dams in a housing addition near Peru could face fines up to $10,000 a day if they don't take steps to fix the dams by the end of the month.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources sent letters to four residents who own portions of the dams located in the Hidden Hills subdivision on Oct. 1 saying they have failed to maintain the structures and keep them in safe condition.

The letter was also sent to the Miami County Board of Commissioners, which maintains roads on some of the dams.

The DNR said owners and the county now have 30 days to hire a certified engineer to inspect the structures. The engineer must then either submit a plan to fix the dams or a plan to remove the water and decommission them.

If they don't, the county and owners face a civil penalty that state code says could be up to $10,000 every day they fail to take action.

In its most recent letter, the department said it appears the dams were not properly constructed to safely impound water and are being eroded.

The dams were built to turn the natural gullies in the area into man-made lakes before the Hidden Hills housing edition was put in. The oldest dam was built more than 20 years ago.

Larry West, a Miami County commissioner and an owner of a portion of one of the dams, said the inspection of the structures by a certified engineer will cost $5,000 per dam.

He said an engineer's estimate indicated it could cost around $1.5 million to fix them.

Phil Bloom, communications director for the IDNR, said in a previous interview the department's main goal in requiring owners to fix the dams is protecting homeowners who might be harmed if the dams were to fail.

"This is about safety," he said, "That's the department's sole concern for the present condition of the dams and the future integrity of these structures with respect to their potential impact to downstream lives and property." read more


Lake homeowners face $1.5 million dam-repairs bill
7-24-14 | Associated Press, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
PERU, Ind. – A state agency has told homeowners in a northern Indiana subdivision that they are responsible for an estimated $1.5 million in repairs needed for six dams on their neighborhood's lakes.

Some of the approximately 20 property owners in the Hidden Hills neighborhood just outside Peru are fighting that decision, maintaining the dams are too small to fall under the jurisdiction of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Kokomo Tribune reported ( ).

The DNR said the dams built to create lakes for the neighborhood were never permitted or inspected, and their failure could pose serious danger to homes downstream.

Larry West, a Miami County commissioner who is among the property owners, said three engineers hired by neighborhood residents estimated it would cost $250,000 for each structure to be brought up to DNR standards.

The owners also would have to pay $5,000 per dam every two years to pay for annual inspections required by the state agency.

But West said he has yet to see any kind of report that officially documents the dams meet the conditions laid out in state law. Instead, he said it's been left up to the landowners to fact-check the DNR's assertions.

"It seems to me they would present a more factual case," he said. "They should do these studies. Instead, they're condemning us as guilty before there's even been a trial."

Department spokesman Phil Bloom said staffers have measured the dams with a light-laser mapping system and determined all six are tall enough to give the agency jurisdiction over them.

Bloom said the DNR wants to avoid taking legal action and find a way to help the property owners pay for repairs and maintenance.

"We prefer they spend that money fixing the problem instead of tying it up in legal proceedings," he said. read more


Peru Residents Still Fighting DNR's Dam Assessment
7-1-14 | Indiana Public Media | By Will Healey
Residents of Peru are fighting against the Department of Natural Resources, which is ordering them to pay thousands of dollars for dam repairs.

Larry West says the six Hidden Hills dams don't meet the requirements needed to fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources.

Neighbors in a Peru subdivision are still fighting the Department of Natural Resource's assessment that six dams in their neighborhood fall under state jurisdiction.

The DNR told residents in September that the dams need thousands of dollars worth of repairs to bring them up to code, and owners with dams on their properties had to pay for the upgrades.

Hidden Hills resident and Miami County Commissioner Larry West formed a steering committee of residents that hired legal counsel to dispute the DNR's claim. West owns a portion of one of the dams and says that based on the statute in question, the dams don't fall under the DNR's jurisdiction and therefore aren't subject to agency regulations.

"We hired an attorney to interpret the statute, and look at the data on the lakes and dams, and his interpretation is the same as mine as far as the statutes," West said.

The criteria for a dam to be exempt from DNR jurisdiction are if the dam has a drainage area of not more than one square mile; does not exceed more than twenty feet in height; does not impound a volume of more than 100 acre feet of water; and is built for the sole purpose of erosion control, watering livestock, recreation or providing a haven or refuge for future wildlife.

DNR Water Division Assistant Director Kenneth Smith says he has reached out to the Hidden Hills residents, but has no comment because he has yet to hear back from them.  West provided WFIU with an email he sent to Smith with his findings dated June 29. read more


UE engineering students win Southern Illinois dam project award
6-16-14 | Evansville Courier & Press | By Len Wells
A group of Civil Engineering Students from the University of Evansville are winners of a national prize for their design work on a Southern Illinois reservoir and dam project.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying named the team as one of only six colleges nationally to receive the NCEES Engineering Award for Connecting Professional Practice and Education. For its entry, the UE senior design team worked with faculty and parks department officials from Fairfield, Illinois, and licensed professional engineers on a project to rebuild the city's Lakeside Park reservoir and dam.

The lake had been used for recreational purposes by local residents, but the deteriorating earthen dam was declared unsafe in 2007 by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The dam was breached and the lake drained. read more


DNR teams find body of missing teenager
6-8-14 | Fox 59 WXIN-TV, Indianapolis
EDINBURGH, Ind. (June 8, 2014) — Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials say they have found the body of 17-year-old Jason Moran who's been missing in the Big Blue River. Moran was found Sunday morning just after 10 at the base of the  Edinburgh Dam. Waters had receded enough for divers to safely attempt a search of the area just below the dam.
Moran has been missing since Friday after jumping into the water to save his friend. read more


Water search continues for missing Franklin student
6-7-14 | Indianapolis Star | By Jeff Swiatek
More than two dozen rescue personnel have spent all day searching the Blue River below a low-head dam near Edinburgh, looking for a missing 17-year-old Franklin student.

Despite the search above and below the dam, there are still no signs of the missing teen, said Jet Quillen, public information officer for Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Two of the missing student's friends, meanwhile, were still in critical condition in Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis as of 9:15 p.m., after they were pulled unconscious from the river Friday.

The incident began Friday afternoon when five teenagers, all friends at Franklin High School, were swimming about 20 yards upriver from the dam and one got swept over into the turbulent "boil" below the concrete structure, Quillen said.

The water below the 50-yard-wide dam is 10 to 14 feet deep and is swollen by recent rains, the DNR spokesman said. But even in low water, it's a dangerous spot to swim because of the lowhead dam, he said.

"This area is probably about the worst place you can go swimming. We call low-head dams drowning machines," he said, because the water just below the dam circulates and traps any objects caught in the turbulence. read more


Duke discloses eight more corrugated metal pipes at coal-ash plants
3-5-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Craig Jarvis
Duke Energy has found eight more corrugated metal pipes at its power plants, after telling state regulators that the pipe that collapsed at its Dan River facility in early February was the only one made of the weaker material.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials said Wednesday that the utility informed them of the additional pipes on Friday. Previously, Duke Energy had said the 48-inch concrete and corrugated metal pipe that collapsed beneath the Dan River facility's coal ash pond was the only one.

In response, DENR on Wednesday demanded the utility come up with a schedule within 10 days to inspect the insides of all of its pipes – beginning with the ones made of corrugated metal – and provide those videos to regulators. Priority should be given to the Cliffside plant in Rutherford County, where state inspectors found a leaking corrugated metal pipe last weekend.

In addition, DENR will conduct detailed inspections of all 14 of the company's coal ash plants next week. The agency is also asking the company to provide engineering and emergency action plans and maps for all of the facilities. read more


Lack of coal-waste oversight is under fire after giant spill
2-26-14 | Raleigh News & Observer | By Sean Cockerham, McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A massive North Carolina coal waste spill into a major river is increasing pressure on the Obama administration to start policing the more than 1,000 such waste storage sites across the nation.
The federal government doesn't regulate the disposal of "coal ash," the dustlike material that's left over when pulverized coal is burned to fuel electrical power plants. Pennsylvania leads the nation in coal ash production, followed by Texas, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

Coal ash can contain toxic materials such as arsenic and selenium, but the Environmental Protection Agency has left it to the states to decide what rules to put in place. The result has been an inconsistent patchwork of regulations that the EPA acknowledges is full of gaps.

The agency promises to come out with long-delayed rules by the end of the year, but it's likely to leave the enforcement in the hands of the states. read more


Indiana coal ash pond has buried stormwater pipe, too
2-5-14 | Louisville Courier-Journal Kentuckiana-Green Blog | By James Bruggers
It doesn't sound like a great idea, anyway, building a big settling pond to hold coal combustion wastes on top of a large stormwater drain.

But in north-central North Carolina, at a Duke Energy power plant, that is what happened. And on Sunday, the 48-inch diameter pipe broke and spilled  24 million to 27 million gallons of ashy water with up to 82,000 tons of coal into the Dan River near Eden. When the pipe broke, it was sort of like removing the stopper in a bath tub, although one filled with toxic coal ash.

In some news of special interest to Hoosiers, Duke officials told me today that there is a similarly designed and constructed coal ash pond with a large stormwater line running underneath it at one of its power plants in Indiana. It's at the company's Wabash River Station in Vigo County, near Terre Haute.

Both plants are decades old. The North Carolina plant is already shut down, and the Wabash River Station, with units built in the 1950s and 1960s, is getting out of the pulverized coal business. read more


Company plans to restore Williams Dam in Lawrence County as hydroelectric generator
12-13-13 | Indiana Economic Digest | By Krystal Shelter, Bedford, Indian Times-Mail
WILLIAMS — After a 60-year hiatus, hydroelectric power may again be generated at Williams Dam. Free Flow Power Corp. of Boston announced Thursday it plans to construct a 4-megawatt "run-of-the-river" power facility at the dam after it receives the necessary license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission next month.
FFP is in discussions with potential customers for long-term purchase contracts for the power, which it plans to begin generating in mid-2016.

"As fossil fuels face greater regulatory burdens, we are compelled to tap into renewable, green energy sources that are as old as Earth itself," said Robert Crear, chairman of FFP development and member of the FFP board. "Hydroelectric power produces no emissions, respects wildlife and does not interfere with the current route of the river."

During a press conference in Bedford, Crear explained it has taken FFP three years to get to the point where the company could report its plans to build the $12 million facility. read more


Avon homeowners in search of an out after DNR declares dam unsafe
10-20-13 | Indianapolis Star | By Stephanie Wang
By now, Avon homeowner Paul Walthers just wants out.

The state's Department of Natural Resources has cited him and another homeowner with a violation on a 75-year-old privately owned dam on Forest Lake. The "high-hazard" dam, officials say, is unsafe and unauthorized — and has been a concern for years.

Whether the homeowners fix the dam or drain it, the DNR wants them to hire an engineer to oversee the work, which Walthers estimates could cost a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars.

"I just don't like it," said Walthers, 82, who recently put his house up for sale, "because I can't beat 'em."
The dam in southwest Avon has an inadequate spillway, an unstable embankment and deficient structure maintenance, according to a letter the DNR sent to Walthers.

The department also noted the lack of a permit or plans for the dam to show it was properly designed. Walthers says that's because the dam was built long before the permit process was in place. The Forest Lake dam was last inspected by the state in 2000 and rated overall "conditionally poor."

After that, the law changed to require dam owners to hire engineers to perform high-hazard inspections every two years. But the DNR says the Forest Lake dam owners never filed inspection reports. read more


Holding Our Breath: Waiting for the Federal Government to Recognize Coal Ash as a Hazardous Waste
2012 | John Marshall Law Review, Vol. 45, Issue 4 | By Blake Korb
Each year, the nation's coal-fired power plants generate more than 140 million tons of residual waste known as coal ash. Coal ash is a toxic sludge comprised of carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals such as arsenic, lead, hexavalant chromium, cadium and mercury. Coal ash waste poses health risks to humans and threatens to destroy the environment. Coal ash is stored in over a thousand wet ash ponds and dry ash landfills in nearly every state. Despite its dangerous toxicity, however, most ponds and landfills are unstable, and most states do not have regulations prepared to keep the toxic coal ash safely out of air and drinking water. Thus, we wait for federal regulation of coal ash that will adequately protect public health and the environment.

To address these issues, Part II of this Comment discusses the components of coal ash and details its adverse effects on public health and the environment. Additionally, this section illustrates the added harms coal ash causes during coal ash leaks and spills. Part III then analyzes the different coal ash regulations currently enforced by states attempting to alleviate the hazards of coal ash, and explains why these efforts fail. Part III also stresses why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, which necessitates federal regulation. Finally, Part IV advocates that the regulation option that classifies coal ash as a hazardous waste should be enacted. read more


Repairs being made to Indiana dam
12-14-11 | Fox19-TV, Cincinnati
LAWRENCEBURG, IN - An Indiana town watches as a damaged dam gets an overhaul.

The dam that holds back Hidden Valley Lake in Lawrenceburg began showing signs of slippage last week, and forced officials to take action quickly in order to repair it. Hidden Valley has approximately 1,800 homes and 5,300 residents who depend on the road that runs out of the subdivision.

Damage reports have been sent to state officials in both Indiana and Ohio who are keeping a close watch on the progress to repair the dam. However, engineers say there is no immediate danger to the residents of the subdivision.

Bruce Keller, the community manager at Hidden Valley Lake, says an engineer was on sight within 45 minutes of someone noticing that something didn't look right on the hill, and State of Indiana officials were notified within the hour.

"Our dam is considered to be very sound. So whenever we have even the slightest problem it's just prudent for us to go ahead and fix it right away," he said.

Built in 1973, the dam at Hidden Valley Lake holds back more than 2 billion gallons of water when full.
Officials say the record rainfall in the Tri-State caused the slippage in the dam. read more


Dam Shame: Indiana regulators forget the lessons of the TVA coal ash disaster in Tennessee
3-3-11 | | By John Blair from EarthJustice blog by Lisa Evans
If you live in Indiana, it's best not to live below one of the state's 53 coal ash dams.

The state's laissez-fare attitude toward these deadly structures has created a potentially disastrous public hazard. Recent dam breaks in Indianapolis should have sounded the alarm, but apparently it takes more than 30 million gallons of toxic waste to get the state's attention. Even a failing report card last month from EPA inspectors hardly raised an eyebrow.  The colossal collapse in 2008 of TVA's high hazard dam in Harriman, Tennessee is apparently a distant memory in the Hoosier State.

But forgetting this lesson may place thousands in harm's way.

Last spring, the EPA conducted 69 inspections of coal ash surface impoundments (ponds) at 20 power plants across the country, including ponds at six Indiana plants.   The EPA inspectors gave a "poor" rating to 35 ponds– more than half of the ponds inspected  Most notable was that 24 of the "poor" rated ponds (two-thirds of the total) were found at just four Indiana power plants.  These 24 ponds include 6 high hazard dams, 15 significant hazard dams and 3 low hazard dams. read more


Community Comment: Utilities, state have failed to protect public from coal ash
9-26-10 | Evansville Courier & Press | By Don Mottley
In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency warned utility and coal industries about the handling and disposal of coal ash. It said if the industries did not "adopt a safer approach (to their handling of the disposal of coal ash) within a reasonable amount of time or if EPA identified additional risks to public health," it would have to consider adopting enforceable regulations of coal ash.

Now, 10 years later, the number of EPA "damage cases" has increased from six to 67. Studies released in February and August identify 70 additional coal ash dump sites that are contaminating drinking or surface water bringing the total number of damage sites to date to 137 in 35 states. Eighty percent of all sites that have been investigated show evidence of damage. And hundreds more sites have yet to be investigated.

According to the National Academy of Science, coal ash contains numerous metals and substances with hazardous characteristics, including arsenic, lead, selenium, mercury, chlorides and sulfates. These pollutants are known to cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and learning disabilities of which children and the elderly are particularly susceptible.

Coal ash has decimated aquatic and amphibian populations by causing developmental problems such as fish with severe spinal deformities and has damaged bird populations by damaging eggs and embryos. Coal ash has been associated with the deaths of animals drinking contaminated water and breathing fugitive dust.

It is clear that utilities and state regulators have failed to protect Hoosiers from the toxics associated with coal ash.
Indiana has 10 damage sites including "proven damage sites" at the Town of Pines in northwest Indiana (a Superfund site) and Duke Energy's Gibson Power Plant because coal ash has poisoned residents' drinking water wells and forced the removal of several tons of fish from the pond Duke used as an impoundment.

American Electric Power's Tanners Creek Power Plant was declared a "high hazard site" meaning a collapse of their pond impoundment like the one at Harriston, Tenn., in 2008 would likely result in deaths. There are reports of dust problems from dry landfills. read more