DNREC nears decision on Indian River coal ash dump

State awaits report from Center for the Inland Bays
Gregory M. DeCowsky, environmental scientist for DNREC, presents remediation plans for Burton Island. BY MELISSA STEELE
February 25, 2013

State officials are finalizing a remediation plan for a large pile of coal ash stored on Burton Island in Indian River.

Long a target of area environmental groups, the coal-ash dumpsite stands along the Indian River Bay. The Army Corps of Engineers first created Burton Island in the early 1950s with spoils dredged from Indian River Inlet. Delmarva Power & Light later began using the island to dispose of ash from the coal-burning power plant and did so until 1979. Current power company owner, NRG, inherited the dumpsite and has worked with state officials on final remediation efforts that the company says will contain the toxic coal ash and protect area water and air from pollution.

"Certain parts of this site will be monitored in perpetuity," said Gregory M. DeCowsky, environmental scientist with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

DNREC held a hearing Feb. 6 in Millsboro to accept public comment as it prepares to finalize its remediation decision. About 20 people attended.

DNREC favors a solution that calls for covering about two acres of open land on the 96-acre site with daily monitoring of the property. Most of the property is already covered with grass, bushes, trees and other local vegetation – a combination that has anchored the coal ash for decades, DeCowsky said.

DNREC officials say alternative remediation, including trucking the ash elsewhere, could present new dangers.

"There's been minimal ongoing releases even taking into consideration rising sea levels," DeCowsky said.

Still, area environmental groups oppose DNREC's proposal.

Chuck Schonder of the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club said the proposed remediation plan doesn't address the hazardous nature of the landfill.

"The plan does not contain remediation needed to protect the environment for future generations," he said.

Bill Zak, co-founder of Citizens for Clean Power, said waterways are still threatened by coal ash contamination.

"I'm still concerned things will slip through the cracks. The leaching of these chemicals goes on," he said.

The Center for the Inland Bays paid for a study to research the effects of coal ash on area aquatic life but the results are not complete, said Chris Bason, executive director of CIB.

DNREC extended the public comment period to March 29 so the study results can be submitted.

NRG spokesman David Gaier said the $2 million remediation project is preferable to the $300 million estimate DNREC said it would cost to clear the site of all coal ash.

"We really believe this is the best solution for public health and the environment," he said.