By: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher and Editor
On Monday June 29, 2020 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, Alabama Power Company held an informational meeting and exhibition on its plans to close and seal a 474 acre coal ash pond, located on its Greene County Steamplant site, near the Town of Forkland in the southern portion of Greene County.
The plant which used to burn coal to generate electricity now uses natural gas for this purpose. The Greene County Steamplant is also the largest property tax payer in Greene County and contributes significantly to education and public service in the county.
Coal ash is a residue of burning coal which contains heavy metals and other pollutants that can wash or leach into the river and groundwater sources of public drinking water for people in Greene, Marengo and surrounding counties.
Under Federal environmental regulations , Alabama Power Company must go through a public meetings and comment process to explain its plans to close and contain the coal ash plants at each of its electrical generating plants in the state. The public meeting in Greene County was one of several scheduled in the next two weeks around the state dealing with closing coal ash ponds at company facilities.
The meeting was set up an an exhibition with five stations where portions of the coal ash closure process were explained and illustrated. There were explanatory panels, maps. charts and actual models of the plans to deal with the coal ash pond closure. Alabama Power engineering, environmental and management staff were available at each station to answer questions.
There was no formal meeting where all attendees sat down for a question and answer session with officials of the company. This reporter is used to attending meetings of that kind where all the participants can learn from the questions and concerns of others. There is an official comment process through the Alabama Power website and the sites of the state and Federal agencies charged with permitting and overseeing the process.
The current 474 acre coal ash pond at the Greene County Steamplant abuts the Black Warrior River and the closure process is designed to prevent runoff and leakage of untreated water into the river and possibly into underground acquirers that provide drinking water for people in the area. The current pond is surrounded by more than twenty wells monitoring water quality. These wells will remain in place after the closure process and monitor for water seepage and runoff.
The plan calls for treating and removing all the existing water from the coal ash pond. As the water is removed the size of the pond will be decreased to 268 acres, almost half the original size. The coal ash will be exacted and moved further from the river to leave a 400 yard buffer from the river waterway. Then the plan calls for constructing a 2.5 mile subsurface wall around the pond. This wall will be two feet thick and 30 feet below the ground. The wall will be tied into the underground natural chalk layer in the area, providing a natural way to seal the materials in place.
The pond will be covered with a specially engineered plastic layer, plastic grass and sand which will help with storm water runoff. Water that does run off will be treated again before release into the river. The sealed pond is rated to withstand a 1,000 year flood, earthquakes and other natural threats.
The coal ash pond closing process is already underway at the Greene County Steamplant and will take five to seven years to complete. There are a number of permits and environmental approvals to secure moving forward. Alabama Power seems very confident in the value and safety of its design and plans.
It was difficult to make an independent judgement on the effectiveness and safety of the Alabama Power plans without extensive engineering and environmental knowledge. The newspaper will seek out these points of view in future articles on this important project impacting the health and economic development of Greene County.
For more information on the project and to make comments go online to: AlabamaPower.com/environmentalmeetings.