The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has scheduled a public hearing regarding Alabama Power’s plan to close its Plant Barry coal ash pond, an earthen dam in the floodplain of the Mobile River encapsulating more than 21 million tons of toxic waste.
The hearing will take place Tuesday, March 30 at 6 p.m. at the Hampton Inn in Saraland, but comments may also be submitted in advance by mail or online.
In accordance with coal ash pond closure protocols instituted by the Obama administration in 2015, Alabama Power applied with ADEM to “cap” the pond in place, rather than excavate the ash to an upland, lined landfill. The utility claims the latter method is more expensive and time-consuming, while capping the ash in place is a safe alternative.
Environmental nonprofit organization Mobile Baykeeper has led a campaign against the plan, claiming the waste will remain vulnerable to flooding and breaches, while toxic chemicals will continue to leach from the unlined Plant Barry site into groundwater reservoirs below.
“Alabama Power’s own monitoring at Plant Barry has found numerous illegal and ongoing groundwater violations, including arsenic levels more than 800 percent above the legal limit,” Baykeeper said in a statement. “2020 saw the eighth-highest water levels on record at Plant Barry, and two hurricanes hit coastal Alabama during a hugely active storm season. Leaving the ash on the side of the Mobile River is just too risky.”
More specifically, Alabama Power is proposing to treat and dewater the existing 600-acre pond and consolidate the remaining coal ash into a 267-acre footprint, creating a larger buffer from the river’s edge. Further, the utility proposes to construct a redundant dike system, flood-protection measures, a subsurface retaining wall around the consolidated ash, and internal drainage and stormwater systems. The pond will be capped with a synthetic barrier.
The utility’s closure plans statewide are estimated to cost more than $3 billion as proposed, a cost that has already been passed onto consumers through rate increases. The company is also required to monitor groundwater around the facility for at least 30 years.
Elsewhere in the state, similar hearings were conducted in October and November for Alabama Power’s Plant Miller, Plant Greene County and Plant Gadsden. Those meetings were recorded and are available for review on ADEM’s YouTube channel. A meeting is also planned April 1 for Alabama Power’s Plant Gaston in Shelby County.
ADEM noted all comments submitted during the comment period, including those made at a public hearing, are compiled and a response is drafted to all of the comments. All comments and responses become part of the public record and are available for public review. The completed record is used by the department to make a final permitting decision, which is expected later this year.
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