Mobile Baykeeper is urging the state’s largest power provider to expand the transparency of its upcoming public meetings on coal ash remediation plans, claiming a lack of notification and concerns about the coronavirus may prevent people from participating.
Alabama Power is expected to hold meetings around the state next week, including one regarding a coal ash pond at Plant Barry in north Mobile County. However, the investor-owned utility only placed notifications of the meetings in local newspaper ads and on a single webpage last month.
The meetings are mandatory as a part of federal guidelines regarding the closure of coal ash ponds nationwide. The pond at Plant Barry is one of the largest in the nation, and Alabama Power has previously announced its intention to cap it in place, rather than remove the ash to an upland lined landfill as some other utilities have chosen to do.
“Alabama Power plans to leave 21 million tons of toxic coal ash — 20 times the volume of the BP oil disaster — by the Mobile River. That is absolutely something the public should be invited to discuss,” Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director Casi Callaway said in a news release this morning. “Hosting this meeting now and giving our communities no real notice is a clear attempt to undermine the public interest. They are preventing Alabama citizens from attending important meetings related to the long-term storage of toxic coal ash.”
Baykeeper is claiming the meetings have been scheduled “with virtually no outreach, no detailed plans for social distancing, and no option for virtual attendance” in an attempt to “suppress turnout.” They are petitioning for Alabama Power to hold the meeting virtually, but if the company moves forward without one Mobile Baykeeper is encouraging the public to take safety precautions but show up.
Alternately, they are urging the company to postpone the meeting and give the public “proper notice.” The nonprofit is also advocating for a town hall format to give people an opportunity to speak and ask questions, with proper social distancing measures, as well as a virtual attendance option and a recording of the meeting for those who can’t attend.
“The law requires these meetings be open to the public for a reason: polluting our waterways puts all of us at risk — our health, our quality of life and our economy,” Callaway said. “Alabamians deserve clean water, and they deserve both a seat at the table and an opportunity to be heard before Alabama Power makes a decision they can’t walk back.”
The meeting for Plant Barry is scheduled for Tuesday, June 30, 5-7 p.m. at Steele Creek Lodge, 368 Juniper Ave., in Satsuma. Others being held around the state include:
• Plant Greene County (Forkland): Monday, June 29, 5-7 p.m. at the Carver Community Center, 720 Greensboro St. Eutaw, Alabama, 35462.
• Plant Gaston (Wilsonville): Monday, July 6, 5-7 p.m. at the Wilsonville Baptist Church, 9851 S. Main St. Wilsonville, Alabama, 35186.
• Plant Miller (Quinton): Tuesday, July 7, 5-7 p.m. at West Jefferson Town Hall, 7000 West Jefferson Road, Quinton, Alabama, 35130.
• Plant Gorgas (Parrish): Wednesday, July 1, 5-7 p.m., at Alabama Power’s HVAC Training Center, 3711 Industrial Court Jasper, Alabama 35501.
In a statement to Lagniappe, Alabama Power said the meeting in Satsuma is the only one scheduled by the company regarding Plant Barry, but “there will be additional opportunities for public involvement and comment through ADEM’s permitting process.”
Corporate Communications Manager Beth Thomas wrote the locations of the meetings were chosen based on their proximity to the plants, and the advertisements appeared “in major and community newspapers” in the vicinity, as well as on the company’s website.
“The public has access to a large volume of information about our closure plans on our public website and can communicate with us in many ways, and does,” she wrote. The meeting will feature “subject matter experts from the company attending who can answer questions from the public.”
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