Chesapeake is concerned. The City Manager indicates that this issue rises from the Dan River spill last February and the city’s action to protect the Elizabeth River is not directed at Dominion. But there’s history there and Dominion has provided no reason to trust its motives.
This isn’t just Chesapeake’s concern. The Elizabeth is really only a tidal estuary that runs to the mouth of the James River on the way to the Chesapeake Bay through Portsmouth and Norfolk. It is about six miles long. The Dan River spill created a 70 mile coating of toxic sludge. So this should have the attention of Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore too. But Chesapeake is center stage because it already knows how difficult it is to force Dominion Power to take responsibility for its mess.
Battlefield Golf Club was built using fly ash. Something the coal power industry has been advertising as a “good thing” in an attempt to rid itself of this pesky poisonous residue of energy production. Maybe if they can just spread all of it thin enough over hill and dale, insert it into concrete, and sweep it into wastewater systems no one will notice the damage. The proper cost of disposal has never been calculated into the cost of energy produced from coal. War on coal? How about coal’s war on the planet?
Now almost five years into litigation over the damage caused during the Battlefield Golf Club construction, only one thing is clear: once any area is contaminated, you have to wait for a proper class to fall victim to the damage before anything can be recovered. That is essentially what is going on with the lawsuits over the golf course. For now the damage has been “limited” to the ground water under the golf course. And since the local residents have been connected to city water on Dominion’s dime, the judge has basically said that they have not been damaged. The Environmental Protection Agency’s findings of that limited damage have actually helped the defendants’ case(s). Residents will have to wait for cancer, birth defects, or however this eventually manifests to demonstrate they have been harmed.
Or, in the case of a tragic event like Duke Energy’s on the Dan, Virginia Beach will have to wait for a complete coating of the beachfront with toxic sludge. Understand that the Elizabeth River can’t absorb much in the way of further pollution should the ash escape the landfill and slurry pit at Dominion’s Chesapeake Energy Center on the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. Since 1983, the Elizabeth has been renowned as one of the most polluted rivers on the United States east coast. There are sediment “toxic hot spots” like the 35-acre biological dead-zone at Money Point where the bed is covered almost with almost 5 feet of sludge.
Dominion is on course to decommission the old plant along the Elizabeth River by the end of this year. The ash landfill and pond there containing 973,400 tons of coal ash will be closed “in accordance with state and local regulations,” essentially the same “standards” used to manage the Dan River site. And the Dan River and Battlefield Golf Course situations aren’t isolated cases.
The City of Chesapeake was led to believe that part of the decommissioning process would be the removal of the coal ash. Instead, the company plans to place a cap and sod cover over it. This kind of confusion appears a Dominion tactic. Dominion assured the city months ago not to worry about the fly ash stored there. The company promised to fully address the issue in detailed plans. Chesapeake is still waiting for the detailed plans.
But a new tactic that the city says is not directed at Dominion is being proposed. At the July 22 City Council meeting, city officials will consider stiffer regulations for companies that produce coal-burning waste. These rules would require any company that produces fly ash or other coal-combustion byproducts to obtain a city permit to continue storing the material after production ceases.
This may be the only way to get the coal industry to pass on the real costs of energy from these plants. At least before the damage is done.