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Possum Point decision expected this week; Feds urge delay

A decision could come this week to allow toxic water at Possum Point Power Station near Dumfries to be treated and released into Potomac River.

Virginia’s Water Control Board will meet at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Richmond to review a permit to allow plant owner Dominion Virginia Power to treat and release from coal ash ponds into the river, and Quantico Creek.

Several legislators, and officials from Maryland — the state that owns the Potomac River — urge to Control Board to allow for more time to review the proposal.

Dominion seeks to consolidate the contents of five coal ash ponds at Possum Point into one pond. The water from the fifth pond would be treated and drained into the Potomac River and Quantico Creek, and the pond capped and closed much like a landfill is at the end of its life.

The EPA revised its rules and regulations regarding the closure of these coal ash ponds. Dominion is looking to close the ponds within three years or face federal fines.

Coal ash is what’s left over after coal is burned to make energy. Possum Point burned coal from 1948 to 2003, and then converted to a gas power station.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Fairfax, Prince William) said more time is needed to review the proposed action before Thursday’s meeting, He also want to amend a federal law to require groundwater monitoring around the Possum Point site for 30 years after the closure of the ponds.

“Unfortunately, I believe the proposed closure process at Possum Point substantiates many of my concerns in allowing [Coal Combustion Residials] sites rush toward closure,” penned Connolly in a letter to the Water Control Board. “It has come to my attention that requests from the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and the EPA for a delay in the permit process have been denied by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.”

Both requests for pause were denied, according to Virginia DEQ Northern Virginia Regional Director Thomas Faha. His agency has spent the past three years writing a permit that will protect water quality, marine life, and the ground water of those who live near Possum Point. The permit must be reviewed by the Water Control Board within 90 days and that’s what’s happening here, said Faha.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark J. Belton sent a list of questions and concerns to Faha’s office on Monday. That department has fears contaminants from the coal slurry water, when released into the Potomac River, could have an adverse effect on fish and other aquatic life.

Faha said that small discharge from the ponds have been leaking into the Potomac River and Quantico Creek for years, and that tests have shown no harmful contaminants in the water or sediment in Quantico Creek that can be tied to Possum Point.

Will silt stop water flow?

If treated water is released into Quantico Creek, some fear the large amount of silt that has gathered in the creek and its unnamed tributaries will keep it from flowing downstream into the Potomac River.

“The tributaries to Quantico Creek should be dredged to ensure the free-flow of water in the creek,” said Dumfries Mayor Jerry Foreman.

Any dredging would be done by Prince William County, as part of its stormwater management program. Right now, there are no plans to dredge any part of the creek.

“The permit we’ve written protects the stream as it exists today,” said Faha. “We don’t allow people to go in and modify a stream to handle discharge.”

The public comment and review period for the Possum Point permit ended in mid-December. Thursday’s meeting, to be held at Virginia’s Department of Inland Game and Fisheries building at 7870 Villa Park Drive in Richmond, will be the final step in the process.

If the permit is approved, Dominion told Potomac Local it would begin treating and releasing the water as soon as possible.

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