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Prince William acts as coal ash deadline looms

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — Environmental officials on Tuesday said the EPA continues to investigate the release of 27 million gallons of water from a Prince William County coal ash pond in 2015.

Dominion Power, which owns the pond next to the Possum Point Power Station on the Potomac River near Dumfries, released the untreated water in April 2015. While the EPA is investigating this specific water release, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Northern Virginia Regional Director Tom Faha said discharged was allowed under the state-issued permit Dominion was using at the time.

In fact, during the 60 months leading up to the April 2015 water discharge, even larger discharges of more than 27 million gallons of water were released from a coal ash pond on the site during 18 of those 60 months, said Faha.

In January 2016, the Virgina Water Control Board approved a modified permit which allowed Dominion to treat the toxic coal ash water, remove contaminants, and then release the treated water into Quantico Creek and the Potomac River.

“Now I’m even more scared to learn that they’ve been releasing this amount of water into our backyard for years,” said Dan Marrow, whose been an outspoken opponent of Dominion after multiple well water tests at his home on Possum Point Road near the power plant was found to be contaminated.

Dominion in December agreed to pay to connect 35 homeowners on Possum Point Road to public water after elevated levels coal ash toxins like boron, chloride, cobalt, sulfate, nickel and zinc appeared in good tests. On Tuesday, Dominion officials said three homeowners on Possum Point Road have agreed to take them up on offer.

Those same officials on Tuesday said they were unsure if the company would reimburse the Marrows the $40,000 cost they paid to connect to the public water system. The Marrows took out a second mortgage on their home to fund the public water connection and said they were not eligible for the Dominion-sponsored water connection program.

“Will the Morrows be reimbursed?” asked Prince William County Potomac District Supervisor. “I know they have a lawyer, but I think we all need to know if they’re going to be reimbursed.”

“I really don’t think we can answer that question,” replied Cathy Taylor, Dominion’s director of environment and sustainability.

Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal to create electricity. Dominion is in the process of consolidating its coal ash ponds by moving water from its Pond E into Pond D, then treating the toxic water to remove as many contaminants as it can, and then releasing the treated water into Quantico Creek and subsequently into the Potomac River.

Dominion is now seeking a permit from DEQ to cap in place the coal ash ponds at Possum Point, leaving four million tons of coal ash at the bottom of Pond D. A polyethylene cap that will prevent moisture from the surface from coming into contact with the coal ash underneath, according to Dominion. Up to 24 inches of soil will then be placed on top of the cap, according to the closure plan.

Residents have until Friday to make public comments to DEQ about the plan. Last month, the agency held a public hearing where the majority of speakers demanded DEQ require Dominion to dig up the coal ash, put it on rail cars, and ship it to a landfill.

A rail line runs parallel to the power station. It’s how the coal was brought to the power plant when Possum Point burnt coal to generate electricity from 1948 until 2003 before the plant converted to gas.

A loading area would need to be constructed to put coal in the rail cars, and that would increase the time it would take to close the ponds, stated Jason Willams, who works in Dominion’s power generation division.

If Dominion is allowed to cap in place, residents fear the clay liner at the bottom of Pond D, about a foot thick and constructed in 1988, could fail to cause groundwater contamination. Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi called for a third-party study outside of Dominion and DEQ to determine the if the plan to cap in place is sound.

“Where does an 800-pound gorilla sit? The answer is wherever they want to,” said Principi. “Dominion is the 800-pound gorilla and has chosen to sit on the ‘cap in place’ alternative, and we’re never going to the get to be the bottom of this unless we get a third-party analysis, hiring a consultant to give us the best alternative, not just cheapest alternative.”

Dominion officials told the Board of Supervisors that an 800-foot-thick earthen dam would hold back the coal ash pond once it’s closed, not a retaining wall, in addition to the specialized cap that would be placed atop the pond. The cap would be able to handle up to 30 inches of rain in 24 hours, more rain than what falls in most large storms, said Willams.

After closure, more than 30 ground well monitoring sites will be routinely checked for as many years to prevent groundwater contamination, according to Dominion.

Residents who live along Possum Point Road said assurances of ground water monitoring by Dominion is not enough.

Dan and Patty Marrow replaced the pipes in the walls of his home about eight years ago when they decided to add an addition onto their house. Today, the Burrows said their replaced pipes have burst, that they use bottled water to bathe, and that they have moved their youngest daughter Rachel out of the house.


The results of one of the well water tests completed at the Marrow’s home does not support the claims of dangerous water. Prince William County on March 1, 2016, collected 40 gallons of water at the Marrow’s home and sent it to a lab for testing. 

The results indicate the “well water fully complies with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for the constituents tested.”

Following their meeting, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors voted to petition the Governor for more time for DEQ to decide whether or not to issue the cap-in-place closure permit, as well as urge Dominion to support the Governor to review Virginia State Sen. Scott Surovell’s bill requiring coal ash be removed from ponds and recycled, or removed and placed into landfills equipped to accommodate the ash.

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