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Coal Ash concerns for the Lake Sinclair area

Lake Sinclair Coal Ash / Raymond Tubb (WGXA)

If all goes as planned Georgia Power will begin removing water from several old coal ash storage ponds near Lake Sinclair later this year.

One of the first steps requires what's called "dewatering."

But there are concerns about where that water will go once it is removed from the ponds.

The plan is to remove the water from the ponds by treating it and then removing it.

There are concerns locally that water will be emptied into Lake Sinclair.

There are plans for two public hearings, one from a local legislator this Saturday.

And another from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, or EPD, next Tuesday.

But right now there are a lot more questions than answers.

For thousands of people Lake Sinclair is a center for swimming, boating, and fishing.

“I fish around. I love to fish around this place”, says Daniel Williams.

And for people like him, those fish often become meals.

He adds, “My wife. My wife she loves fish. I believe she'd cook fish every day”.

But just a few hundred yards from his fishing spot, is something that has a number of people worried about the future of the waters of Lake Sinclair.

For more than half a century Georgia Power's Plant Branch burned coal to make power. Tons of tons of coal ash are stored in ponds on the old plant grounds.

And it’s what’s contained in that ash that has people like local state legislator Rick Williams Concerned.

“Arsenic, other heavy metals are in the coal ash reside and we'd just like to know what is going into the lake”.

There are plans to move the contents of three old coal ponds into a fourth one on the plant's property, and then seal it in concrete with a dirt and grass top. But first old water covering the ashy sludge must be removed. The Environmental Protection Agency shows that sludge can contain things like mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. Georgia Power says it plans to treat and test any water before it's moved, but some people like Representative Williams are concerned that may not be enough.

“All of Milledgeville Baldwin County's drinking water comes out of that lake. Down below us Laurens County. Other people along the river, their drinking water comes out of this lake, so it's a chain effect and it can even penetrate the ground water here”.

For mom Jennifer Brewer, it's much more personal.

“It's just a nice place to come whenever you need to cool off in the hot summer”, she says as she enjoys a swim with her children across from the plant.

The area is a popular swimming spot for families, and right now she has a lot more questions than answers.

“I'd just like to know what type of chemicals are going to be put into here and how it could affect the fish we eat or when our children are getting mouthfuls of water when they're playing and it could seep through your skin so it's very concerning”.

She's planning to attend one of two public hearings scheduled soon in the hopes of getting more information about handling the water from the ponds.

Representative Williams is hosting one after Baldwin and Putnam County Commissioners say they needed more answers too.

“We just need to know what's in the water, and I would rather know up front and if it needs more treatment before it goes in rather than uh oh there's a problem now how do we cure it” he says.

Right now as they wait for answers, people around here hang on to hope.

“I just hope it doesn't hurt nothin'. I hope it don't hurt the fish. I hope it don't hurt the people, you know,” says fisherman Daniel Williams.

Georgia Power says it plans to start dewatering the ponds at Plant Branch later this year. But the full closure of the ponds is expected to take around ten years.

In a statement to WGXA, Georgia Power says that it will submit any plans to the Georgia EPD in advance for approval. A spokesman told us quote: "We have contracted with one of the leading independent, international water treatment companies to operate and monitor the water treatment system. These measures will ensure that we continue to be protective of Lake Sinclair".

This Saturday, June 24th there is a public hearing hosted by representative Rick Williams.

It will be from 10 until noon at the Victory Baptist Church at 640 Meriwether Road in Milledgeville.

There will be members of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, as well as representatives from the Altamaha Riverkeeper there.

Next Tuesday, June 27th at 7 the Georgia Environmental Protection Division is holding a public hearing on the ash ponds.

It's at the Putnam County Administrative Complex at 117 Putnam Drive. Georgia Power Representatives will also be there.

Both meetings are open to anyone who wishes to come.

Georgia Power also tells us:

“We are making progress to permanently close all of our 29 ash ponds across the state, including the five ash ponds at Plant Branch.

Pending approval of our dewatering plan for Plant Branch/Lake Sinclair, dewatering is expected to begin later this year. Dewatering and closure activities typically take a number of years, as you note. All ash ponds at Plant Branch are expected to be permanently closed within 10 years.

We are completely removing all ash from the four ash ponds at Plant Branch that are located closest to Lake Sinclair (one of the four, an older pond, has already been excavated). We will consolidate the materials into a single ash pond onsite and located away from the lake. That consolidated site will be permanently closed using advanced engineering methods and in accordance with the Georgia EPD's state CCR Rule.

Georgia Power has safely and responsibly managed both Plant Branch and Lake Sinclair since both were established decades ago, and that will not change through the dismantlement of the plant and closure of the plant's ponds.

Georgia Power is a longtime citizen of middle Georgia with employees and their families spending their lives working, living and retiring in the area. We will continue to be a citizen wherever we serve.

To safely remove the ash from the four ponds at Plant Branch, we must remove the water from the ponds in the process known as dewatering. In compliance with our NPDES permit and dewatering plan, following approval by Georgia EPD, we will install additional water treatment facilities to treat and test this water before removing it. We have contracted with one of the leading independent, international water treatment companies to operate and monitor the water treatment system. These measures will ensure that we continue to be protective of Lake Sinclair."

Other Resources:

Information on the dewatering process from Georgia Power:

https://georgiapower.com/environment/analytical-data.cshtml.

Information on Georgia Power Ash Pond Management and Closures:

https://www.georgiapower.com/environment/ash.cshtml

Coal Ash Information from Georgia EPD, including a page where you can register to get any emails about coal ash-related announcements in the state: https://epd.georgia.gov/coal-ash-information

Information on Coal Ash from the United States Environmental Protection Agency:

https://www.epa.gov/coalash


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