Beckjord: Big decisions loom for closed Duke Energy plant

BATAVIA – Clermont County Commissioners will hear an update Wednesday on Duke Energy’s plans for a closed power plant that spans more than 170 acres along the Ohio River.

Leaders in Clermont say the site could offer riverfront redevelopment opportunities or pose big problems for the region’s drinking water if not cleaned up properly. 

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In 2014, Duke Energy closed the W.C. Beckjord power plant, where for decades more than 5 million tons of coal ash was buried in unlined manmade ponds.

Coal ash is the waste left over when coal is burned to make electricity and it contains toxic heavy metals including arsenic, chromium and vanadium.

At the Beckjord plant, the coal ash ponds are right next to the river – a source of drinking water for more than 5 million people in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The ponds, which straddle the border of Pierce Township and the village of New Richmond, also sit next to Clermont County’s public drinking water wells.

 

An aerial view of the W.C. Beckjord Power Plant in Clermont County. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

In the late 1980’s pollution from one of the ponds forced Clermont County to shut down a public drinking well that served thousands of area residents. In North Carolina, where Duke Energy is headquartered, the company has faced numerous lawsuits and fines from leaking coal ash ponds there.

In a July letter to Duke, Clermont County officials asked the company to remove the coal ash from at least two ponds.  Wednesday’s meeting will mark the company’s first formal response to that request, said Clermont County Commission President David Uible.

“We want to be involved in the process,” Uible said. “We want to see the (coal) ash removed… And we also would like Duke to work with us on the economic redevelopment of that area. We want to get that property back on the tax rolls and employing people in the county.”

For now, the company has told WCPO that it’s still considering its options.

“Any closure plan will protect the community and the environment and will put safety first, minimize community impacts and manage costs for customers,” Sally Thelen, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy wrote in an email to WCPO.

Under Ohio law, coal ash ponds are regulated as wastewater treatment lagoons. The state’s closure requirements depend on whether the coal ash is being left in place or removed. If left in place, the state calls for the ponds to be drained and then capped and monitored for 30 years. 

Uible says he hopes to avoid the lengthy legal battles that have played out in other states, but he wants assurance that any threats posed to the region’s water at Beckjord are cleaned up.

“Thirty years is nothing when these are our fresh water fields forever,” Uible said.

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