MANCHESTER, Ohio — A state lawmaker from Adams County is demanding answers from the Ohio EPA after the WCPO 9 I-Team revealed the owner of the retired Killen Generating Station pumped untreated coal ash into the Ohio River last summer.
Rep. Brian Baldridge, a Republican from Winchester, wants to learn more about the incident and make sure EPA officials are closely watching the cleanup at Killen and J.M. Stuart Station, which Commercial Liability Partners also owns.
“We’re left with over 500 acres of ash ponds for all those years of service to the state of Ohio for energy generation,” Baldridge said. “I just want to make sure that we are not left with a nightmare on into our future.”
Baldridge asked for a formal inquiry into plant owner CLP four days after the I-Team reported CLP workers placed a drainage pump too deep in an ash pond, causing sediment to follow into the river in July and August of 2020.
In the July 22 report, CLP said it self-reported the violations as required and no fine was imposed. Ohio EPA said the incident did not have a significant impact on the river’s water quality. But a former Ohio EPA official, George Elmaraghy, said the company could have been fined for federal Clean Water Act violations.
After meeting with agency officials on Aug. 6, Baldridge said he was encouraged to learn the Killen plant has lower limits than similar facilities on the amount of total suspended solids it is permitted to release in its wastewater.
But he still wonders how much coal ash was pumped into the river and what contaminants were in the discharge. He also wants to know what steps CLP will take to keep coal ash contaminants away from the county’s drinking water in the future.
He plans to meet with elected officials in Adams County before deciding next steps.
“We just want to have that open discussion,” Baldridge said. “We want to make sure all the questions are answered.”
Darrin Mingee is happy Baldridge is pushing for answers.
Mingee lives near the Killen plant and fishes regularly in the Ohio River. He claims the company continued pumping coal ash into the river for months after the last violation it reported to Ohio EPA on Aug. 1, 2020.
Mingee said he witnessed more than 30 incidents last summer and fall in which water from the ash pond was pumped into the river, including one incident that a friend caught on cell phone video. He said the pumping continued until Oct. 13, 2020, when he called Ohio EPA anonymously to complain the plant was “emptying ashes into the Ohio River.”
Mingee tried to steer clear of the discharge, which “stunk” and sometimes contained foam that floated down the river toward Manchester.
“It don’t take a genius to know what’s in that and what it’s going to do,” Mingee said. “It’s really sad.”
Mingee launches his boat from the Brush Creek Campground and Marina, where Manager Jim Richard said water pumps could be heard frequently throughout the summer and fall of 2020. Richard didn’t know the pumps were being used to drain the ash ponds until a friend who works at the plant told him about it.
“It’s going to take a toll on our environment,” Richard said. “We’re all about the scenery and our environment.”
Mingee and Richard agree the EPA should keep a closer watch on the plant’s cleanup.
“I think they should test the grounds, test the fly ash pits, the dust that’s circulating, the asbestos. I think they should test all that,” Richard said. “When they tore the plant down, the dust was enormous and that landed on our ground and our crops here, where we grow corn. What goes in the ground comes up and goes in your body. That’s just common sense.”
Baldridge said his inquiries will not be limited to last summer’s wastewater violations. He also wants to learn more about the long-term impact of burying coal ash in a flood plane.
“I’m a ‘less regulation’ person. But when it comes to safety, I mean, that’s why we have regulation out there,” Baldridge said. “And if it comes down the path that we have learned that the leaching that is coming from these ash ponds is hurting our waterways, has opportunity to hurt our drinking wells, then we’re going to have to change.”
Baldridge would also like to explore the installation of a solar array at the Killen plant, so the site can continue to generate electricity.
“Let’s take the extension cord from a solar project and plug it into the grid,” he said. “The grid is there. So, let’s utilize what is already there that can help our local communities, our local townships, our schools, our county out here to generate some revenue. I’d much rather see them on a brownfield (site), maybe on top of an ash pond, than I would corn and soybean fields.”