CINCINNATI — More than 100 Pierce Township residents are suing the owners of the former William C. Beckjord power plant along the Ohio River, claiming the company violated a 1986 agreement to inform the public about contaminated waste disposal.
Neighbors Opposing Pit Expansion, a nonprofit comprised of local residents, filed a breach of contract lawsuit in the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 31.
Attorneys for the power plant’s new owners — Missouri-based Commercial Liability Partners and subsidiary New Richmond Development Corp. LLC — moved the suit to federal court, where it was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Barrett on Feb. 3.
“The information is absolutely critical now because contamination is being dug up and moved around,” said NOPE attorney David Altman, who helped residents forge the 1986 agreement guaranteeing them information about future waste disposal plans. “The question is, 'Is the environment being protected?'”
CLP, which purchased the 1,443-acre site of the coal-fired plant from Duke Energy in February 2018, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses CLP of using an underfunded corporate shell to protect the company from liability.
CLP is now marketing the New Richmond property as Progress Point while it remediates and redevelops the site for a port terminal and industrial park, according to CLP’s website.
This worries residents who tried for a year to get information from CLP about the project before finally filing the lawsuit, Altman said.
“If they’re actually remediating anything, then they should be happy to tell us about it,” Altman said. “Instead, they are pretending the agreement doesn’t exist.”
Built in the 1950s as a coal-burning behemoth, the plant pumped electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across Southwest Ohio for decades.
In 2014, Duke Energy closed the Beckjord power plant, where more than 5 million tons of coal ash were buried in unlined, man-made ponds.
Coal ash is the waste left over when coal is burned to make electricity. It contains toxic heavy metals, making it a serious threat to groundwater, soil and rivers.
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 also sit next to Clermont County’s public drinking-water wells.
“NOPE’s concerns include the risk of catastrophic breaches of the dams surrounding the coal ash ponds. Such breaches have occurred around the country in recent years, resulting in homes, rivers and drinking water supplies being flooded with coal ash,” according to the lawsuit.
If any of the four ponds on the Beckjord site breached, ash would flood homes and enter the Ohio River, according to the lawsuit.
“NOPE only recently learned that in the spring of 2019, the CLP defendants unlawfully dumped many tons of coal ash from Ash Pond A into Ash Pond C … defendants also have plans to excavate and then ‘flood’ a coal ash pond at the Beckjord site with water from the Ohio River. Such waste handling threatens significant contamination of groundwater and the Ohio River,” according to the lawsuit.
NOPE is also suing CLP for violating an easement that was negotiated as part of the 1986 agreement. The land was to be preserved as an aesthetic barrier between the coal ash disposal areas and Pierce Township residents.
In late summer, CLP cut down “at least 233 mature trees,” which had grown to 50 feet high, on the easement.The cost to restore these trees is expected to greatly exceed $500,000, according to the lawsuit.
“We were astounded when they went into the greenbelt area … and they just ripped up the trees,” Altman said.
Altman is asking the judge for a preliminary injunction to prevent further logging in the greenbelt area and that it be restored to its mature forested state.
He also wants Barrett to order CLP to provide residents with environmental information as required by the 1986 agreement.