Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Fight Goes On!

Below is the billboard that Concerned Citizens of Giles County put up to voice their objections to the Cumberland Park Project.

This is the side as you drive east on Highway 460.

And this is the opposite side which you see when driving west toward West Virginia.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Public GCPC Meeting

Last Thursday night (November 8), I attended a public information meeting put on by Giles County Partnership for Excellence (GCPE) Foundation, owner of the Cumberland Park site and developer of the coal fly ash project. Besides the moderator, there were 5 speakers. Two were engineers from Draper Aden, the engineering firm that did all the drawings and specs for the project. One speaker was an engineering consultant for the project, and 2 were environmental scientists employed by American Electric Power (AEP). No one from GCPE was on the panel.

A couple of drawings were presented--not the detailed construction drawings I saw before. The handout we received showed one of them. All the planning has gone into the site--the building is just a long, narrow blank box on the drawing. Nonetheless, one gets an idea of the scale of this building. The depth of the building is almost twice as wide as the 4 lanes across of Highway 460. The width of the building is 4.5 times as wide as Highway 460. In short, it's huge. The GCPC plans to sell the land so it is not sure what will be built.

After the talks, questions were asked which helped to clarify the technical presentations. The environmental scientist from AEP who challenged Virginia Tech's Dr. Hopkins work on the detrimental effects of coal fly ash on aquatic life was challenged himself by the audience. Essentially, he said that the toxic effects of the coal fly ash would be diluted by the New River if a flood ocurred or the berm failed--not too reassuring to those of us who want to protect the river. The New River essentially becomes a lake shortly downstream with the Bluestone Dam. However, he knew nothing about the lake downstream and was not sure of how many toxins could accumulate there.

The other environmental scientist from AEP revealed that leachate (essentially the heavy metals and water) would reach the water table anywhere from 4-20 years after the first coal ashes were dumped onto the site. So, as early as one year after the site is complete, leachate containing selenium, lead, and other heavy metals can reach surrounding water supplies.

One 80ish man in the audience scolded the speakers for not knowing about the earth berm that failed in the 1960s that caused AEP's coal fly ash pond to break in Glen Lyn, spilling coal fly ash chemicals into the New River. The engineering consultant also was not sure if there were any caves in the New River that could channel leachate or slurry to wells miles away.

Several questions were asked about liability but could not be answered because no one from GCPC answered questions.

If Howard Spencer of GCPC thought this was going to reassure the public about the project, he was mistaken. If anything, it has emboldened the opposition. We meet this Wednesday, November 14, 7:00 p.m. at the Municipal Building in Pearisburg. Please come to protect the quality of life in Giles County and our precious New River!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Meeting with Howard

After my last post, I wrote letters to the Giles County Board of Supervisors regarding my opposition to the Cumberland Park Project. I enclosed a copy of a letter from Charles Maus, retired Regional Director of the Virginia Water Control Board and former head of the regional landfill. Charlie is an expert on waste management and water issues so I was hoping the board would make note of his concerns about the project.

Only Howard Spencer replied by calling me at home on October 27. Howard is Chair of the board, President of GCPE, owner of the project, and Glen Lyn Town Manager. We had a long conversation with Howard doing most of the talking. I told him he had not changed my mind but that I wanted to learn more. So, he invited me and Charlie to come by the Glen Lyn Municipal Building to look at the drawings and documentation. I accepted his offer.

Charlie Maus traveled all the way from Shawsville to meet with Howard and me on Monday, October 29. Howard was late so he sent his project manager and engineer, Randall Bowling. After hearing all the details and asking some pertinent questions regarding controlling water, both Charlie and I still had concerns about the project.

Gravel and dirt would be filled in around the the RC5 concrete drainage pipes which are located through out the fill and drain runoff water to the river's edge of the site. Charlie thought there was not enough dirt or gravel specified as fill and thought there could be problems with the initial installation as well as ongoing maintenance over the years.

Another concern relates to the longterm. What will be built on the site and how will it be maintained? The long but not too deep site looks like it will be a strip mall with multiple businesses. That means lots of plumbing with potential for leaks to go into the fly ash.

Unlike what Howard told me, fly ash does not become concrete when water gets to it. As Charlie noted, it takes on slurry-like characteristics which could be a disaster for the river but also water supplies.

Howard pointed to the AEP building out back behind the office. The large metal building is built on a large (200,000 cubic yards) fly ash fill (see photo below), also referred to as the Fairchild site.

Charlie pointed out the differences between this site and that of the Cumberland Park site. There is not as much runoff as the other site (i.e from Highway 460 and the mountain on the other side). The large, metal building has few utilities (sewage pipes, water pipes) to fail. Even if the fly ash turned into a coal slurry flood one day, AEP wouldn't be out much if it lost this cheap metal building. Only the numerous homes and businesses downstream would be affected.

If Howard believed that the Cumberland Park Project would be a success based on the Fairchild site, then he was being led astray by the engineering firm. I did believe that Howard had some concerns after Charlie's comments. He commented on how much the GCPE would be out (evidently lots of money), if they did not follow thru with the project.

I wrote another letter after the visit relaying my concerns with copies to the Board of Supervisors. None replied so far.