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!