Residents say no to NRG permit for landfill

Citizens attended a public hearing last week on an application by NRG Indian River Operations Inc. (NRG) for a permit to construct and operate a new phase of the industrial landfill located at 29416 Power Plant Road, in Millsboro. The hearing was held June 26 by DNREC’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Branch. And those citizens in attendance were united in their message: Do not approve it.

The proposed Phase II landfill will encompass 28 acres and will have 2 millions cubic yards, or eight years, of capacity. The existing Phase I landfill will be maxed out within the year. According to NRG spokesperson and maintenance manager Dave Burton, NRG (formerly Delmarva Power) provides electricity to 750,000 homes, employs 175 local people and has 784 megawatt of power generated at the plant.

Per state procedural rules, the hearing was requested by a concerned citizen — John Austin of Rehoboth Beach, who recommended June 26 that the permit be denied. Every speaker after him agreed. He said he would like coal fly ash to be designated as a hazardous waste.

“To comply with the Delaware Code Title 7 Section 1300, Waste Management, hazardous waste disposal can only be located in areas where air and water degradation is minimal, not near the Indian River Bay,” he said. He went on to say that, because of the proximity of Island Creek and Indian River, “We could lose everything if there was a catastrophic flood or rainfall.’

He said a landfill should not be near a flood zone, and that the groundwater should be 5 feet below the bottom liner of the landfill but that underlying groundwater at the proposed site is only 3 to 4 feet below, which would not meet the standard.

“The code states that no landfill should be placed in an environmentally sensitive area. It’s entirely within the Coastal Zone Act. If they aren’t referring to land within the Coastal Zone Act, then I would think those words have no meaning,” he said.

He reiterated that coal fly ash is not currently designated as hazardous waste.

“When the (existing) landfill was put in in 1976, it was contingent on showing that it was not harmful. Time has shown the prior decision for a landfill here was wrong. Arsenic is a known carcinogen, which is not officially linked to the cancer cluster, but I can put two and two together. Can I prove it? No.”

Arsenic in air, drinking water a concern

Austin added that, at the Burton Island site and the Vista site, the Safe Drinking Water Act level was exceeded. “DNREC doesn’t need to wait for the EPA. The Secretary has the authority to make the decision now,” he emphasized.

He challenged an NRG statement pertaining to the area designated as Well Cluster 103. He stated that groundwater in that area moves in a north/northeast direction, toward Island Creek, and it has shown arsenic contamination many times since 1983.

He said he looks forward to seeing the present landfill covered, so as to at least help with air emissions. His argument against the permit was that there were no limits set in the application, and he noted that DNREC relies on “you, the people” living downwind of the “dust pile” to let them know of a problem.

“It should be DNREC’s responsibility to have air monitors to ensure the air we breathe meets air quality standards, and monitors should be a condition of this permit.” he argued.

DNREC representatives said the EPA’s MCLs — the enforceable drinking water standards — stated in 2006 that 50 parts per billion was the acceptable rate, and the highest occurrence since 1987 was 32 parts per billion. They noted that the EPS re-evaluated the 2006 standards and reduced the acceptable MCLs to 10 parts per billion.

“Unfortunately, we cannot enforce retroactively,” they said. “But, nothing since 2006 has exceeded the 10 parts per billion standards.”

Austin noted that the department is obligated to take corrective action since Well Cluster 103 has had consistent arsenic contamination. He also asked why, since Well Cluster 103 remains in line of travel from the landfill area, it seemed to disappear from the NRG statement.

“I’m not exactly sure where it disappeared,” one DNREC spokesperson said, emphasizing that Well Cluster 103 is still included in the monitoring and adding that NRG was, in fact, required to add additional monitoring.

Action urged for Island Creek and its anglers

Austin reiterated that he was concerned about the department taking corrective action when groundwater contamination had occurred.
“Levels were seen above background and less than safe drinking water standards, and that is a very significant cancer risk,” he said. “Fortunately, not into homes and private wells, but it goes into Island Creek and anyone who fishes has enough of a risk for greater than 1 in 100,000 for fish consumption level.”

Robert Gallagher and Dr. Robert Adams both expressed concern that the power plant has been in operation for years and has not had the same type of monitoring as plants in other states. They also expressed concern over many as-yet-unanswered questions. They asked how the landfill would be monitored if it were to be approved and what the elemental content of fly ash is. They stated that not seeing clouding downwind of the power plant anymore was not necessarily a good thing, because, in reducing the sulfur content, they had also brought unwanted pollutants in.

Adams, a Point Farm resident who has a view of the plant from his home, wondered about its health effects.

“Continued potential pollutants will affect my health, your health and everyone’s,” he said.

The two men noted that, depending on the type of coal and where it comes from, it could go right through the membrane NRG plans to use as a liner at the landfill and could go into the area’s water supply.

“We have serious problems we don’t know the answer to,” said Adams. He also noted that tests don’t find certain contaminants, such as radioactive materials, unless those performing the tests specifically sample for them. “Why should we do that if the state has a certified health physicist?” he asked. “Why are we kept ignorant?”

Tom Darby of Seaford, former home of a DuPont factory, said that he lives 6 miles down the river from that site and, at one point, arsenic levels in the river were 200 times the EPA-recommended levels.

“In 1992, they recommended changes be made and clean-up be done. Finally, in 2007, they had a plan for correcting the measures — they were going to monitor it ‘so it wouldn’t go anywhere,’” he said to simultaneous laughter, nods of agreement and sighs from the audience.

The attitude of “when we built this, it was up to standards” puts people’s lives at risk, he argued of both the DuPont plant and the power plant and its landfills. “It should be for the standards at the times, and any additional standards. Current standards have to be maintained,” he said.

Concerns about Phase I mount with Phase II

Local resident Nancy Feichtl noted that because of the rules of the hearing permitted those testifying to comment only on this particular permit, she “would not be talking about how Delaware is in the bottom 10 percent in the country of air quality.”

“And I won’t be talking about the millions of fish kills — no, I won’t be mentioning that. This [landfill] has been here over decades, and nobody is willing to do anything about it,” she said. “Rather innocently, before they knew better, the landfill [was started]. Now, we are talking about another one? A second toxic dump? We know better now.

“If we had had regulators that protected us before, this would be a breeze,” she argued. “But we had to discover on our own the severe pollution. Don’t approve this. No matter what they tell you won’t get in it, on it, around it or through it. Not in my back yard, not in my county, not in my state. Thank you,” she said, to a round of applause from the audience.

Bill Zak of local grassroots organization Citizens for Cleaner Power asked if there are heavier concentrations of mercury in the fly ash that will go into the proposed landfill, to which NRG representatives answered yes.

“So, even though it is lined, it is much more dangerous,” he said. He also wondered why they would use one side of the existing Phase I landfill, which is only partially lined, as one of the sides of the new Phase II landfill. Zak said that, during a storm or flood, that common side of the two landfill areas would be compromised structurally.

Frank Adams of Golder Associates, the engineer working with NRG, said that the baseliner system they plan to use will meet current DNREC regulations, to which Zak answered dryly, “I’ll try to consider myself enlightened.”

Zak asked NRG to confirm that there are no plans to cover the landfill, and NRG did confirm that was correct.

“So, Phase I will be covered, and Phase II will be uncovered until eight years from now?” Zak asked. He noted that dust from the existing pile is controlled with the use of water and a suppressant. DNREC presider Robert Haynes pointed out that there are no current regulations requiring that, “and we can’t violate our own regulations,” he added.

“Suppose, the EPA decides next year,” said Zak, “to designate coal fly ash facilities as hazardous waste sites. Will the permit under this set of rules be grandfathered? Will NRG be required to upgrade?”

Haynes replied, “Many lawyers will be busy, and we’ll address it, if it happens.”

Zak suggested that they wait on the permit until the EPA makes a decision on how to designate and regulate the fly ash.
“At the very least, don’t grant this, as it seems there are imminent decisions to be made by EPA now that they know the kinds of health disasters that the [coal fly ash] causes.”

“It is a very bad idea to expand rather than remediate. Two companies in 35 years have taken their profits and left the area. We can get our electricity from another source. [This permit]— it’s a little bit better, a lot worse,” Zak concluded.

Citizens oppose power plant and its ‘hazardous waste’

Joan Deaver, president of Citizens for Better Sussex, suggested that DNREC “just say no” to the permit.

“Why would we be assuming this risk? A risk to our health, the economy and land values. If I were a lady, I wouldn’t say, ‘Get your ash out of here.’”

Steve Callanen of the Southern Delaware group of the Sierra Club, noted that he felt “indebted” to John Austin for requesting the public hearing and for the amount of research involved on his part.

“This is hazardous waste. It’s misleading, if not fraudulent, to treat this as a typical industrial landfill,” he said. He also questioned why NRG would put a new landfill right next to the old one. NRG representatives said it would reduce the footprint, and they would get more volume in a smaller area.

“This was a lousy site in the first place,” continued Callanen. “A very logical long-range plan should be an abolishment of the power plant. It should be closed down and gotten the heck out of this area.”

Speaking to the history of the power plant, its landfills and regulation, Christina Darby remarked, “This is not 50 years ago — this is now. The contamination is well-known. It would be irresponsible of DNREC and a grave disservice to Sussex County and the state [to approve this].”

She offered NRG representatives two hypothetical questions to ponder: “What do you envision this site looking like in 50 years? And, would you build a house on this site?”

Pat Weekly asked about the chemical that is sprayed on the pile to keep the dust down. NRG representatives said it is a chemical surfactant called Soil Semit, noting that it has a material safety data sheet that could be referenced by anyone concerned about it.

Perhaps the most poignant observation from the public hearing came in reference to the fact that many of the people that spoke on June 26 were the same ones who spoke at last month’s hearing regarding DNREC’s remedial plan of action for the old Burton’s Island Ash Landfill.

Here was a public hearing about a landfill with such hot-button words as arsenic contamination, mercury, cancer cluster and groundwater contamination, and fewer than 50 people were there and only about 10 spoke — something Helen Truitt referenced in her message to state officials.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t have gotten in this room,” she said. “But the people of Sussex County said, ‘I give up’ which is sad.”

NRG applied for the Phase II application because the present Phase I landfill, which began operations under Delmarva Power and Light (DP&L) in 1980, will reach its design capacity within one year. In 2007, 139,372 tons of coal ash was disposed in the Phase I landfill.

The Phase II landfill NRG applied for would be placed adjacent to the existing Phase I landfill. The entire permit application can be viewed during business hours at DNREC’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch Management Branch Office, 89 Kings Highway, Dover or the Division of Soil and Water Conservation office at 21309 Berlin Rd, Unit 6, in Georgetown, or it can be viewed online at