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Dominion Gets Approval to Dump Treated Coal Ash Wastewater in James River

Environmentalists and sports enthusiasts upset at decision.


The State Water Control Board approved permits to allow Dominion Virginia Power to dump treated wastewater from coal ash pits into the James and Potomac Rivers today.

The two votes, each 5-1, were made during a day-long meeting at which kayakers, river keepers, fly fishing guides, local residents and others decried the plans to allow the dumping at the Bremo Power Station on the James River and the Possum Point plant on the Potomac River. [Read background on the plan here.]

Environmental groups vowed a court fight. Phillip Musegaas, legal director of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, said he would seek an injunction to block the Possum Point permit.

A Dominion spokesman said utility officials were happy with the decision.

Speakers were also critical of Dominion's plan to dump more than 255 million gallons of treated wastewater from coal ash ponds containing toxic chemicals like arsenic and selenium at the 85-year-old Bremo facility about 60 miles upstream of Richmond on the James River.

Dominion says it intends to build a wastewater treatment plant to process the wastewater before it goes into the James, although Department of Environmental Quality officials noted that the permits do not require the utility to do so.

The water board will allow Dominion to emit treated wastewater from the plant site, which will stretch in a toxic mixing plume that will run 16 feet wide and 2,000 feet long. Critics said it will affect fishing, kayaking and tubing. Richmond gets much of its drinking water from the James.

Speakers said that Dominion could have been forced to treat the wastewater to drinking quality. Doing so is affordable and the technology is readily available, they said.

"You are all domestic terrorists," said Lee Williams, a nurse who lives in Goochland County near the James River.

The dissenting vote in both permits came from board member Roberta Kellam, who complained that the board was not given enough time to considered the highly complex issues involving the permits.

"This is different," she said. "We never dealt with clean-up issues before. It's a different animal."

Thursday's vote sets the stage for similar dumping permits at two more coal waste dumps at the company's Chesterfield County and Chesapeake power plants, affecting the James River and its tributaries even more.

Dominion says it is moving swiftly in dealing with its coal ash issues because it wants to be done with them. But a number of river keepers and environmentalists, including the Southern Environmental Law Center and the state of Maryland, have big issues with the way the utility and Virginia officials are going about permitting.

Clarification: An earlier headline for this story referred to the dumping of coal ash waste, not wastewater.