The Missouri Department of Natural Resources should deny a construction permit for a proposed Ameren coal ash landfill in Labadie, residents said Tuesday.
Opponents raised concerns about groundwater contamination during a public hearing, which drew about 100 people to the Washington Knights of Columbus Hall.
But Ameren officials vow that the 166-acre landfill would be safe, and the company wants to start construction this summer.
Storing “toxic waste” in a floodplain and floodway of the Missouri River is “plain wrong,” said Petra Haynes, an officer with the Labadie Environmental Organization.
“Who will protect us — the families who get their drinking water from wells dug in areas surrounding the site and the many thousands of people who get their drinking water from the Missouri River?” Haynes asked.
The landfill would store the ash that is left over after coal is burned to generate electricity. It would be located by the Missouri River, adjacent to Ameren’s Labadie Energy Center.
Only one person did not speak against the landfill. James Goggan, who lives upstream from the power plant, said Ameren has been a “good neighbor” and “coal is our power source of choice for decades to come unless we kill it with our own hands. To choke our power source is to choke our communities.”
Ameren officials did not speak at the hearing, but afterwards a company representative said the coal ash landfill would be state-of-the-art. It will meet stringent engineering and environmental requirements, said Warren Wood, Ameren’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs.
The coal ash will be in a “dry, concrete-like state,” Wood said. If the landfill was hit by a flood, it would be like water running over a parking lot because the coal ash would be in a solid state, Wood said. Moreover, he said the landfill would be built for a 500-year flood.
Marvin Newman of Washington, who farmed the land near the proposed landfill site, said he does not think farmland should be traded for a “dump site.”
Some asked that DNR at least delay issuing the permit until new coal ash regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency are released in December.
Ameren’s landfill design does not comply with new draft federal rules, and officials are trying to rush the project forward before new regulations take effect, opponents said.
But Wood said Ameren’s design would meet the proposed new rules.
The EPA characterizes coal ash as a nonhazardous material, and it is used to make concrete and shingles, Wood said.
“There are trace levels of some materials of concern,” Wood said.
That’s why the EPA believes it’s appropriate to have a coal ash landfill like what is being proposed for Labadie, Wood said.
Christine Alt of Labadie said existing coal ash ponds at the Labadie plant have been leaking for “half my lifetime.”
St. Louis County resident Andy Knott said the proposed landfill poses a risk to the entire St. Louis region. The landfill would be built in the floodplain of the Missouri River, which he said is a major drinking water supply to the St. Louis region.
Knott also expressed the need for more groundwater monitoring around the proposed landfill site before issuing a coal ash landfill construction permit.
“If future landfills are constructed without adequate monitoring from existing ash ponds, it will be difficult if not impossible to determine if the contamination detected in the future is from the existing pond, the new landfill or both,” Knott said.
But Wood said Ameren hired a toxicologist to investigate areas around the plant, and “they found zero coal combustion products in that water,” Wood said.
Others at the hearing pointed out coal ash landfill disasters in Kingston, Tenn., and in North Carolina’s Dan River. But Wood said those coal ash storage areas were different than what is being planned for Labadie. Those areas used a “wet pond solution,” he noted.
“People are taking the wrong lesson from looking at those incidents,” Wood said. “What those incidents do is provide a clear illustration of why this facility is the type of facility that should be built.”
But Janet Dittrich of Labadie said handling coal ash in a dry form presents air quality dangers.
It was also expressed at the hearing that the landfill would be in a seismic zone, susceptible to an earthquake.
The landfill design does not comply with Franklin County regulations since there will not be a 2-foot buffer between the liner and the groundwater table, said Spencer Reynolds, law student at the Washington University.
DNR is precluded from issuing the landfill construction permit because the design does not comply with Franklin County’s zoning regulations, Reynolds added.
Ameren’s own application states that the landfill liner will “likely be in contact with groundwater” from “time to time,” Reynolds said.
The claim concerning the landfill liner has been made in an appeal filed with the Franklin Board of Zoning Adjustment and will be heard April 22.
County Engineer Joe Feldmann has said the claim is without merit.
Wood dismissed the notion of choosing alternate sites for the landfill, saying the proposed site has “very low environmental impact.” Moving the landfill further away from the plant would have a greater impact due to emissions from “160-plus trucks per day” that would have to haul away the material, he said.
“It would certainly be a significant inconvenience to the local community,” Wood said.
An alternate site would also not be cost effective and would ultimately be reflected in customer rates, he added.