Residents and Activists Push for Total Cleanup of Coal Ash Ponds | Michigan City News
MICHIGAN CITY — Almost everyone who attended the NIPSCO coal ash disposal public hearing agreed on two things: They want NIPSCO shareholders to absorb the cost, and they want all of the ash from coal are eliminated.
“One of the main lessons we tell our kids is that if you make a mess, you clean it up,” Susan Thomas said.
Coal ash is a byproduct of NIPSCO’s Michigan City coal-fired plant, which is expected to be decommissioned in a few years.
The public has until August 10 to submit written comments. The hearing, held last week, concerned a rate increase requested by NIPSCO to help pay for the cleanup.
Michigan City Council Vice Chairman Don Przybylinski, D-at Large, has fought off previous NIPSCO demands for a rate hike. “Michigan City is a city of 32,000 people. About 30% of the people who live here live below the poverty line,” he said. “Even though it’s a great place to live, it’s not the wealthiest place to live.”
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Przybylinski estimated that the rate increase requested by NIPSCO would cost the city an additional $120,000 to $150,000 per year. NIPSCO estimates the cost of the project at $40 million and seeks to recover 80% of the costs as they are incurred – approximately 30 cents per month for a consumer using 700 kilowatt hours per month – with the remaining 20% included in the next base rate increase.
The project would involve the removal of coal ash from five ponds.
The hearing was designed for public comment, not for NIPSCO to present its case or rebut its arguments.
Thomas moved to Beverly Shores a few years ago. “Once I learned how polluted this area was, I knew I had to do more for my community and my family,” she said.
Like others, she worries about the dyke that holds in place a mixture of earth and coal.
“The 40 years of coal ash buried at the site will be left behind, where it will continue to contaminate groundwater,” Thomas said. “NIPSCO has known about the groundwater contamination at MC for eight years, but has yet to act on it.”
Hobart resident Joseph Conn uses a marina in Michigan City for his sailboat. He recently walked past the power plant and observed the dyke. “It’s not just weak. If you go to the western end, you will find holes there, holes big enough to put your arm through,” he said. “This steel isn’t going to last much longer.”
“What you have there is a coating that gets hammered every year. Pounded, pounded, pounded. And I tell you it’s already broken. said Conn. “I guarantee you it will fall apart.”
Ashley Williams is the executive director of Just Transition NWI, a group that organized a protest that drew around 40 people for a pre-hearing rally.
“Leaving behind 2 million tons of coal ash in the neighborhoods of people of color is classic environmental racism,” she testified. “History has shown us that when we don’t hit a ticking time bomb, that’s what to expect.”
Like several other people who testified, Williams worries that industrial customers will get “the deal of the century” even though they have been among the state’s worst polluters.
Hannah Kilbourne, 12, is entering middle school. “As a middle-class family, my heart breaks at the thought of families with lower wages than my parents,” she said.
Former NiSource shareholder Brian Gross does not recall seeing coal ash reserves in annual reports. Shareholders pay the cost of construction, so they should also pay for dismantling, he said.
“It needs to be fixed before it becomes another EPA supersite.”
Coal ash disposal work began this spring. NIPSCO plans to remove approximately 171,000 cubic yards of coal ash spread over 11.4 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline. It will fill Michigan City Generating Station’s five coal ash ponds with clean backfill. The utility said it plans to “beneficially reuse” about 15% of the material, or about 14,500 tonnes.
“NIPSCO and a team of nationally leading experts are focused on ensuring that our approach is protective and continues to improve our environment,” said Kelly Carmichael, vice president of NiSource, NIPSCO’s parent company. , when the project began this spring.
The utility said it is complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Coal Combustion Residue Rule, which requires the safe disposal of coal ash from coal-fired power plants without contaminating groundwater.
NIPSCO aims to phase out all of its coal-fired power generation by 2028.
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