Georgia Recorder-coal ash clean up, aisle seven

Georgia Recorder, February 11, 2020

Because coal ash and its toxins are forever, the work to protect the health of communities, water and air, natural resources, and recreational places, is never done. The Georgia Recorder has an op/ed I wrote about the challenges we face in Georgia concerning coal ash waste clean up and storage. Spoiler alert- ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.

You never know where you’ll meet a member of your tribe

The Friday Photo
July 29, 2016
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Wednesday afternoon I stopped to get gas after picking up some groceries in Milledgeville, the “big” city to the west of my home town of Sandersville. A small SUV pulled up at a pump diagonally to mine. The driver, a woman maybe in her mid 60s, jumped out of her car and started walking toward me, smiling as she approached me standing at the rear corner of my car.

With great enthusiasm in her voice she asked me where I got my bumper sticker. She looked so happy, like she had finally come across another kindred soul, that she gave me a high five and immediately started telling me how worried she is about Donald Trump becoming President.

I replied that the racism and hate people feel comfortable sharing is horrifying, adding that the judgmental attitudes about people who don’t look or behave like them is stunning.

She said she’s taken issue with people she knows who judge gay people as sinners, saying that her response has been, “Do you believe God made everyone, and does God make mistakes?”

From there she said friends and family had turned away from her after she came out as gay, and that others in her family have been treated similarly.

Think about that- a family shunned one of their own, not because she was a murderer or thief, but because she wanted to date women instead of men.

This woman then looked at my car tag and realized I live in a neighboring county, and she said, “You live in Washington County and you have this one your car? You are a brave woman.”

It’s not so hard to be a privileged, white, straight woman driving around rural Georgia with a Democratic pride sticker on your car. When it helps you find members of your tribe while doing the ordinary things in life, it is even easier.

Thank you Bonnie, for extending your hand, telling me your name and story, and saying We Are Stronger Together.

Still waiting on a call from the EPD (but Georgia Power has been on the phone)

Yesterday (Wednesday, January 6) The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) asked if they could repost R&P’s post from Tuesday, January 5th about Georgia Power pumping water from their Plant Branch coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair over the weekend.

They reposted, and Georgia Power picked up the phone and set up a conference call with SACE and Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper who discovered the pumping last weekend.

SACE has added this to their reposting of my original blog:
Subsequent to our posting of this article, Georgia Power contacted us to clarify that emergency overflow pumping was taking place as part of their emergency response plans, consistent with the facility’s permit, due to unusually high rainfall. The overflow is designed to prevent water over-topping the dyke and damaging it through erosion. While overflow water comes from the surface of the pond and has less exposure to toxic ash, which settles to the bottom, we remain concerned about the risks of wet ash storage demonstrated by this episode. Georgia Power aims to publish closure plans for all its ash ponds in Spring 2016 and we look forward to reviewing those plans to ensure they keep ash in lined facilities away from waterways.

Like SACE and the Altamaha Riverkeeper, I am very concerned about both the storage of wet coal ash so close to Lake Sinclair, and the pumping of  water from their ponds into Lake Sinclair.

Georgia Power should have been proactive in sharing information with the public about their actions. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) should have been on site in the “emergency” situation Georgia Power is claiming (The record rains weren’t a surprise, and the proximity to Lake Sinclair isn’t new at Plant Branch either).

But that’s not all of it.

Georgia Power and the EPD told Hilburn they were testing the water.

Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch
Jen Hilburn on Lake Sinclair at Plant Branch

But Georgia Power and the EPD don’t test for heavy metals and toxins found in coal ash waste. They test for oil and grease, pH, and sediment/particulate concentration.

If you don’t test for coal ash toxins, then you surely won’t find them.

Hilburn was told by Georgia Power that it will continue pumping water from their coal ash ponds into Lake Sinclair.

And the EPD?

As of 6:30 this evening, the Altamaha Riverkeeper says she is still waiting for phone messages to be returned from her weekend calls about Lake Sinclair and Plant Branch.

Georgia Power doesn’t seem interested in calling me, and that’s ok, but apparently they have read Rural and Progressive.

 

 

What was Georgia Power doing at Plant Branch on New Year’s weekend?

Georgia’s coal ash monitoring laws are awfully easy on power companies. The companies get to monitor their heaping piles of coal ash waste piles and ponds themselves.

Thank goodness the Altamaha Riverkeeper (aided by Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper) checked up on the coal ash ponds at Plant Blanch, which abut Lake Sinclair, last weekend.

There was a lot of activity there on Saturday, with large trucks in and out at the ponds and generators buzzing due to the tremendous amount of rain recently.

What was flowing into the lake just didn’t look like normal runoff, so Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK),  put in a call to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Hilburn said in a press release, “I am deeply concerned about what sounds like pumping of water into Lake Sinclair.  If this is coming directly from the coal ash ponds into the lake, it could pose a threat to our community on the lake as well as many others who utilize its waters. Georgia Power appears to be delibrately dumping coal ash waste directly into the lake. I am surprised that no-one I spoke with on Lake Sinclair had been notified in anyway by Georgia Power of their activities”

coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times
coal ash spill at Kingston, TN, photo from New York Times

Coal ash ponds are notorious for leaking, or worse, collapsing, as they did in Kingston, TN on December 22, 2008. That community was flooded with 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash slurry from a TVA coal plant. Coal ash waste also contaminated the Dan River on the Virginia-North Carolina state line in 2014 as a result of nine criminal violations of the Clean Water Act by Duke Energy. 

How risky are the coal ash ponds at Plant Branch?

Since 2010 Plant Branch’s coal ash ponds have been considered “High Hazard” for contamination or failure by the Environmental Protection Agency. Did Georgia Power try to avert a pond breach or overflow by  pumping the coal ash waste into Lake Sinclair? I’m anxious to learn what the EPD says in their findings.

While ARK, and concerned citizens, wait to hear back from the EPD, the Riverkeeper is advising that no fish be consumed from Lake Sinclair until more is known about the safety of the water.

What can Georgians do in the meantime?

Our General Assembly convenes next week. Ask your state legislators NOW to require stricter monitoring of the coal ash waste landfills and ponds that pepper our state. Even though wind and solar are becoming a larger part of our fuel resources, the heavy metals and toxins in coal ash waste are forever. As last weekend demonstrates, shuttering a coal plant like Plant Branch doesn’t solve the problem of safely storing the contaminated waste it has left behind.

Allowing Georgia Power and other coal burning companies in our state to self-monitor their toxic waste isn’t working. The Georgia General Assembly can do something about that beginning next week.

 

Photo unavailable

The Friday Photo
December 11, 2015

I couldn’t manage a photo of what I saw this week, but it bears describing.

At an office supply store I watched an elderly man getting information for some type of technology problem he couldn’t solve. The young man at the service counter very patiently repeated what needed to be done, and assured the customer that if he brought the item in, the problem could be solved. The customer left to go get the item out of of his car.

The elderly man was wearing Confederate flag suspenders and a replica Confederate battle cap. The polite young man at the counter was black.

The irony was almost more than I could stand.

 

 

 

Hands On Science

Science Night
Science Night was last night at Creekside Elementary School. Exhibits included lots of hands-on opportunities for children and their parents. The room was humming with children moving from one table to the next. All the exhibitors were so enthusiastic. As I loaded this photo I noticed the woman in the back of the picture squatting down to eye level with a child who might be about four.

My grandson Chase, in the red sweatshirt, was looking forward to touching snakes like he did last year. His sister Ella, in the dark fuchsia jacket, wasn’t as enthusiastic about them.

Home Office

The Friday Photo
November 14, 2014

Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia
Rose Hill, est.1852, Lockerly Arboretum, Milledgeville, Georgia

For over four years I’ve worked from a home office. There are a lot of great things about working from home: laundry gets done, soup simmers for lunch, no one walks by and distracts you from the task at hand, and the dress code is pretty flexible. There are still deadlines, meetings, and convincing the printer to print, but working from home has been a really good situation for me.

I’m still working from a house, but not the one I live in. Just as Life Is a Verb Camp approached, the place where I hoped to figure out the questions to finding a job for life after fighting Plant Washington, I was offered a job.

Now I’m working from an above ground basement office in a fabulous Greek Revival house built in 1852, Rose Hill, surrounded by Lockerly Arboretum, a public garden in Milledgeville, Georgia, as the Executive Director.

I’m no less committed to stopping Plant Washington, but due to the determination and success of FACE and our partners, the demise of the ill-fated coal plant is now a matter of time. No one who opposes Plant Washington is letting their guard down, but the writing is on the wall and our work locally will continue as it always has.

Being an environmental activist in a small community has been one of the most difficult, and exciting, things that I have ever happened upon. I knew if we won, one outcome would be working myself out of a job that had changed my life for the better.

I didn’t make a habit of inviting people to come see me in my home office, but I’d be glad for anyone to stop by and see the house where I am working in now.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

The Friday Photo
August 29, 2014

Gringos, Milledgeville, GA
Gringos, Milledgeville, GA

To borrow a slogan from an old toothpaste commercial, “Put your money where your mouth is.” I’m making a real effort to find and support businesses who are willing to post a sign saying guns don’t belong in theirs.

 

Crop Mob happening!

blackberriesCrop mob– A group of landless and wannabe farmers who come together to build and empower communities by working side by side.

You don’t have to be landless or a wannabe farmer to support farmers who are committed to sustainable farming. You also don’t have to know anything about farming or gardening (that would be me).

You will need a decent pair of work gloves, sturdy outdoor work shoes/boots, a hat, some bottled water, sunscreen, and a willingness to get your hands dirty for a few hours. In exchange you’ll help a small farmer who needs additional help during a critical part of the growing season.

My friend, and organic farmer, Lyle Lansdell, is hosting a Crop Mob at her farm, Forest Grove Farm in Sandersville, Washington County, this Sunday, April 13.  Her passion for good health and good food inspired her to dig into (no pun intended) organic farming after retiring from a public health career at Chapel Hill. Lyle has also continued the careful restoration of her family’s 1850s era home, Forest Grove, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Lyle told me when she decided to raise and sell lamb, she committed to making sure she knew exactly how the lambs would be butchered and processed. She chose a processor after walking through the entire facility and talking with the owner. She sells at the newly renamed and relocated Green Market in Milledgeville on Saturdays and the Mulberry Street Market in Macon on Wednesday afternoons. You might also find her at the  Sandersville Farmer’s Market on Wednesday mornings in the summer.

If you’ve wanted to show a child where food really comes from, and how much work it takes to grow that food, bring them along to help. You’ll leave with a little dirt under your fingernails and a craving for ripe, red, sun-warmed tomatoes.