WALKER COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Several residents plan to attend a public hearing Thursday to share concerns over plans for coal ash at a former plant in Walker County.
Alabama Power’s Gorgas Plant is now defunct and much of the property was destroyed in September, but coal ash still remains on the property. The site is near the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River.
Coal ash, or coal combustion residuals, are typically produced from burning coal in coal-fired power plants. Environmental advocates worry about the potential for hazardous material to reach area waterways.
“There’s two major municipal utilities drawing drinking water downstream and there is all the locals that utilize the area on a regular basis for recreation and boating and fishing,” said Nelson Brooke of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
Alabama Power is seeking approval from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to cap the coal ash in place, much of which is contained in a lake covering over 400 acres.
“These toxic heavy metals don’t break down, they don’t go away, so that is just condemning this area, the river, and everybody down stream, to have to deal with this mess with this toxic waste for generations,” Brooke said.
As coal plants close, there has been a debate about what to do with the remaining coal ash. Instead of capping in place, Brooke would like to see it removed from the property altogether.
“This stuff could be removed and put in a properly lined landfill and that is what we are calling on the power company to do,” he said.
Residents who live further downstream from the plant have always had fears about the coal ash on property. Many feel that Thursday’s public meeting is the final chance to make sure their voice is heard.
“I am concerned because I live on the river and we all should be concerned about our environment, but especially here where we are exposed to toxic chemicals,” said Jackie Franklin, a Walker County resident.
Franklin also does not want to see the material capped in place.
“I think that is like putting a band aid on a big wound,” she said.
A spokesperson from Alabama Power issued the following statement to CBS 42:
The upcoming ADEM hearing is a routine part of the permitting process. Alabama Power supports this process which provides the public an opportunity for continued engagement. Alabama Power held a public meeting on the Plant Gorgas ash pond on July 1, 2020, which was open to the public.-Alabama Power Spokesperson
The meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Parrish Town Hall. For more details about the public meeting, click here.