Santee Cooper Agrees to Remove Coal Ash from the Waccamaw River and Conway
In a groundbreaking settlement with conservation groups, Santee Cooper has agreed to remove 1.3 million tons of coal ash from the banks of the Waccamaw River in Conway, South Carolina. The settlement resolves lawsuits filed by the Southern Environmental Law on behalf of the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, the Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to require removal of the coal ash.
“This is an historic agreement that removes toxic coal ash from beside the Waccamaw River and from Conway,” said Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This settlement is good for Conway, for the River, and for Santee Cooper, and we thank Santee Cooper for reaching this agreement.”
This is the second settlement in South Carolina that requires a utility to remove coal ash stored beside a major river. In 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Catawba Riverkeeper settled a suit with SCE&G under which SCE&G agreed to remove 2.4 million tons of coal ash from the Wateree River in Richland County, three miles upstream of the Congaree National Park.
For decades, Santee Cooper has stored coal ash from its Conway Grainger generating station in unlined lagoons in wetlands beside the Waccamaw River. The lagoons discharge arsenic into the groundwater and the neighboring Waccamaw River, at times at levels 300 times the legal limit. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC) has found that the arsenic pollution violates the S.C. Pollution Control Act. Santee Cooper closed the Grainger plant and had proposed a closure plan that would leave the coal ash beside the river indefinitely in a “vault.”
This proposal was opposed by local community members at a public hearing, and Conway City Council adopted a resolution opposing the proposal and asking Santee Cooper to remove the ash from Conway.
Under the settlement, Santee Cooper must remove the ash from Conway and the Waccamaw River within seven to ten years. Santee Cooper will also remove one foot of soil from beneath the lagoons. If it stores the ash, Santee Cooper must put the ash in a Class 3 or better landfill. Santee Cooper will withdraw the closure plan that includes the proposed vault and will propose a closure plan providing for removal of the ash. The settlement also contains requirements for groundwater testing and for action to be taken if the arsenic level in the groundwater does not decline.
“This settlement provides for the protection of our beautiful black water Waccamaw River”, said Christine Ellis, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper. “On behalf of our members and supporters, and our community as a whole, we are grateful to Santee Cooper for agreeing to remove its toxic coal ash and helping us to achieve our goal of fishable, swimmable and drinkable water for our families and our future. This is a great day for the Waccamaw River and for Conway, our Rivertown.”
The removal of the coal ash will eliminate the source of the arsenic pollution from the wetlands beside the Waccamaw River. The removal will also eliminate a potential liability for Santee Cooper. The removal will also remediate wetlands in the center of Conway, just feet away from the Conway City Marina and near the Conway Riverwalk.
“This settlement is a landmark agreement for South Carolina’s Lowcountry,” said Nancy Cave, North Coast Office Director for the Coastal Conservation League. “The settlement removes toxic coal ash from endangering the river and communities along the river. It also provides further precedent for the handling of coal ash in the future.”
“Coal ash is a toxic legacy of old coal-fired plants,” said Ulla Reeves of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “To protect our rivers, our people, and groundwater, the coal ash must be stored properly, and this settlement shows what all utilities across our region ought to be doing.”
As part of an earlier settlement with the Conservation Groups, SC DHEC has issued a new water pollution control permit for the Grainger facility. That new permit, once it is final, will apply while the ash is being removed.
About the Waccamaw Riverkeeper
The Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER® is a program of Winyah Rivers Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization whose mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah Bay watershed. Our goal is to protect our community’s right to fishable, swimmable and drinkable water. We pursue this goal through education and advocacy programs in support of our mission to protect our river resources. These programs are developed and implemented to increase the scientific literacy of our community, including local decision makers, and to engage them in environmental stewardship and planning for river resource protections.
About the Coastal Conservation League
Since 1989, the Coastal Conservation League has been working with communities, businesses, other conservation and citizen groups to protect what we love about the South Carolina coast. From the white sand beaches and pristine marshes to the freshwater swamps and pine savannahs, we focus on the most efficient and effective ways to protect natural habitats, the wildlife that depends on them and the variety of benefits they bring to this state. We also believe that the communities we live in, the air we breathe and the water we depend upon are important and that our quality of life deserves the same high level of attention. To learn more, go to www.scccl.org.
About Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Founded in 1985, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible energy choices that create global warming solutions and ensure clean, safe, and healthy communities throughout the Southeast. Learn more at www.cleanenergy.org.