SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The owner of an abandoned power plant has agreed to clean up toxic waste dumped into the flood plain of the Vermilion River, boosting efforts to protest Illinois’ lone national scenic river.
Under a deal brokered by the Illinois attorney general’s office, Texas-based Vistra on Monday agreed to drain pits of water-soaked coal ash along the Middle Fork Vermilion River, about 120 miles (193.12 kilometers)south of Chicago. The energy company also will dig a trench to collect contaminated groundwater and monitor eroding riverbank after major storms.
Vistra’s three coal ash pits were dug into the flood plain by Illinois Power, which built a coal-fired power plant next to the river in 1955. Dynegy bought the plant in 2000, closing it in 2011. Vistra took on liability for the three pits of coal slurry when it absorbed Dynegy in a corporate merger.
Before Monday’s deal, Vistra sought permission to cap the coal ash and leave it behind a wall of rock 150 yards (137.16 meters) long. But the deal with Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office requires Vistra to remove and safely dispose of the waste away from the tributary of the Wabash River.
Vistra officials said in a statement they believe the coal ash could safely left in place or moved to another spot on company property farther away from the river. However, they agreed to remove the coal ash “given the unique nature of the site and to resolve the pending dispute with the state of Illinois.”
The Chicago Tribune reports the agreement appears to resolve a complaint filed nearly a decade ago by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. It also marks a test of new Illinois regulations requiring Vistra and other energy companies to clean up coal ash dumps near two dozen other power plants, most of which will be closed by the end of the decade.
“Our work now will be to ensure that the terms of the order are carried out in a manner that permanently protects the river and the communities that depend on it,” said Lan Richart, co-director of the Eco-Justice Collaborative, a Champaign-based group that helped draw attention to threats to the Middle Fork.
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Featured image: Google map image of a section of Vermilion River in Illinois