Environment

Kentucky regulators have approved a coal ash landfill for a power plant in Trimble County, advancing a project that’s been on hold for several years as regulators worked around concerns about the area’s geology and proximity to neighbors.

Louisville Gas & Electric has been seeking a permit for the site for more than five years. An initial permit application was denied in 2013, after a cave with ecological and possible historical significance was discovered onsite.

The Trimble County Power Station burns coal for electricity, and coal ash is a byproduct. So LG&E needs a place to put the ash, and began work on another landfill permit. Some of the ash is stored on site in ponds, but those are scheduled to be closed soon.

Now, the permit granted last week by the Kentucky Division of Waste Management allows the company to build a landfill covering 189 acres of land near the site.

“We’re pleased the Kentucky Division of Waste Management issued our permit and we’ve reached this next step in the permitting process,” said LG&E spokeswoman Liz Pratt in an email. “We believe the location we selected for the Trimble County special waste landfill is the most appropriate location with the least environmental acts while also being the lowest-cost option for our customers.”

Neighbors Opposed

Kelley Leach lives in Trimble County across the street from the proposed landfill. He spoke at a legislative hearing earlier this month against the state’s proposed new coal ash regulations, which would place less state oversight over the permitting of landfills.

At the hearing, Leach also spoke about the prospect of living across the street from the proposed landfill at the Trimble County plant.

“They have shown in that area that the dolomite is so porous that basically, it wouldn’t be if there would be a contamination of my groundwater, it would be when that would happen,” Leach told legislators. “Even with these liners that they’ve proposed to put in those, it’s just a matter of time.”

The geology under the landfill is characterized by numerous karst features, like caves, sinkholes and underground springs. In the response to comments submitted on LG&E’s proposed permit, the Kentucky Division of Waste Management said several steps were being taken to ensure the groundwater would be protected, like LG&E filling in any karst features found during excavation.

The permit also doesn’t allow LG&E to place any waste above the base of the Laurel Dolomite, which is the uppermost layer of bedrock. The response notes that groundwater flow isn’t as well understood there, and that LG&E would have to submit a groundwater monitoring plan if the company ultimately wants to put ash in those areas.

Another commenter expressed concerns that the landfill would affect the area’s pristine streams. The state responded that it would affect more than 87,000 linear feet of streams, 2.6 acres of wetlands and half an acre of open pond. All of the waters have been deemed to be high-quality, with high scores on the Macroinvertebrate Bioassessment Index.

But the Kentucky Division of Waste Management notes: “However, KDWM does not regulate impacts to streams; this responsibility lies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kentucky Division of Water.”

Leach and his family have lived on their 150-acre farm for three generations, but he said they’re willing to sell the property to LG&E. He told legislators so far, the company hasn’t expressed interest in buying it.

“In their documentation, they’ve listed in many places where this is an industrial waste site, an industrial work zone, the noise levels, the lights,” Leach said at the legislative hearing. “Everything that my family moved to that rural community to avoid, and now I’m faced with living the rest of my life in front of an industrial waste site that my family didn’t choose to live in.”

LG&E’s new permit application doesn’t directly impact Wentworth Cave — the feature that helped doom the initial application.

But if state legislators approve new regulations proposed for coal ash permitting, this permit might be for naught. The new regulations—panned by environmental groups — would allow utilities to bypass the rigorous permitting process and instead receive a single document called a “registered permit-by-rule.” If these rules are finalized, all present permits — including this freshly-issued Trimble County permit — would be null and void.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.