(This piece was originally published on December 9, 2016 on TheIndyChannel.)

INDIANAPOLIS — A bi-partisan group of city-county councilors are urging Indianapolis Power and Light to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of options for closing the coal ash ponds at Harding Street and Eagle Valley.

Thirteen Indianapolis City-County councilors wrote a Dec. 6 letter to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management urging them to require IPL to publish a report detailing long-term options.

“Groundwater testing shows high levels of arsenic and other contaminants under the coal ash ponds,” read the letter. “According to the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Harding Street data shows the highest concentration of arsenic, a known carcinogen, at nearly 50 times the national drinking water standard.”

The Harding Street plant burned coal up until February 2016, and the byproducts are stored in unlined coal ash lagoons. 

Homeowners and environmental groups are concerned coal ash is contaminating the aquifer underneath the lagoons and may spread to the groundwater, which supplies water to parts of the city including Sunshine Gardens.

IPL has filed a plan to close its coal ash lagoons at its Harding Street plant, however environmental groups say the plan does not address underlying groundwater contamination.

“The city-county council letter is very important because the state is deciding whether to approve or reject IPL’s plan to close their coal ash lagoons in place,” said Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director for the Hoosier Environmental Council on Friday. “The lagoons should be closed, the ash should be removed and either re-used or put in a dry lined modern landfill which is the same way we treat household trash.

The letter, signed by both republican and democrat city-county councilors, asks IPL to analyze the future risks of capping the coal ash in place, future water treatment, as well as using a lined landfill.

“Clean closure prevents re-saturation and leaching of coal ash into the groundwater, while simultaneously preventing future contamination of the White River and nearby water sources,” read the letter.

City county councilor Zach Adamson said he is very concerned about the coal ash’s impact on drinking water.

“I think it’s important that we take a position on issues as important as water security and environmental issues that might impact the health of residents,” said Adamson. “The concern is with them being close to the water table that does rise and fall underneath the ash ponds, the way that they’re planning to close them may continue to infiltrate the water supply below the surface of the ground.”

IPL released the following response to the letter from city-county councilors:

“IPL is committed to the safety of the communities we serve and will close all ponds in accordance with state and federal regulations while considering the financial impacts to our customers. We believe the best choice for our customers is to close the ash ponds by installing a 30-inch protective soil layer over a waterproof cap on the pond. This prevents rainwater from carrying coal ash into groundwater.

Coal ash is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as a non-hazardous waste, and we are confident by complying with regulations that our plans  are protective of human health and the environment while providing the most reasonable cost option for our customers.”

The Hoosier Environmental Council is concerned the ash will remain in place with no bottom barrier between it and the underlying groundwater, creating a “tea bag effect.”

IDEM also responded to the letter:

“IDEM’s public comment deadline on the issue was just closed Dec. 5, so agency representatives are currently evaluating the numerous comments submitted on this topic, including the letters submitted by interested parties like Hoosier Environmental Council and the City-County Council. Traditionally the agency issues ‘responses to public comments’ within 30-45 days of the comment deadline.”

If you are interested in getting your drinking water tested, visit the Indiana State Department of Health’s website for a list of certified laboratories or call IDEM directly.

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