NIPSCO is now required by federal law to decide on final disposal of the ash in the Michigan City ash ponds. This final disposal is referred to as “closure”.
NIPSCO’s closure plan is to dig out the ash ponds and send some of the ash for recycling and the rest to the Schahfer landfill in Jasper County. This is beneficial since it removes a significant source of groundwater contamination and it takes coal ash out of the Lake Michigan 100-year floodplain. The landfill receiving the ash at Schahfer is engineered according to federal standards to protect groundwater.
However, NIPSCO’s current closure plan has some gaps including not addressing the coal ash that was used as fill.
A coalition of public interest groups submitted comments about the Michigan City closure plan to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in December 2019. The coalition submitted supplemental comments in June 2020 along with a petition signed by more than 3,000 people. The comments and petition include demands to:
- delay excavation of the coal ash because it could create particulate air pollution that would exacerbate COVID-19 disease (this was granted just days after the comments and petition were submitted)
- work with a Community Review Committee during coal ash closure and post-closure
- recalculate Groundwater Protection Standards for the site using appropriate background wells
- test sediment in Trail Creek and Lake Michigan for off-site migration of contaminants
- test nearby fish for accumulation of contaminants
- control dust during excavation and check for control by monitoring for particulate matter
- permanently secure the coal ash in the fill to prevent a spill into Lake Michigan and Trail Creek
**Big News June 26, 2020**
NIPSCO announced that it would delay excavation of its coal ash ponds at Michigan City by one year. This is good news! The Hoosier Environmental Council and a coalition of community organizations advocated for the delay because of the coronavirus pandemic. Studies have shown that particulate matter in the air increases the risk of severe coronavirus disease, and coal ash excavation could release particulate matter into the air. NIPSCO’s delay prevents creation of an extra hazard during the pandemic.
This is an example of dust from coal ash from a disposal site in Oklahoma.
We appreciate NIPSCO listening to the community and taking this step to prevent an extra health hazard during the COVID-19 pandemic.
HistoryFrom 1882 to 1928, NIPSCO operated a manufactured gas plant in Michigan City, Indiana. NIPSCO started cleaning up the coal tar waste from that plant in the early 2000s. In 1929, NIPSCO began building a coal-fired power plant on a nearby site closer to Lake Michigan. The power plant began operations in 1931 and has been in operation since then.
Ash disposalBetween 1931 and 1950, NIPSCO built steel sheet pile walls along Trail Creek and the Lake Michigan shore, which border their property. They filled in behind the sheet pile with a mix of coal ash, soil and sand from 1931 to 1972. This created “made land” with fill up to 40 feet deep behind the sheet pile (see aerial photos). On the made land, NIPSCO built parking lots, buildings and their coal ash ponds.
From 1972 until recently, they used water to rinse the ash from the power plant into the coal ash ponds where the ash would settle out. When each pond was full, they would dig out the ash for recycling or disposal elsewhere, often at their land fill at the Schahfer power plant in Jasper County, Indiana. Currently, Michigan City coal ash is being sent for recycling or sent for disposal at Schahfer. None is being disposed of on site.