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Deadline extended for comments on Bull Run water treatment

  • Anderson County District 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell was one several county officials to attend last Thursday night’s public hearing on TDEC’s plans for treating water from the Bull Run Steam Plant. - Pete Gwada

  • Amanda Garcia (inset) explained the particulars and lay- out of the water systems surrounding the Bull Run Steam Plant at recent Bull Run Neighbors community group meeting. The illustration also highlights key points around the plant. - Pete Gwada

TVA has extended to Feb. 2 the period to submit comments on the “environmental assessment” of the Bull Run Steam Plant.

On Friday (Jan. 13), the day after a public hearing and question- and-answer session held by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Tennessee Valley Authority extended the public comment period.

Residents got an opportunity to express environmental concerns about the coal-fired electric generating plant at the hearing Thursday at the TDEC office in Oak Ridge.

TVA’s coal plants have water permits that allow the utility to take water from the Clinch River, use it for cooling or waste processing, and then release it back into the river after treatment.

TVA must ensure that the water it releases back into the waterway is compliant with federal environmental rules. However, those rules change with presidential administrations.

TDEC is responsible for issuing the water permits on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA guidelines were changed in 2020 under the Trump administration, rolling back standards from 2015.

The purpose of the Jan 12 meeting was to answer questions and receive comments concerning the issuance of a pollutant discharge elimination system permit to TVA for the Bull Run plant.

The permit is to authorize discharge of cooling water, processed wastewater, and stormwater runoff from the plant, and operation of a cooling-water intake system.

About 30 people attended the hearing.

Among them was Anderson County District 1 Commissioner Tracy Wandell, whose district includes the plant.

Also present was Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson.

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank participated online, as did county Commissioner Tyler Mayes, who also represents District 1.

John LeCroy, deputy director of external affairs for TDEC, was the moderator.

The meeting ad been promoted by the Bull Run Neighbors Community Group, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.

Interested people who did not speak at the meeting can submit written comments to TDEC through Feb. 2.

The information gathered at thes meeting and the subsequent written comments will be taken into consideration in the issuance of the permit.

Voijin Janjic, TDEC water-based systems manager and permit writer, said there would be no compromises in water quality regulations in the issuance of the permit.

He said the new permit is necessary because TVA has announced that the plant will cease operations in December.

Speakers were concerned about the quality of drinking water in the area and that of the Clinch River water for recreational use, considering the harmful effects of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.

The water intake for the West Knox Utility District, which serves a population of 62,812, is on the Clinch River. The intake for the Hallsdale-Powell Utility District, which serves a population of 71,709, is on Bull Run Creek.

Both sites are near the TVA power plant.

“Please help us get rid of the coal ash,” one speaker pleaded.

Mayes asked if TDEC would still be concerned about water quality if the plant were torn down. He was informed that TDEC would still be concerned about water quality, and if the plant were to be reactivated, a new permit would be required and current restrictions would apply.

Watson expressed concern about harmful sediments in river water being picked up by the Oak Ridge water intake system, especially since the intake system is being expanded.

“Put people first,” one online speaker pleaded. She urged TDEC to think about the effects of pollution on people rather than focusing on the needs of industry.

The grassroots Bull Run Neighbors community group, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Sierra Club, and Appalachian Voices urged citizens to attend the hearing, ask questions and comment.

John Todd Waterman with the Bull Run Neighbors group said before the hearing, “I spoke with TDEC Coal Combustion Residuals lead Robert Wilkinson. He plans to be there, along with director of TDEC’s Division of Solid Waste Management Pat Flood and Water-Based Systems Manager Voijin Janjic.

“He says stilling pond 2C, having been excavated and lined, is back in use, I believe as a settling pond for particulates,” Waterman said of Janjic.

“He also explained that the contaminated well beside the Gypsum Disposal Area by saying there is coal bottom ash beneath the gypsum.”