There was an overriding theme among community members who spoke Tuesday night at a meeting to discuss a proposed plan to enclose the coal ash ponds at the now-closed Grainger electric plant:
Haul the stuff away instead.
They were not convinced by Santee Cooper, which wants to permanently encase the coal ash ponds in a cement-fortified vault capped with a synthetic liner that is designed to prevent contaminants, including arsenic, from seeping into nearby groundwater.
More than 70 people turned out for the nearly two-hour public comment meeting.
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Michael Corley, with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, said Conway will continue to change and evolve over the years, but the coal ash will be a permanent fixture in the downtown area, potentially polluting the nearby Waccamaw River.
Corley followed several speakers echoing the same sentiment. He was aware of the redundancy of his points.
“I believe that horse is so objectionable it needs some additional beating,” he said to laughter from the audience.
Environmental tests show pollution is seeping into groundwater from the unlined ponds, which total about 82 acres, or more than three times the size of the lake at Broadway at the Beach. The ponds currently are separated from the Waccamaw River by earthen berms that sometimes are submerged when the river’s water levels are high.
The Santee Cooper proposal has drawn the ire of environmentalists who question whether the plan will prevent pollution from threatening the adjacent Waccamaw River.
Santee Cooper officials say the proposal “is proven technology and sound engineering” that will cost the utility – and, ultimately, its customers – significantly less than other solutions, according to spokeswoman Mollie Gore.
Many in attendance supported another alternative, and that was taking the coal ash out of the ponds instead.
Conway City Councilman Tom Anderson said Santee Cooper could invest money in the struggling railroad system and use the train to haul the coal ash out of the area.
“We don’t need to leave this stuff in downtown Conway at all. Enough said,” Anderson said.
While the vast majority of the public comments were in opposition to the proposed plan, there were a few who came up to support Santee Cooper.
Joe Snurr, who said he’s been a Santee Cooper customer for 39 years, said the entity provides efficient power to those in the surrounding community.
Employees at Santee Cooper are professional and environmentally conscious, he said.
“I think they know how to run their business,” Snurr said.
Area resident Charles Timms said he knows Santee Cooper will make the right decision as to how to handle the coal ash ponds.
“Now, what the right thing is, I have no idea,” he said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control must sign off on the plan before Santee Cooper can begin any work.
Written comments also can be submitted to DHEC until May 9. DHEC will consider the public comments in its decision-making process, but the agency has not set a timetable for a final decision.