Photo taken from the canal area below Pond 2. (Source: Nancy Cave, Coastal Conservation League)
CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - An Horry County judge says Santee Cooper and attorneys representing environmental groups like the Coastal Conservation League have until Monday, November 26th to make their cases over a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the power company.
"We feel very confident the rights of the citizens will prevail," said Frank Holleman, an environmental attorney involved in the suit against Santee Cooper. "We know there's arsenic, which is a toxic substance, leaking into the water at 300 times the accepted rate."
Environmental groups, including the Coastal Conservation League, are suing the utility company over coal ash ponds at the now-defunct Dolphus M. Grainger plant, pressing the company to move the waste to a safe site.
"We've been in discussions with DHEC on how to close the ponds," said Santee Cooper spokesperson, Mollie Gore. Gore says the suit is misleading, because the Coastal Conservation League had been involved in talks with the power company regarding the Grainger plant's shutdown.
"Still, they filed a lawsuit," she said. "It's been disruptive of a process that was already well underway."
Both sides can submit additional arguments to the court by November 26th, then a decision will be made.
Santee Cooper spokeswoman Mollie Gore confirmed to WMBF News that on Oct. 20 the power utility decided to shut down two power generating plants, including the Dolphus M. Grainger plant in Conway.
The company made that decision in order to move to more efficient, environmentally friendly systems and say they will be building two new nuclear powered plants to continue generating the energy required by their current base of customers.
According to the press release on their website, this vote marks the first time the company has decided to close and operational plant.
"As we evaluated the anticipated costs of complying with new regulations and the generation resources we anticipate needing, it became clear that the best action for our customers and the state is to authorize the retirement of these units at Jefferies and Grainger," Board Chairman O.L. Thompson said. "It is not a decision we make lightly. However, it is the most cost-effective move we can make."
Employees at those plants are expected to be relocated and remain within the company. There is not set timetable on when the plant's units will be retired, though the press release notes the units at Grainger were idled in the spring.
Current controversy surrounds the two coal ash ponds behind the Dolphus M. Grainger plant on Highway 501 which contain 650,000 tons of coal ash.
"They've been continuously leaking arsenic into the river," said Nancy Cave of the Coastal Conservation League.
Studies conducted by the Coastal Conservation League show those ponds, divided from the Waccamaw River by a raised earthen mound, are leaking into the Waccamaw backwater.
They speculate that if this situation is not controlled, pubic drinking water could be polluted.
Gore admits that Santee Cooper has been named in a lawsuit brought by the Coastal Conservation League regarding their disposal of the coal ash from the plant, but they have filed a motion to dismiss.
"There are permits to be obtained to retire the plant," Gore said. "Right now, we've got the authority to proceed, and that's what we're going to do."
Santee Cooper is currently working on a solution on how to dispose of the coal ash, and insists the public will be involved in the process.
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