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Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River

Federal Lawsuit Filed to Force Dynegy to Clean Up Toxic Pollution of Vermilion River
Recent Video Documents Continued Coal Ash Contamination of Illinois’ Only National Scenic River

Contact: Jenny Cassel, Earthjustice, jcassel@earthjustice.org or 215.717.4525
Andrew Rehn, Prairie Rivers Network, arehn@prairierivers.org or 217.344.2371 x 208

May 30, 2018 (Urbana, Illinois) — Prairie Rivers Network, represented by Earthjustice, today filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois to force Dynegy to clean up toxic coal ash dumps that are leaching harmful pollution into the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River. Newly-released videodocuments the pollution at issue in the lawsuit, which argues that Dynegy is violating the Clean Water Act. The pollution has tainted the river with visible orange, purple, and rust-colored toxic residue.

“Dynegy left a toxic mess on the banks of one of Illinois’ most beautiful rivers, and has done nothing to stop the dangerous, illegal pollution from fouling waters enjoyed by countless families who kayak, tube, canoe, and even swim in the river. Dynegy has left us no choice but to sue,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Cassel, who represents Prairie Rivers Network.

The pollution is leaching from coal ash generated at Dynegy’s now retired coal-fired power plant, the Vermilion Power Station. For decades, the ash left over from burning coal at the plant was dumped irresponsibly into unlined ponds that together run approximately a half-mile along the river. Coal ash contains a slew of dangerous pollutants that are linked to cancer, heart disease, and strokes, as well as lifelong brain damage for children. Sampling from the river found a “toxic soup” including arsenic, barium, boron, chromium, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, and sulfate. Concentrations of boron and sulfate – primary indicators of coal ash contamination – were repeatedly found in groundwater at the site above levels deemed safe by Illinois and U.S. EPA.

“We have a rare jewel in our midst. My brothers and I learned how to swim in that river and spent countless hours exploring it. Over the years, my wife and I have introduced our children, grandchildren, and extended family to the river to enjoy the beauty, peace, and excitement of being outdoors. We must work together to see that this coal ash problem is solved safely,” said local resident Mike Camp from nearby Collison, who grew up along the river and in sixty-four years has never lived more than two miles away from it.

American Rivers recently named the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River one of the ten most endangered rivers in the United States due to the coal ash contamination. The Vermilion County Board has twice unanimously passed resolutions asking Dynegy to clean up the mess.

The river and its banks are popular for kayaking, other boating, tubing and hiking, with thousands of visitors each year. The Middle Fork runs through Kickapoo State Park, which gets over one million visitors each year.

“As you travel along the river, one minute you are enjoying spectacular natural beauty and the next you’re looking at unsightly chemicals leaching into the water. It’s jarring. It’s bad for the local community and the wildlife—including several endangered species—associated with the river. Dynegy is jeopardizing the local jobs and the economy that depend on visitors who value the river for recreation. No one wants to swim or boat in toxic soup. Dynegy should use some of the money they made when they ran the plant to clean it up. They’re the ones who chose not to safely dispose of the coal ash,” said Rob Kanter, a naturalist and writer who serves on the Board of Prairie Rivers Network.

Meanwhile, Scott Pruitt is proposing to gut the protections for coal ash pollution nationwide, even as evidence mounts that coal ash dumps such as those at the closed Vermilion power plant are leaching dangerous chemicals into rivers, lakes, and groundwater. Even absent strong federal protections for legacy coal ash sites, however, Dynegy still must comply with environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act.

According to today’s lawsuit filed by Prairie Rivers Network, Dynegy has been discharging without a proper permit and in violation of Illinois environmental and health standards for years. Prairie Rivers Network will ask the court to order Dynegy to “take all actions necessary” to stop the illegal pollution that is being discharged to the Middle Fork, and to pay penalties to the United States Treasury of up to $53,484 per day for each day over the last five years that Dynegy has violated the Clean Water Act.

The Middle Fork and its surrounding area host twenty threatened or endangered species, fifty-seven types of fish, forty-six different mammal species, and two hundred seventy different bird species. The river is home to state-endangered Blue Breast Darter and several species of rare, threatened, and endangered mussels. The American bald eagle, river otter, and wild turkey have returned to the area, sharing their habitat with mink, turtles, Great Blue Heron and other species.

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Cheap Pork or Clean Rivers

By Don Mueggenborg

Spoon River

Most of us like a pork sausage with pancakes, or a slice of bacon with eggs (or almost everything). I enjoyed a pork roast at Christmas.

Since we are the Illinois Paddling Council, I can assume that most of the people reading this are paddlers.   We all enjoy a nice summer paddle on our favorite river (and almost any river I paddle is my favorite at that time).

At one time (and maybe it is still an annual event), Bob Evans invited people to paddle to his farm and enjoy his famous sausages. (Now that is a great way to enjoy both!)

If the price of pork is kept low, we may eat more. This is what the pork producers want. (Of course, their profits will grow as we eat more.)

In order to cut the cost of hog production and make more profits, the pork producers are threatening our rivers.

A three-page article in the Chicago Tribune (Dec 28, 2016) exposes the threat to our rivers.

Pork producers have been building mega-hog farms. The one mentioned in the Tribune article is for 20,000 hogs. No, I did not put in an extra zero.

Besides a lot of bacon, 20,000 hogs produce an awful lot of waste products. This is stored in concrete bunkers, eventually dried, and becomes fertilizer. In the meantime, it produces an unbearable stench.

Nearby wells and streams are threatened with pollution.

If one of the holding bunkers should rupture, be damaged in a tornado, overflow due to heavy rains, millions of gallons of toxic sludge will be set free (it has happened a few years back).

It will flow into our rivers, killing fish, and making the waters unfit to paddle on.

The closest river to the proposed mega-hog farm mentioned by the Tribune is the Spoon River, which flows west and south of Peoria into the Illinois River.

The Spoon is called by some the “Grand Canyon of Illinois” for its colorful red and yellow high clay banks. It is a river that is fun to paddle and was the site of a race I looked forward to for years. It is probably best known for the Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

ACTION TIME – the Illinois Department of Agriculture apparently has limited jurisdiction according to the article – so – IT IS TIME TO WRITE, EMAIL, CALL our state senators and representatives. Urge them to pass laws that will safeguard our rivers.

I will pay a little more for my spareribs, bacon, and sausages, to save our rivers.

 

Congratulations To The Friends Of The Pecatonica Foundation

For Winning the American Canoe Association’s Green Paddle for Waterway Conservation Award

green paddle

There once was a creek in Freeport

Yellow was its name

And paddlers needed to report

When launching a canoe in the same

A written permit was needed

To put in a river just knee deep

So for help they came asking

And dozens of letters were tasking

The City Officials for permits

When one of them finally said “That’s it –

no more written requests to go paddling.”

And even a launch site was opened.

Which was more than the paddlers had hopened!  (it had to rhyme)

And the rest is history!

This was the beginning of the involvement of Joe Ginger, Lee Butler, Roger Schamberger, and the many friends who eventually formed www.paddlethepec.com  and the Friends of the Pecatonica Foundation (http://pecriver.org/) to help restore, appreciate and celebrate, a nearby river – the Pecatonica.

Their efforts over the past decade are deservedly recognized by the American Canoe Association with their Green Paddle for Waterway Conservation Award.

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL OF THE FRIENDS OF THE PECATONICA FOUNDATION

Check out the Friendliest Paddle in Illinois here, and join the Friends on one of the many trips they offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Call To The IEPA

By Don Mueggenborg

For several days now, besides the seaweed in the river, there were globs of something floating in the river.

I have called the IEPA about possible pollution before – time to call again.

I paddled on a Tuesday and saws the stuff – whatever it was.

Wednesday I called the Des Plaines office of the Illinois EPA. After a bit of a discussion, I was switched to a field officer (or whatever the title).

Me: “There is stuff floating in the river, it might be raw sewage.”

EPA: “Is it green or brown?”

Me: “Ahh – brownish-green or greenish-brown.  Anyway – I paddle the river frequently and this is something different.   It might be sewage.”

EPA: Where are you paddling?  We will try to get out there to see what it is

I gave him directions, just above the first bridge north of the river – turn right – well, left if you are coming from the north, right if from the south. Wind your way to Madison Street, but it is not marked – go toward the river past the treatment plant.

THURSDAY – the river is as clear as I have ever seen it.

Call the IEPA back – they are not going to find anything today.

Me: “I’m the guy that called yesterday about the pollution on the Des Plaines.”

EPA: We haven’t –“

I cut him off –

Me: “You guys really act fast.  What a great job.  I called one day and the next day the river is clear.  Great Job!”

EPA: We haven’t got there yet.  Probably the heavy rain and cooler weather today.  With hot dry summers, the algae tend to grow.  Treatment plants also add phosphorous.  We will check it out.

By the way – I can’t seem to find the place you mentioned. Wind around where?”

I gave him better directions – turn East at the stoplight on Bluff Road – by a gas station – dead-ends into Madison St, turn right to the river.

Moral?

Call the IEPA if you think the river is being polluted. In my experience, they really do respond.

The photos are of places on the lower Des Plaines.

Des Plaines River Des Plaines River

Call to All Paddlers: The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee Needs You

By Susan Urbas, Vice President, CHSC

Photo Credit Larry Dostal

I know that the Illinois Paddling Council counts among its membership many paddlers, who, like me as a rower, have several decades of experience plying the Chicago area waterways, particularly the River, under their belts. We know the stark difference between then and now; between the long, slow, steady growth of human-powered and other traffic, and the explosion of all varieties of traffic which has occurred in the last decade. While on the one hand we are heartened to observe the tremendous growth in human-powered craft usage, on the other hand we, and other types of users, are gravely concerned about the safety implications inherent in waterways crowded by a rich diversity of vessels and users operating at widely divergent levels of operational knowledge, skill, and safety practices.

Increasing concerns over safety risks on Chicago area waterways led to a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) being conducted by the Coast Guard on March 27-28, 2012. The purpose of the PAWSA was to identify major safety hazards, estimate risk levels, evaluate potential mitigation measures, and set the stage for implementation of selected measures to further reduce risks in the Port of Chicago. PAWSA participants included representatives from marine stakeholder organizations and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, including law enforcement.

By conclusion of the PAWSA process, it was clear to the participants that a new harbor safety committee structure was needed that would effectively bring together the diverse variety of Chicago waterway users who have mutual interests in the use of navigable waterways, with the agencies which oversee the waterways. The challenge in drafting a charter for this new harbor safety committee was building a structure that at every level ensured the appropriate marine interests would be represented and the appropriate expertise applied to solve problems and educate the public.

(Remember that last sentence as you read on, for the application, as appropriate to the issue at hand, of all of the relevant marine interests and their expertise to solve problems and educate the public is at the very heart of the CHSC. If your voice, expressing its concerns and knowledge are not in the CHSC room, then you, and the marine community collectively, may just as well hand it over to other interests or unenlightened third parties to make decisions about our waterways’ usage).

The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee (CHSC) was formed on July 15, 2013. The CHSC Charter, which required approval of the Coast Guard, was the result of a year-long effort to devise a harbor safety committee for Chicago which suited the nature of this marine community and its waterway challenges. The approved charter emerged from historical elements in the Chicago marine community (its less formal predecessor harbor safety committee, the 12-year old Port Development and Safety Council), best practices gleaned from other harbor safety committees around the country, and many rounds of input from marine stakeholder and government agency representatives.

Despite the heavy workload to get the new organization up and running, the CHSC did not hesitate to take immediate action to improve the traffic safety on the Chicago River. Faced with a rapid increase in the number of “close calls” between commercial and industrial vessels (tour boats and barges) and rental boats (kayaks and electric boats) during the 2013 boating season, the CHSC sprang into action less than a month after its inaugural meeting on July 15th, and proposed a traffic and hazard warning signage plan which received Coast Guard approval. The signage that you now see posted along the Chicago River alerting to hazards, directional instructions, and no wake zones was the result of this collaboration between the CHSC, the City, and the Coast Guard.

Other accomplishments of the CHSC since its formation in 2013 include successful collaboration with the City on Chicago Riverwalk project construction activity; dissemination of numerous safety relevant alerts, documents, and publications; coordination and collaboration on filming and special events projects on the River and Lake; operational modification of the Centennial Fountain; development and presentation of a Chicago waterway-specific safety education presentation; and perhaps most importantly, CHSC’s very detailed and recently released Safety Recommendations and Guide to Rules and Regulations. New projects now underway include development of a web portal for user-relevant safety training and certification.

For more information about the CHSC and how to join as an individual member or marine stakeholder organization member, please drop me a note at info@chicagoharborsafety.com. Pardon our mess while we complete work on our website, www.chicagoharborsafety.com. A couple of weeks from now, that will be the place to go for everything CHSC and Chicago area waterways related.

logo

 

$169.00 (after $30 rebate) – 10’4″ Kayak – Stable, High Performance Multichannel Hull – Paddle Included

kayak adSo read the ad on the front page of a big box home improvement store’s flyer included in Sunday’s paper. I wonder if the sales clerks at this store will tell their customers that they should also purchase a life jacket (I hope the store carries that). This may be one of the reasons we likely will read again about people getting in trouble on swollen rivers or on Lake Michigan – the “stable, high performance multichannel hull” leading buyers into a false sense of security.

When we started paddling back in the early 1970’s, there were few places one could purchase a canoe in the Chicago area. Once we did, we were provided with information on how to participate in the sport safely by joining a paddling club, which we did too. Club members freely shared their paddling knowledge and skill and educated us to make our canoe outings safer.

Where does the buyer of the $169.00 boat – after rebate – with free paddle – go to safely enjoy his or her purchase? Maybe on some river where skilled kayakers may have been seen playing at the bottom of a dam? Maybe somewhere on Lake Michigan when the weather was warm, but the water temperature in May or June is still cold enough to lead to hypothermia, in the event of the capsized paddler wearing jeans and a t-shirt with the PFD in the back of the boat? All of which we know have happened.

What is the answer? IPC is trying to develop a Safety Task Force to disseminate basic safety information to as many organizations, businesses selling canoes/kayaks/SUPs, and the press as possible, and also respond to reports of paddling-related incidents by submitting this information in letters to editors and other media.

We are looking for your ideas as well on how to provide basic safety information to the general public.

Thank you – Sigrid Pilgrim

Your comments on the proposed $140,000,000 Longmeadow Parkway are urgently requested.

Your comments on the proposed $140,000,000 Longmeadow Parkway are urgently requested.
By Gary Swick
President, Friends of the Fox River
December 9th – January 9th is probably the worst time of the year tosolicit volunteer efforts, as it is the busy holiday season. But this is the window thathas been assigned to have a voice on the proposed Longmeadow Parkway. Please raise your voice, as this is significant in the approval process. We have found that the Army Corps of Engineers do consider our comments. Requesting a public hearing would allow foradditional time to comment.Below are links for background information, and comment submission guidelines.

http://www.lrc.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices/tabid/3692/Article/633408/lrc-2013-839.aspx

http://www.epa.illinois.gov/Assets/iepa/public-notices/2015/kane-county-division-of-transportation/public-notice.pdf

http://www.stoplongmeadow.com

https://www.facebook.com/stoplongmeadow

http://www.curblongmeadow.com

https://www.facebook.com/CURBLongmeadow

http://www.co.kane.il.us/dot/foxBridges/longmeadowPkwy.aspx

http://www.friendsofthefoxriver.org

Please educate yourself on the associated issues. The sample letter to the Governor on the CURB site offers four main points. There are however a long list of concerns that are associated with these categories, especially relative to environmental impacts. Contact either the stoplongmeadow or CURB folks through their web sites for specific information. Sample letters are also available. The Environmental Law and Policy Center, Openlands, and Illinois Sierra Club’s comments on the legality of building a highway through a County Forest Preserve are especially compelling. I welcome the opportunity to work with individuals or groups on this issue.

Please develop and submit your public comment before January 9th. It is very important to strictly adhere to the comment parameters. The Army Corps and IEPA have different requirements and are two different permits, but they are accepting joint letters of comment. Also please share the need for public comment with your own social circles. We need to demonstrate that the public cares. This is a very important opportunity to take action on a project that could have significant impact socially, economically, and environmentally. We need your voice.

 

LMP public comment call

LMP talking points sample 1

ACE public comment – 2

lmp assessment by ed

jointpermitflyer

From the President’s Desk Year In Review and Looking Forward

 

 

Wow, Has it been a year already? At the beginning of the year I discussed the following five priorities for the IPC, coming from last year’s paddlers’ survey

 

  • Development of Water Trails and Access Points.
  • Advocacy
  • Safety and Education
  • Stewardship
  • Our Web Page and Online Presence

 

So how have we done? Some Highlights of the year

 

 

 

I would like to think that we are heading in the right direction, but still have a lot to do! Should anyone want to take a more active role in the IPC, I would welcome the increased participation. There are a number of board positions available. Please feel free to contact me so we can discuss how to get involved.

 

 

 

Tom Eckels,

President, Illinois Paddling Council

Program Manager, Illinois Water TrailKeepers

thomasreckels@gmail.com

847-863-7046

 

From the President’s Desk:

 

Paddling Safety Task Force

 

There have been far too many news stories about people going out in unsafe conditions and getting themselves in trouble or killed.  Two different groups of rafters got hung up on strainers on the DuPage at High Flood stage and had to be rescued. A tuber and a kayaker were killed on the Mackinaw at High Water.

 

It is very clear that many people do not understand the safety issues or the skills required to safely enjoy Illinois Paddleable waterways.  There have been a lot of discussions both on Facebook and via email lists about how to address this problem.

 

Addressing this issue requires a multifaceted approach:

 

Develop press outreach materials and a press outreach campaign to help steer media articles to discuss the safety issue.

 

Develop and distribute Online Safety materials.  Either develop new materials and link to already existing materials.  Make sure that the materials are available widely on the web and through social media.

 

Develop and Distribute Printed Safety materials at events by staffing informational tables, through retailers and liveries, etc.

 

Develop, promote, and support formal training opportunities for people to learn to enjoy our waterways safely and responsibly.

 

In our board meeting, the IPC voted to charter a Paddling Safety Taskforce.  However, this will be too big for the IPC to accomplish by ourselves. It will need to involve a coalition of Organizations, paddling clubs, paddle sports businesses, liveries, and individuals working on this task force.

 

Who else is in?

 

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Sarah Hartman Fund for Paddle Sports Education

 

We are all saddened by the passing of a fellow paddler, Sarah Hartman.  As an Avid Sea Kayaker, Flat Water River Kayaker, White Water Kayaker, Sarah touched so many of our lives.  She was an incredible Athlete, coach, teacher, and friend.  Any words in this newsletter are inadequate to the task of expressing the loss.

 

Her Family has requested that Donations in her memory be made to either Team River Runner or Chicago Adventure Therapy.  We would ask people to give generously to these great organizations in her memory!

 

There is a web page available to express ones memories of Sarah at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/Batesville/guestbook.aspx?n=sarah-hartman&pid=175286131

The IPC Board voted to rename the Heartland Fund to the Sarah Hartman Fund for Paddle Sports Education.  The heartland fund was established several years ago to help with a small stipend to those who achieve level-3 ACA Instructor certifications (or the equivalent BCU Coaching Certificates).  More information for the Sarah Hartman Fund for Paddle Sports Education  is available on the IPC Website:  http://www.illinoispaddling.info/heartland-fund/

 

Tom Eckels

thomasreckels@gmail.com

847-863-7046

President, Illinois Paddling Council

Report Dumping

By now everyone has probably seen the big California Oil Spill on the news. How about the two Illinois Oil Spills, one in Galina and one near Sidney in the Salt Fork of the Vermillion River? Read about them here:

http://www3.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=29&RecNum=13072

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2015-05-05/rail-fuel-spill-stirs-concerns.html

http://www2.epa.gov/il/galena-train-derailment

http://www.wsj.com/articles/bnsf-train-carrying-crude-oil-derails-in-illinois-1425599575

http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150306/news/303069996

While these are dramatic examples, it doesn’t take a train-wreck-sized spill to have an environmental impact. Even small events matter. So you are paddling your favorite body of water, and notice a chemical sheen. Besides being grossed out…what do you do? One paddler of the Fox River on Memorial Day weekend experienced just this. Jake, contacted the local authorities in Aurora who were extremely responsive. Eric, who has been involved with volunteer water quality monitoring projects, and also happens to be the City Engineer was able to trace the spill back to the source and clean it up!  The Illinois EPA was also notified to investigate the spill. Great Victory guys!

 

A few years back, also on the Fox, some paddlers discovered a fish-kill off. They contacted local authorities. Eventually the culprit was found, and justice served. Great Victory!

 

Last Month, Mike Taylor and Tom Eckels were paddling the Little Calumet River. We discovered a illegal disposal site of truck tires and automotive parts behind a trucking company, dumped in the river. A call was placed to the local authorities. It is yet to be seen as to what happens. Let’s hope for another great victory!

So you are paddling on your favorite waterway. You find a chemical spill or an illegal dump site. What do you do? First of all, do not come into direct contact with any potential contaminants. Let the professionals do their job. The safest thing to do is to report it. But to whom. A good place to start is your local village/town/city/county hall. The staff there could direct you to the local authorities who can take direct action. Additionally these types of incidents fall into the jurisdiction of the Illinois EPA. For a chemical spill or other emergency; For A non-emergency:

Another tool available is the Report a Water Trail Problem of the Water TrailKeepers. WTK volunteers are willing to assist as much as we can!

No responsiveness from the local government or Illinois EPA? Consider contacting your State and/or Federal Senator or Representative’s office. Putting a little political heat under the feet of those responsible is always an option.  Also find organizations such as the Illinois Water TrailKeepers, Prairie River Networks, American Rivers, River Alliance, Friends of groups, etc. etc. etc. to help address the issue. Many organizations have existing relationships with authorities, and can call on their relationships to help get things cleaned up!