Environment, Science

Controversial South Georgia Coal Ash Plan Is Off The Table

Retired educator Peggy Riggins led the fight against a plan to store coal ash in a landfill in her county.
Retired educator Peggy Riggins led the fight against a plan to store coal ash in a landfill in her county.
Credit Molly Samuel / WABE
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A controversial plan to bring tens of thousands of tons of coal ash to a landfill in South Georgia is off the table.

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Opponents of the plan, concerned about environmental risks, had been fighting the idea for more than a year, in newspaper editorials, at public hearings and in the state legislature. The Broadhurst Landfill in Wayne County announced Wednesday that it’s pulling three permit applications with the state and federal governments, and it now has no plans to bring in or store coal ash.

“I’m very grateful,” said Peggy Riggins, a Jesup resident who led the charge against the landfill’s plan.

Coal ash is what’s left over after utilities burn coal for electricity. Most power companies store it onsite at their power plants, or recycle it. But following regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 – and after a couple disastrous spills – some utilities began looking for other places to put it. Coal ash can contain toxins including arsenic and mercury.

Landfills that handle municipal waste are allowed to handle coal ash, even without permits, but a spokesman for Broadhurst said the company has decided to back off on taking in coal ash or building a rail spur that would have allowed trains to deliver it directly.

“Over the past year and a half we’ve done a lot of listening,” said Chip Lake, spokesman for the landfill, which is owned by Republic Services. “The community has been very vocal and very expressive about not wanting this material in their back yard.”

Opponents of the coal ash plan were also mounting legal opposition, said Dink NeSmith, a newspaper publisher who was one of those very vocal community members. He said they had a few teams of lawyers, and were prepared to stick with the case.

“Until the Supreme Court said, ‘Sorry guys,’ that’s where we were headed,” he said. “In my 68 years, I’ve never seen a community this upset about anything, ever.”