Fire chief hopes Beckjord will propose a quick change in the law

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NEW RICHMOND – Seven months after a chimney spilled into the Ohio River during the demolition of retired Walter C. Beckjord coal-fired power plant, crews finally began the underwater cleanup on September 17.

A barge-mounted crane arrived late last week to remove an intact metal sheeting from the chimney that was at least 100 feet long – the length of six cars.

For months, the US Army Corps of Engineers has ordered contractors in Beckjord to clean up the damage done to a river that provides drinking water to 5 million people.

“Getting to a point where it’s cleaned out is pretty exciting,” said Craig Wright, Pierce Township Fire Chief.

Wright first complained to state and federal agencies about garbage debris in the river at Beckjord in January. This debris came from a boiler demolition in October. The smokestack demolition in February sent additional debris into the river.

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Craig Wright, Pierce Township Fire Chief

“I think it really helps to point out that we need legislative changes – whether it’s at the state level or the federal level,” Wright said. “So that there is more oversight, more regulation in these decommissioned coal plants. And that an agency is designated as having the power to monitor what is going on.

Wright said he and other Clermont County officials learned they had virtually no authority over what happened at the Beckjord site. Other agencies have carried out piecemeal surveillance, he said, with little or no execution penalties.

A spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the cleanup of the Ohio River at Beckjord, wrote in a statement to WCPO that this is the Louisville district, “worked closely with the incumbent. permit to ensure compliance throughout the cleaning process “.

Beckjord site on April 20, 2021 with demolition debris.

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The former site of the Beckjord coal-fired power plant on April 20, 2021.

The Corps did not issue any fines or penalties related to the Beckjord cleanup, but a spokesperson said “that does not prevent the Corps from calling for sanctions in the future.”

Some say the delayed cleanup of demolition waste in the Ohio River highlights a bigger issue regarding the lack of oversight at the now dormant Beckjord plant.

Former Beckjord factory site on April 20, 2021

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Debris in the Ohio River at the site of the former Beckjord coal-fired power plant on April 20, 2021.

Built in the 1950s as a coal giant, the Beckjord plant has pumped electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in southwest Ohio for decades.

In 2014, Duke Energy closed the Beckjord plant, where more than 5 million tonnes of coal ash is buried in unpaved man-made ponds along the Ohio River. It is known as a historic site because the federal rules governing coal combustion residues that came into effect in 2015 do not apply here.

Duke sold the 1,443-acre site in 2018 to Commercial Liability Partners, a Missouri-based company that originally planned to build an industrial park, green space and port terminal.

After the sale, the complaints were almost immediate.

Duke promises "safe" closure of toxic ponds

Émilie Maxwell | WCPO

The Beckjord WC Station, a closed Duke Energy power plant located 20 miles east of Cincinnati, contains more than 10 billion pounds of toxins that are piled up in ponds along the banks of the Ohio River.

Neighbors sued the limited liability that CLP formed to manage the plant’s sanitation in late 2019. Residents complained to the Ohio EPA last summer of huge clouds of dust. raising basins of coal ash.

A Clermont County environmental consultant asked last summer whether the company’s groundwater monitoring plan was adequate.

The old Beckjord coal-fired power station with barge-mounted crane on September 19, 2021.

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The old Beckjord coal-fired power station with barge-mounted crane on September 19, 2021.

CLP now faces the threat of a second trial. In May, more than 100 residents of Pierce Township sent a notice of intent to sue CLP if it did not stop the suspected open-air dumping of coal ash.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps has attempted to force the CLP and its contractors to clean up debris in the Ohio River since Clermont County and Township officials first complained in January.

“There is really nothing you can do,” Wright said, because Beckjord is still considered a public utility, it is exempt from most local fire and building codes.

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Émilie Maxwell | WCPO

This 2016 file photo shows the coal ash pools at the Beckjord Power Plant site and how close they are to the banks of the Ohio River in New Richmond.

“Locally we have regulations on open burning, we have regulations on a vehicle spilling motor oil on the pavement… but when you take a power plant, it has so much to do with it. ‘exemptions,’ Wright said.

Clean-up efforts were hampered by delays and inconsistent information.

Hours after the Feb. 26 demolition of Beckjord’s tallest chimney at over 400 feet, Aaron Fitch, vice president of demolition contractor, MCM Management Corp., emailed regulators admitting that part of it had fallen into the Ohio River.

“About 30 to 40 feet from the pile fell to the riverside.”

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Courtesy: Ryan Finch

The main chimney of the old Beckjord coal-fired power station was demolished on February 26.

In August, divers confirmed what critics have been saying for months: There is actually a lot more Beckjord trash in the Ohio River than initially reported to regulators.

What is inside this fireplace has been a constant question from residents.

“I have huge concerns,” Wright told WCPO in April. “It’s not just Clermont County’s drinking water, it’s the city of Cincinnati, Hamilton County and northern Kentucky. It’s much bigger than us.

Ohio has more coal-fired power plant closures than any other state in the country, and many of them occur along the Ohio River in this region. Wright predicts that fire chiefs from other places will call him for help with future coal-fired power plant demolitions in their communities. But he said he didn’t have a lot of advice to offer.

Crews use a barge-mounted crane to clear debris in Beckjord on September 17, 2021.

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Crews use a barge-mounted crane to clear debris in Beckjord on September 17, 2021.

“Unfortunately, unless there are changes in the law, it will be kind of the same as what we encountered,” Wright said.

Ohio regulations require asbestos be removed from structures prior to demolition, and this happened in Beckjord, according to an October 2019 letter of request from MCM to the Corps.

But asbestos-free materials are not regulated, according to an Ohio EPA spokesperson.

It is therefore unlikely that there is any public records that will reveal whether the Beckjord chimney contained coal ash or other pollutants, or whether it was cleaned up before imploding and falling into the river, as contractors no do not need to provide this documentation to regulators.

“The Beckjord power plant was decommissioned, the coal ash was removed and asbestos was removed,” Fitch wrote in a permit application to the Corps signed in February 2020, which did not contain the results of the tests. tests.

Based on documentation he received from the contractor, a Corps of Engineers spokesperson said in March that all debris in the Ohio River is simply “brick and mortar.”

Teams work on a barge-mounted crane in Beckjord on September 17, 2021.

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Teams work on a barge-mounted crane in Beckjord on September 17, 2021.

The Corps of Engineers sent a compliance letter April 15 to MCM directing the company to submit a cleanup plan by the end of April. At this point, MCM estimated that there were 75 cubic meters of demolition debris in the river, enough to fill 2.5 commercial construction dumpsters.

A series of delays followed, as the Army Corps requested changes to the proposed cleanup plans, and MCMs requested more time due to safety concerns and their inability to find a marine contractor or the right equipment. .

Crane on barge in Beckjord.

Courtesy: Partners in commercial responsibility

Crane on barge in Beckjord.

“The process of removing the last debris from the river along the site of the old Beckjord property is underway by our contractor. They are working under the approval of the US Army Corps of Engineers and we expect this process to be completed by the end of next month, ”a CLP spokesperson wrote in a statement to WCPO.

The contractors have finished removing all demolition debris from the land in Beckjord.

Crane on barge at the Beckjord site.

Courtesy: Partners in commercial responsibility

Crane on barge at the Beckjord site.

Once the contractors have completed the underwater cleanup, they will restore the shoreline to prevent erosion. Then crews will perform a final SONAR survey to ensure all debris is removed from the river. The work is expected to be completed on October 22.

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