A neighboring 1,600-megawatt coal plant has Lively Grove resident Tom Sabo worried the future is bleak in "God's country."
"Nothing lasts forever," said the 72-year-old retired grain farmer. "When the power plant has used its potential, what is going to happen 100, 200 years from now?"
At issue is the renewal of the plant's water permit and the construction of a 700-acre coal ash pile directly west of the plant.
Sabo joined those pushing the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for more oversight of the Prairie State Energy Campus.
Yet a Prairie State spokeswoman says the plant spent more than $1 billion to ensure it meets the state's environmental standards.
The facility is already closely monitored by the environmental agency.
The Washington County plant uses more than a million gallons of water a day, which is treated before being released into the Kaskaskia River, according to Prairie State spokeswoman Ashlie Kuehn.
Environmentalists worry the plant's use of water reserves from a nearby surface mine causes concentrated pollutants to be released into the Kaskaskia River.
"The IEPA needs to be carefully monitoring what is the quality of that water coming from the mine," Cindy Skrukrud with the Sierra Club said. "How are pollutants going to be concentrated and what is the impact on the Kaskaskia River?"
Stormwater drawn off the surface coal mines is treated before used in the plant, Kuehn said, and any discharge into Mud Creek or the Kaskaskia is closely monitored by the IEPA.
"The water is treated before it used in the power plant, and then monitored before it's discharged into the Kaskaskia through Mud Creek. The IEPA requires monthly monitoring of this water system, and we have really specific and high levels of water treatment."
Another concern for residents and environmentalists is the collection of coal ash on the campus. The new ash pile will be an additional site for collecting the ash of nearly seven million tons of coal annually burned at the plant. Prairie State already has a coal ash pile 12 miles south of the current campus.
Kuehn said the plant has "not had any issues" with the southern ash pile and the new collection site is part of the plant's plan to keep all of its components within a central campus. The new site will allow the plant to further reduce emissions by using a conveyer belt instead of railroads to move the ash.
"One of the greatest stories out of Prairie State is we don't rail or truck our coal into the plant," Kuehn said. "We mine on one side of the road, then use a conveyer belt to take the coal to the plant."
The ash pile did not require state approval because it meets high standards as a "no discharge" landfill located on the campus, according to Kuehn.
Yet critics believe wastewater and dust from the site will leave the site, especially because a tributary of Mud Creek is located within a portion of the site. Kuehn said the plant is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to address the tributary.
The ash will be collected within "cells" on the site and stacked upon a 3-foot clay liner and an additional synthetic liner. Once the cell is filled, the plant covers the pile to prevent the ash from spreading and begins upon another cell.
Environmentalists also believe Prairie State's choice to place an ash pile next to the plant was intended to avoid oversight from the IEPA and input from the public.
"Basically, what's happened is Prairie State's figured out how to move forward and get the coal ash landfill started without having any public input because they said it's a no discharge landfill," Skrukrud said.
Sabo agreed, and said residents were not told an ash pile could be built at the plant prior to the campus' construction.
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at email@example.com or 618-239-2501.