Study: Plant will harm rivers

Published 8:42 am Friday, October 16, 2009

DENDRON­—Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s proposed coal-fired plant in Surry County would raise mercury and nitrogen levels in the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers, according to a report released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“It would be a disaster for us,” said Blackwater Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner. “The two rivers I take care of are already listed as impaired for mercury.”

However, ODEC disputes the foundation’s claims. David Hudgins, a company spokesman, said that many of the report’s findings are “absolutely not true.”

The foundation’s report, released Wednesday, estimates that the plant could add 1,330 grams of mercury into the Blackwater River Basin and 866 grams in the Nottoway River Basin.

Mercury is toxic to wildlife and humans and is especially harmful to fetuses, young children and pregnant women. It has been found to affect learning ability, language and motor skills and, at extremely high levels, can cause brain damage.

“The last thing we need is another industry that’s going to put mercury in the air,” Turner said. He said the Virginia Department of Health already discourages pregnant women and small children from eating fish caught in local waterways because of high mercury levels.

ODEC’s proposal calls for a multi-billion dollar coal-fired plant, named Cypress Creek Power Station, to be built in the town of Dendron in Surry County. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s report said the plant would add “significantly more illegal nitrogen pollution” to local watersheds and river basins.

“We don’t do anything illegal,” Hudgins said. However, the foundation maintains that increased nitrogen pollution could cripple the state’s seafood industry and sulfur and particulate matter from the plant could lead to hazy air, lung problems and acid rain.

Hudgins said the foundation is inflating the pollution footprint of the plant and the company is working to make sure that the plant is as environmentally friendly as possible. He said that the plant will utilize the latest technology to reduce emissions.

“We’re spending $1.4 billion in environmental controls for this plant,” he said. “Believe me, there is no stone left unturned to make sure that this plant will emit the lowest levels of pollution possible.”

Hudgins referred to the foundation’s position as “novel” and “unsustainable.” He said that virtually all business expansion and growth in the Hampton Roads area would stop if the foundation were correct.

Turner said the Chowan River watershed, which includes the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers, is not as polluted and problematic as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, but the coal plant would impact the Chowan River Watershed.

“We don’t want our watershed to get as bad as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” Turner said.

The proposal for Cypress Creek Power Station now goes before the Surry County Planning Commission. Hudgins said the first hearing will likely take place in early November, but the plant is far from final approval ­–– more than 50 permits that must be approved.

“We are confident that our application will be given a fair hearing,” he said. “And that’s all you can ask.”