Coal plant is not just Dendron’s affair

Published 10:13 am Wednesday, March 14, 2012

by William Hancock

This is in response to the “Useless input” editorial from March 9.

Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s proposed Cypress Creek coal-burning power plant at Dendron has generated more opposition than just from Isle of Wight and Southampton County supervisors.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation opposed it earlier on, as well as the Sierra Club.

More importantly, drive through Dendron and Surry — there are numerous “NO COAL” signs in yards. Basically, it is the town and county’s governing boards that favor it.

When several citizens of Dendron brought suit to protest Old Dominion and their county government’s failure to provide the required legal notice in local newspapers about the plant, Old Dominion brought suit against the citizens.

What is seldom presented is that Cypress Creek coal power plant will be the largest coal burner ever built in Virginia. While the Dendron plant will undergo intense inspection, this scrutiny will not prevent the power plant from producing 2,000 pounds of arsenic, 356,000 pounds of hydrochloric acid gas, 924 pounds of lead, 3,700 pounds of substance once used in chemical warfare called benzyl chloride and a multitude of other substances, not the least of which is mercury.

Let us not be lulled into complacency by promises of “state-of-the-art” pollution control. The many hundreds of tons of fly ash generated will have to go somewhere.

Wherever fly ash is dumped, it will cause environmental problems for people. It will be not only our generation, but our children’s affair one day. Wonder if it will end up in Sussex County’s landfill?

Does anyone remember the golf course in Hampton Roads that was landscaped with fly ash, which a contractor brought in? The fly ash contaminated the aquifer, and as a result, the area’s residents cannot use the tap water.

Where were the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulations protecting the environment and hence the residents? What about the fly ash dump at International Paper, formerly Union Camp? The new operations at IP will run on natural gas and no longer coal; what happened to that fly ash?

Cypress Creek coal-burning power plant will consume hundreds of tons of coal each day. Dendron is several miles from any railroad, so a branch line will have to be built across farms and forests. Land will be taken for the right-of-way. Then it will be a landowner’s affair in more areas of Surry County, not just the Town of Dendron.

Fly ash created at the coal plant will probably go into Cypress Creek Swamp during heavy rains and floods, and into the Blackwater River. Now it is every fisherman’s affair when fishing has to be restricted in Isle of Wight and Southampton counties as health advisories for consumption may be tightened even more.

Wherever the wind blows, so goes the smoke. Some years back, I left Southampton County and I worked one mile from a Tennessee Valley Authority coal-burning power plant near Memphis. Acidic smoke occasionally settled on the bluff-top there, in a stinking, choking blanket so thick at times I could not see 500 feet ahead.

Coal smoke, a concern of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, will put mercury into the atmosphere miles from the source at Dendron, and it will be deposited into our rivers, creeks and ponds miles from the source, which will be everyone’s affair. Those residents not only near or at the Blackwater River, but the James River, watch out.

Finally, to compare this Cypress Creek coal-burning behemoth, which will operate 24/7, to the coal generation plant at Handsom Road and Route 671, which operates part-time and is scheduled to be converted from coal to biomass, just does not stand up to common sense and is a poor analogy.

The new Southampton County Board of Supervisors has demonstrated that it will not rubberstamp everything. They were right to oppose the proposed coal-burner at Dendron as it will affect the residents of Southampton County.

I am confident that when all the details are finally known, that opposition will be unanimous. Give them a break and give them a “thank you” for useful input.

William H.Hancock grew up on the family farm near Sedley, worked in historic research and reconstruction, and came back home to retire.  He can be reached at