LABADIE, Mo. (News release/KMOX) – UPDATED (2:57 p.m.) Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) and the nine other Labadie plaintiffs on Thursday agreed to a settlement with Ameren and Franklin County that would ensure protections at Ameren’s coal ash landfill being built next to the Ameren Labadie power plant in the floodplain and floodway of the Missouri River.
The settlement resolves all pending lawsuits and requires Ameren to build the landfill at least five feet above the ground surface.
It does not prevent Ameren from using coal ash to build future burms.
“We feel better than if we had gotten no concessions, but we don’t consider this a victory,” Patricia Schuba, president of Labadie Environmental Organization, told KMOX.
She says they still believe the location is “highly risky,” and they will be following groundwater monitoring around the site.
Related story: Some Concerns About Coal Ash Landfill Answered, Not All
Ameren spokesman Warren Wood told KMOX that the settlement is good for customers and is a “responsible solution to protect the environment.”
“It memorializes several agreements and will put to rest the lawsuits associated with constructing this state-of-the-art dry landfill,” he says.
Ameren initially planned to build the landfill “in intermittent contact with groundwater,” but the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) construction permit issued in January 2015 required the landfill to be at least five feet above groundwater. Ameren then submitted revised plans for just the first of four planned landfill cells.
The settlement ensures that, even if DNR amends the permit to relax or eliminate the 5-foot separation requirement for the remaining cells or future lateral expansions, Ameren must still meet that requirement due to the settlement.
“The settlement ensures that the plaintiffs have a tool, independent of regulators, to hold Ameren legally to the 5-foot elevation requirement,” Schuba commented.
The settlement also contains a clear ban on bringing coal ash from any other plant to the Labadie landfill for any purpose. This goes beyond the DNR permit, which imposes no limit on bringing coal ash from other plants to the Labadie site. It also goes beyond County regulations, in defining the exclusion to include all types of ash regardless of how it is used on the landfill site.
The settlement comes as Ameren and the County must respond to a unanimous Missouri Supreme Court decision from February 2015 in favor of LEO and the other plaintiffs, who are challenging the legality of zoning changes adopted by Franklin County in 2011 to make Ameren’s proposed landfill a “permitted use.” After that decision, the County and Ameren sued LEO seeking a court order that the County lacks zoning authority over the landfill. In addition, the County proposed changes that would weaken the protections it put in place when making the landfill a permitted use. If the federal EPA Coal Ash Rule had been released and enforceable earlier, Ameren would not have been able to build in the floodplain, in a floodway, in a seismic zone.
The rule goes into effect Oct. 19 after much delay and now uncertainty with numerous challenges in Congress.
DNR issued their permit and Franklin County opened their zoning code to allow the landfill, then made it a permitted use and earlier this week gutted protections all against outcry from the public and those most impacted by the decisions.
“I am still amazed at what a small number of local residents were able to achieve and how little the decision makers were able or willing to do on our behalf,” said Janet Dittrich, Labadie resident and LEO board member.
“Everyone knows that the floodplain is the worst location to dispose of coal ash. It is frustrating that we could not prevent the landfill from being built in the floodplain but given the lack of action by regulators and the Franklin County Commission, this was the only way to ensure that certain basic protections could be enforced,” said Nancy Campbell, 5th generation Labadie resident and plaintiff.
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