Environmental Groups Sue Gulf Power

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JACKSON COUNTY Three Florida environmental groups are suing Gulf Power over its Scholz Plant in Sneads. They claim plant is the source of contaminates and poisons that are getting into the Apalachicola river. Gulf power is denying the claims.
Gulf power built the Scholz Plant in Sneads in 1953. The coal-burning plant is scheduled to be closed next year. But environmental groups say the plant will be responsible for polluting the Apalachicola River, long after its closure.

"Our concern is that there are leaks along the base of the coal ash impoundment, which suggest that the impoundment is not being properly maintained," said Earthjustice Attorney Alisha Coe.

Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee Wednesday on behalf of three environmental groups. Those groups claim the company has been burning coal ash from the Scholz Plant in unlined pits on a 40-acre bluff overlooking the river.

"Basically what this lawsuit is, is a suit under the clean water act for violation of gulf powers permit and for discharges of pollutants that are not regulated,” she explained. “Or not permitted by the clean water act."
Coe points to independent testing that she says shows the pit is leaking contaminates like arsenic and lead into the river.

"This is a public health hazard and gulf power needs to clean this mess up now."

But Gulf Power officials say the government has been testing the waters around the Scholz Plant since the mid-1980's and that the water samples meet regulatory standards.

"Gulf power as well as the DEP, Department of Environmental Protection conducted follow up site inspections and sampling test,” said Gulf Power Communication Specialist Natalie Smith. “And all tests were determined to still be in compliance and didn't support the allegations made by Earthjustice."

Both sides stand by their water assessments.

"At this point, we do plan to fight these allegations through the legal system," said Smith.

Coe wonders what happens when gulf power closes the Scholz Plant next year, leaving the ash pits behind.

"What we are concerned about is that there seems to be some seepage coming, that's not coming through that system,” explained Coe. “That's escaping that system and were seeing high levels of some of these carcinogens and other dangerous pollutants."

The environmental groups are hoping a judge revoke gulf power's permit to discharge materials into the river, and bury all of the coal ash from the pits in a landfill.