Environment

Settlement in Gulf Power coal ash suit

Gulf Power Scholz Plant in Jackson County. Photo credit: Gulf Power.com

Environmental groups and Gulf Power Corp. have reached a settlement in a legal fight about allegations that harmful pollutants leaked into Northwest Florida’s Apalachicola River from the site of a coal-fired power plant.

The groups Apalachicola Riverkeeper, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Waterkeeper Alliance last year filed the lawsuit, which focused on Gulf’s Herbert Scholz Generating Plant, which is on the west bank of the Apalachicola River near the town of Sneads in Jackson County.

Gulf Power’s groundwater monitoring has been in place since the mid-80s and Plant Scholz has always been in compliance, says Jeff Rogers, Gulf Power spokesman.

After receiving the letter of intent from Earthjustice to file a lawsuit for alleged Clean Water Act violations at Plant Scholz, Gulf Power and FDEP conducted follow-up site inspections and sampling. All test results were determined to be within compliance, Rogers said.

In essence, the settlement allows Gulf Power to move ahead with the planning and engineering necessary for permanent closure of the ash ponds at Plant Scholz consistent with the plant’s retirement earlier this year, Rogers says.

The closure plan will be submitted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as part of the department’s normal permitting process.

Gulf Power and Earthjustice have entered into a settlement agreement that resolves all aspects of the lawsuit.

“While this was an unnecessary lawsuit, it in no way impacts the closure of Plant Scholz or the closure of the ponds, which were a natural result of the plant’s retirement,” Rogers says.

The lawsuit alleged that harmful pollutants leaked into the river from impoundments that hold coal ash, which is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity.

The settlement was filed Wednesday in federal court in Tallahassee.

Bradley Marshall, an attorney for the legal group Earthjustice, said in a statement: “Coal ash waste is a huge pollution problem that threatens waterways and drinking water supplies all over the country,” Marshall said in the statement.

 News Service of Florida contributed to this report.