Letters to the editor

NIPSCO announces a delay in the coal ash excavation during the COVID-19 Pandemic

MICHIGAN CITY — NIPSCO announced that they will postpone the removal of 170,600 cubic yards of coal ash from the Michigan City coal plant until Spring 2021. This postponement came just days after the NAACP LaPorte County Branch and Just Transition NWI submitted a petition to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). The petition garnered well over 3,000 signatures urging NIPSCO to delay the removal until after the pandemic is over.

Studies show that an increase in air pollution, which may result from the movement of the hazardous ash, increases mortality from COVID-19. NIPSCO’s willingness to address community concerns is important, and the delay has been acknowledged as a necessary step within the closure process.

However, just delaying the process is not enough! As the petition also demands, when the time is appropriate for this removal process, IDEM and NIPSCO must implement much stronger safety measures than the utility is currently proposing to protect the impacted communities, workers and environment from exposure to toxic ash.

NAACP LaPorte County Branch, Just Transition NWI, Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes, and Earthjustice are among the organizations that have also called on NIPSCO to add more public safeguards for air, water, and aquatic life in their draft plan to relocate the coal ash. A letter by several organizations was submitted to IDEM on Monday in response to NIPSCO’s planned closure of five coal ash ponds.

Among the groups’ requests is the immediate testing of sediment and aquatic life in Trail Creek and Lake Michigan, as the bioaccumulative toxins in coal ash, such as arsenic, may be accumulating in fish that are consumed by local residents. Consumption of heavy metals in fish tissue can pose grave health hazards. While NIPSCO maintains that there is no risk to Lake Michigan and Trail Creek from the leaking coal ash ponds, the company has never tested the sediment or the aquatic life near the plant.

The petition also requests that:

• NIPSCO works with a independent community advisory committee to assess the cleanup and closure process, provide the committee regular updates and fund a technical expert who can advise the committee;

• IDEM publishes an online page so public comments/concerns can be readily collected during the excavation process of digging up the coal ash;

• IDEM establishes and enforce procedures with consequences for non-compliance, to ensure that coal ash dust does not endanger clean-up workers or the community;

• Hires an experienced, neutral third-party to be paid for by NIPSCO to monitor the air for particulate matter near the Michigan City plant and Wheatfield Schahfer plant landfill sites during excavation and transportation and provide real-time data available to the public to protect the health and safety of the workers and community;

• IDEM inspects both sites regularly during the excavation and transportation of the coal ash, monitoring for and minimizing airborne dust;

• NIPSCO transports the coal ash in “sift proof” vehicles to prevent ash from escaping during transportation;

• NIPSCO permanently secures the coal ash fill at Michigan City to prevent the possibility of future spills into Lake Michigan and Trail Creek and submit to IDEM a supplemental closure plan addressing and providing alternatives to the deteriorating sheet pile walls;

• NIPSCO extends water monitoring to encompass off-site migration into Trail Creek and Lake Michigan; and

NIPSCO establishes appropriate background wells that aren’t contaminated by coal ash to compare to the groundwater monitoring wells to indicate accurate pollution in groundwater.