Fight continues over Franklin County coal ash landfill: Benefit or mistake? | St. Louis Public Radio

Fight continues over Franklin County coal ash landfill: Benefit or mistake?

Jun 12, 2015

The chambers of the Franklin County Commission were filled to near capacity for much of the day on Thursday for a public hearing about proposed changes to the county’s coal ash landfill regulations.

The regulations will affect a coal ash landfill that Ameren wants to build next to its power plant in Labadie.

The county's two commissioners, John Griesheimer and Tim Brinker, presided over the hearing. The commission's second district seat is currently vacant.

The coal ash landfill hearing got underway at 9 a.m. and lasted into the evening. Ameren employees wearing bright yellow vests attended the hearing in shifts throughout the day.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

County counselor Mark Vincent began the hearing. Vincent, who wrote the proposed amendments, said they are intended to address current litigation and prevent any more in the future. "I'm hoping we have no more lawsuits," Vincent said. "The lawsuits have been a stress on the resources of Franklin County."

Vincent also said the county regulations should supplement state and federal ones, not repeat or conflict with them.

Ameren and the Labadie Environmental Organization were then allotted two hours each to make their case for and against the regulation changes. The rest of the afternoon and early evening was devoted to testimony from members of the public.

Ameren employees, wearing bright yellow vests, came to the hearing in several shifts. They numbered about 60 over the course of the day. Those who testified emphasized the benefits of the Labadie power plant to the community in terms of jobs and low cost electricity.

The company’s vice president of external affairs and communications, Warren Wood, called Franklin County’s regulations the most stringent in Missouri.

But, he said, most requirements for the landfill should come through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. "DNR is recognized in state law as the agency with authority over the design, construction and operation [of the landfill]," Wood said. "And, more importantly, they’re the organization with specific technical expertise in that oversight role."

Carlye Hamlyn (right) and her little sister Maddie attended the hearing with their mother, Angie, who is concerned about truck traffic and coal ash dust.
Credit Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

Long-time Labadie resident Gerry Friedman disagreed, calling the landfill regulation changes "a terrible mistake." "The county would be abdicating all responsibility for oversight and regulation of what is done in the construction and the operation of the landfill," Friedman said.

In all, more than 50 people spoke at the hearing. The majority were against the landfill, and what they said would constitute a weakening of county regulations. Many raised concerns about drinking water contamination and coal ash dust.

But barring any big surprises, Labadie will soon have a coal ash landfill. State regulators have already given Ameren their approval to start building the landfill's first cell, but construction has been delayed due to pending litigation.

The only question that remains is how that landfill will be regulated and by whom.

Members of the public can continue to submit comments on the regulation changes through June 22. After that, the county commissioners will hold a working session to discuss the proposed amendments. That session will be open to the public.

You can find links to the county landfill regulations and more information about them, here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience