The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River has been declared one of the nation’s most endangered rivers. The listing is from American Rivers, a river conservation group. The “danger” cited by the organization stems from 3 million cubic yards of coal ash that’s left over from a shuttered coal-fired power plant and sits along the river’s western bank. American Rivers said the Middle Fork was included on this year’s list because critical decisions regarding the coal ash will be made in 2018 by energy company owners in conjunction with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Until this week, the power plant site was owned by Dynegy Inc. On Monday, the Houston-based company finalized a merger with Vistra Energy Corp., based in Irving, Texas. A Dynegy spokesman said that the former company and newly merged Vistra Energy were not aware of the American Rivers announcement and had no comment at this time.
Dynegy closed the power plant in 2011. That same year, testing from four groundwater monitoring wells at the ash impoundments revealed levels dangerous chemicals in excess of Groundwater Quality Standards, resulting in the IEPA issuing violations in 2012.
Since then, the company’s long-term plan has been to cap and leave the coal ash pits. Dynegy completed some bank stabilization work in December 2016, and plans similar work this year along other sections of the river. But local residents, public officials and environmental organizations have long argued that the waste pits are leaching contaminants into the river.