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Coal-ash landfill vote draws protest

In a rally to commemorate Earth Day, about 25 environmentalists and members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes gathered outside Southern Nevada Health District offices Friday to protest the board’s previous approval of an application to expand a coal-ash landfill near the tribe’s reservation.

They said they want the health district board to rescind its Oct. 28 action and deny NV Energy a permit to expand its landfill at the Reid Gardner Generating Station, 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, when the board meets Thursday. The existing landfill is 91 acres and has no barrier to keep contaminants from leaching into groundwater. The expansion would be 24 acres and have a single-layer barrier against leaching.

At the rally, Southern Paiutes said they continue to experience respiratory problems and other health effects from coal-ash dust that blows on windy days from the plant’s existing landfill and evaporation pond operations. They also fear long-term pollution of groundwater that feeds the Muddy River.

“It smells like rotten eggs,” said 21-year-old Ashly Osborne, holding a sign: “Big Coal and Big Oil Make Us Sick,” as she stood in front of the health district building on Shadow Lane.

Another woman complained of the rotten-egg smell from hydrogen sulfide gas that emanates from the ponds. It stems from a liquid used to extract an air pollutant, sulfur dioxide, from the plant’s stack.

“Our great-grandchildren will be affected by this,” said Eunice Ohte.

In a telephone interview from the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore., attorney Daniel Galpern said, “We are requesting that the board revisit its initial decision (to expand the landfill) in light of the fact that they were under a misunderstanding about the evidence regarding the risk of the landfill.”

Galpern, representing the Sierra Club, said the board was misled by NV Energy’s claim that toxic leachate from the landfill would be insignificant when the board voted 8-4 to approve the company’s application.

Some information wasn’t available at the time of the vote, and computer modeling of plant’s existing and proposed landfill shows the amount of contamination that could be released is substantial, he wrote in a letter Wednesday to board Chairwoman Linda Strickland. Millions of gallons of leachate per year could enter groundwater, the Muddy River and eventually Lake Mead, Southern Nevada’s primary drinking water supply.

NV Energy released a statement Friday saying its coal-fired Reid Gardner Generating Station “maintains a fully-compliant” landfill.

The statement from NV Energy spokeswoman Jennifer Schuricht notes that expansion of the Class III industrial waste storage area was granted last year and next week the health district staff will update the board “and detail the operating conditions and requirements to be implemented by NV Energy for this expansion.”

In a letter Tuesday to the health district and board members, Galpern said a review of reports the company provided after the October vote with data plugged into a hydrologic computer model “clearly establish that substantial — indeed, enormous — quantities of leachate have been generated within the landfill and will continue to be generated there, and to migrate to groundwater.”

“These unlawful and significant discharges may threaten vital local and regional water resources. The NV Energy-supplied information counsels you to order a full stop to development at the landfill, both present and future operations,” Galpern wrote.

Coal-ash waste disposed in the landfill contains a number of harmful and toxic chemicals, according to the Sierra Club, including arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium linked to organ disease, cancer, respiratory illness and nerve damage.

At the Oct. 28 meeting and open-house venues prior to the vote, members of the Moapa Band of Paiutes told board members and the health district’s staff that the 312 Paiutes who live on the reservation have experienced a myriad of health problems that they blame on fine particulate matter from the plant and its landfill.

“You should come out and look at it on a windy day. It’s killing us,” Paiute Eric Lee said at a meeting in Moapa.

Others said particles sometimes come down on their homes like snowflakes.

Charles H. Norris, an expert for a geology and hydrology consulting firm in Denver, detailed the landfill’s pollution potential in a 25-page report that was sent Friday to the health district board.

He found that active operations will produce 3 million to 46 million gallons per year of coal-ash leachate migration to the groundwater and the closed landfill will produce 1.2 million gallons per year of leachate that enters the groundwater during the life of a protective liner system and 1.6 million gallons per year after that.

In his report, Norris said NV Energy needs to show what impacts of the landfill expansion will be as required by Nevada law.

“Only after that is done can the board review the demonstration to determine whether the proposal will, in fact, prevent degradation of waters of the state. But, not yet. The applicant has yet to do its job,” Norris wrote.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

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