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Coal ash spill costs authority $10,000 so far

In dollars and cents, the Feb. 2 coal ash spill in the Dan River has cost the Halifax County Service Authority $10,000 so far, with additional fees expected to mount as bills come in.

According to Authority Director Mark Estes, the costs have resulted from staff overtime and extra chemicals needed to treat the Dan River water to make is safe for consumption.

Estes’ estimate of costs came during last week’s meeting of the Halifax County Service Authority when board member Coleman Speece questioned if the director had been keeping a running tally of additional expenses resulting from the coal ash spill. 

During that meeting, Estes and representatives from the Virginia Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries fielded various other inquiries about the spill.

Speece questioned what effect the spill might have on authority equipment. 

Although it is too early to tell at this point, Estes said some of the ash travels to the filters and gets stuck. However, they are able to wash it back out through a back wash cycle because it’s lighter than the sand. 

According to Estes, the question is whether or not the ash will attach chemically to the sand. An analysis is needed to see if that would cause any issues.

Board Chairman Dexter Gilliam asked the process for evaluating the water quality and removing ash sediments from the river. 

An analysis survey will be conducted on the river to identify where the larger coal ash deposits are located, and then an effort will be made to remove the deposits without disturbing or harming the environment.

 He said in the areas of the river that are less active and don’t have much velocity, the deposits would be in a thin layer and not proned to be stirred up as much. 

Over time, additional sediments will come down on top of these deposits, one of the state representatives said.  

More harm can be created trying to remove those thin layer deposits than by leaving them alone, he added. At this time, the focus is on the heavier deposits.

Speece questioned if the thin layer deposits are left alone, and a heavy storm or hurricane should occur, would that break the sediment up and create more of an exposure risk.

 The representative admitted potential risks of being re-exposed do exist. Samples would have to be taken when it rains to determine if the deposits are stirring up, if they’re coming to the water treatment plant, and if the plant is removing the particles from the deposits. 

He said he is confident that it will, but samples will have to be done to be sure.

 Board member Jim Debieck asked if in a worst-case scenario the authority would have a “fall back plan.”

 Estes responded it would take five to seven days to implement the back up plan that would involve using existing pumps to pull from an alternate source and put the water through the filter system. 

The plant would produce enough for drinking in such a worst-case scenario, but not for bathing. 

The authority has a contingency plan the health department requires them to update every so often, Estes explained. Alternate water sources include Grand Springs, the spring water company in Alton and Davis Water in Greensboro, N. C., and they would use a hose to bring the water in from these locations.

Estes suggested it would be an ideal solution to have a second pull source possibly from the Banister River in case of emergencies.