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Talen Energy reaches settlement with clean water organization to clean Montour Preserve

Jim Gallagher of Danville paddles his kayak across the calm surface of Lake Chillisquaque, White Hall, Pa., while heading back to shore following sundown Wednesday evening, Nov. 5, 2008. Gallagher heads to the lake about three times a week because he enjoys listening and watching the different types of water fowl. (AP Photo/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise, Jimmy May)

The owners of the Montour Power Plant signed a settlement agreement with a clean water organization last week which pledges to close a coal ash waste disposal site and donate a 165-acre lake, 640-acre nature preserve and $1.2 million to conservation efforts.

Talen Energy signed the agreement with the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association, represented by attorneys at the Environmental Integrity Project, to address reported pollution from an ash dump adjacent to the company’s 49-year-old coal-fired power plant, located in Washingtonville.

“This agreement will lead to improved water quality in our region,” said John Zaktansky, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “It will also preserve an incredibly valuable environmental, educational and recreational community asset — Lake Chillisquaque and the surrounding land, called the Montour Preserve — and protect it for future generations.”

Mary Greene, Deputy Director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said: “It’s always better to work out settlements like this than to go to court over pollution issues. This agreement will help protect the community’s health and local waterways by requiring additional monitoring to evaluate the impact of coal ash contaminants on groundwater and surface waters.”

Talen, based in Texas and Allentown, announced to the press on Nov. 10 it would switch from coal to a cleaner-burning fuel, likely natural gas, at the 1,500-megawatt Montour Power Plant in Washingtonville and partner with another company to build a 1,000-acre solar farm nearby.

The settlement agreement the company signed last week with the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association commits Talen to:

• Donate the 640 acre Montour Preserve to a nonprofit group or local government identified by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association. The Montour Preserve includes Lake Chillisquaque, built 1.5 miles north of the plant in 1972 to supply water to the plant’s cooling towers. The 165-acre lake is popular among fishermen and boaters and the lands surrounding the lake include hiking trails, a boat launch, pavilions, play areas, a parking lot, fossil pit, nature center and other recreation buildings.

• Both the lake and surrounding land (the Montour Preserve) will be protected for generations to come for the benefit, use, and enjoyment of nearby communities and will not be developed for commercial purpose.

• Stop dumping coal ash and wastewater into an ash disposal basin next to the power plant by Dec. 31, 2025, and then close, drain and cap the waste pit by Oct. 17, 2028, or earlier if required by law, regulation or EPA.

• Install an extra monitoring well and continue sampling groundwater near the ash pit for at least 30 years to ensure that heavy metals and other contaminants do not leak into nearby streams, groundwater and drinking water.

• Contribute $1 million to the future owners of the Montour Preserve to ensure the proper maintenance of the preserve.

• Provide the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association with $200,000 for clean water programs consistent with the mission of the environmental group. The group will use the funding to sample streams near the coal ash waste sites, as well as select downstream drinking water wells, to help protect the community from contamination.

• Provide drinking water treatment for the nearby Trinity Church, located at 850 Cardinal Road in Danville, as long as the church is occupied.

• Adhere to a legally-binding deadline of Dec. 31, 2025, to stop burning coal at the plant.

Since the Montour power plant’s construction nearly a half century ago, the power company (and its predecessors) have pumped water from the Middle Susquehanna River into Lake Chillisquaque, which was formed through the construction of a dam.

About 200 bird species have been observed on or near Lake Chillisquaque, which has been described as a mecca for migrating birds, including ducks, geese, swans and other species.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks several species of fish in the lake, including bullhead catfish, largemouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and several other species. Water sampling in the lake have not detected any dangerous levels of pollutants.

The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper spent some time on the lake in August, highlighting its many environmental impacts via this column, video and photo package.

The Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association is a nonprofit organization (501c3) committed to protecting and promoting the water-based resources within an 11,000-square-mile, 25-county watershed that feeds into the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River in central, northcentral and northeast Pennsylvania.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 19-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Washington D.C., dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policies to protect public health and the environment.

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