CLEARFIELD – On Tuesday, RRI Energy’s Shawville Station plant manager was in attendance at the Clearfield County Commissioners’ meeting.
Murray Kohan came to the commissioners’ meeting to discuss some items that have come up in the news lately.
Kohan noted that the power plant has been operating under an exemption from thermal discharge limits since the 1980s. In his speaking points Kohan stated that the exemption is granted when the Department of Environmental Protection determines a balanced indigenous population of aquatic life does not exist in the receiving river.
He said that Shawville’s discharge permit states that Shawville is exempt from compliances with the thermal effluent limitations until DEP finds that the river segment has recovered from its acid condition.
Kohan said that when DEP determines the stream segment is sufficiently recovered the plant will likely conduct a thermal demonstration study to determine if the facility’s discharge has an adverse impact on the balanced indigenous aquatic life forms in the river. From there, if it’s determined that there is an impact, then the plant would receive thermal limits. If there is no impact, the plant could obtain a variance from the thermal limits.
As a condition of its permit the Shawville station must perform biennial aquatic studies upstream and downstream of the plant. Kohan said these studies have been done every year for the past 25 years. He said that based on these studies the differences in fish communities upstream and downstream are likely due to habitat. He said that organism living in the substrate of the stream both upstream and downstream are characteristic of acid mine drainage degraded substrates. He said that the downstream benthic communities show variation likely due to the thermal effects of the discharge. Kohan said that there has been no apparent improvement of several fish or benthic communities upstream and that aquatic organisms avoid the thermal discharge for parts of the year, but then repopulate those areas once the seasonal thermal effects diminish.
Kohan said that in 2004 RRI Energy and DEP began discussions regarding the thermal issues at Shawville along with potential issues related to the water intake structure. He said that at the time both DEP and RRI agreed that although improvements have occurred in the river, a balanced indigenous population does exist. He also pointed out that DEP and RRI agreed a restoration project designed to permanently restore sections of the watershed would be a better use of funds than station modification. Kohan said that discussions hit a stand-still when provisions of a new intake structure rule were remanded back to the EPA by the federal court.
Kohan stated that Shawville has partnered with several watershed and other ecology-minded groups in the area. According to Kohan, two highly successful projects were:
-RRI contributed funds toward the release of 28,000 fingerlings during a three-year effort to reestablish brown trout in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
-RRI partnered with a private land owner and Ducks Unlimited on a wetland restoration and vegetative buffer project.
Kohan said that the plant has placed signs upstream and downstream on both banks of the river, at the breast of the dam on both banks, on the fence near the front entrance of the plant where fisherman access the river and downstream of the bridge.
“There is an ongoing commitment by the ownership of the plant,” said Commissioner Mark McCracken. “It’s a very important employer in this area and we recognize that.”