Alliant to cap coal ash ponds at Cedar Lake

Questions arise if the capped ponds could have recreational possibilities

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Alliant Energy has state approval to cap ash ponds used for years to trap residue from the old Sixth Street NE coal-fired power plant, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources closure permit signed last month.

A material used to stabilize terrain, a liner, soil and grass would fill in the depression, essentially turning a slough into a grassy hill, Jenna Wischmeyer, senior project manager for decommissioning at Alliant Energy, told members of the Cedar Lake Study Committee on Monday.

The plans came up during a meeting of the Cedar Lake committee, which includes representatives from Friends of Cedar Lake, the city of Cedar Rapids, Linn County and Alliant Energy. The committee was formed to lead an overhaul of the lake, which is also owned by Alliant.

Earlier this year, the Friends group proposed an $8.8 million Cedar Lake transformation, including a boardwalk, improved fishing, prairie and parking.

Capping the four ash ponds along the south shore of Cedar Lake under the S-curve of Interstate 380 is the last piece of the decommissioning process for the old plant, which was destroyed by the 2008 flood, Wischmeyer said. Work could begin this fall, she said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, coal ash is among the most common industrial wastes generated in the United States. Poor storage conditions had sparked concerns of mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other toxins leaching into water sources, the agency said.

The EPA created rules regulating the disposal of ash, which went into effect in 2015.

The Sixth Street plant is one of Iowa’s first to go through the state Department of Natural Resources ash pond closure process. Alliant wasn’t required by the EPA rule to cap its ash pond since the plant already was closed when it took effect, said Chad Stobbe, a senior environmental specialist in Iowa DNR’s land quality bureau.

The capping had some at the meeting wondering if the covered ponds could be a resource for a renewed Cedar Lake.

“Capping is great but because it is one of the central vantage points as you go by on the interstate, our question to Alliant is, ‘What can you do to really give it some wow factor and jazz it up?’” Friends President Dale Todd said.

Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ben Rogers questioned recreational possibilities.

“We could talk about that,” Wischmeyer said. “The idea with the cap is to prevent any kind of damage to it, so it usually involves not building on it. Recreating, I don’t know we have talked about it.”

William Micheel, Cedar Rapids assistant community development director, suggested timing the capping to allow environmental sampling at the same time of a brownfield test at Cedar Lake later this year.

Micheel said he expects the EPA and Iowa DNR to cover the costs of a brownfield test, estimated at $200,000.

The city is requiring the testing to determine liabilities before acquiring the lake.

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