Black powder washing ashore worries power plant neighbors

CREATED Nov. 27, 2012

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CALEDONIA – Andy Weber and Maureen Michna Wolff took TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray down a steep bluff to show him what washed ashore recently on the beach.

They took pictures of what they fear is coal ash from the We Energies Oak Creek power plant bluff collapse in October 2011.  They also collected what appears to be chunks of coal.

"There are a lot of these larger pieces within a half mile of the power plant,” Michna Wolff said, holding pieces of what she collected.

The black dust is inches thick in places along the bluff.  To demonstrate that it is not sand, Weber picked up the powder with a magnet.

"This is all along here,” he said.  “We can dig in other areas, too."

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is testing the black dust.  State geologists do not believe it is coal ash.  They say is likely a naturally occurring, iron-based substance like magnetite.

The DNR has not ruled out We Energies as the source.

“We want to know what the material is because the residents are very concerned,” said DNR Regional Director Eric Nitschke.

Several agencies have reported the coal ash that slid into water dispersed and diluted in Lake Michigan.

“It has been spread among the lake.  A lot of it settled at the bottom,” said the Sierra Club’s Elizabeth  Ward.  “We don't specifically know where it is or the effects.  I think the damage has been done.”

As for the pieces of what looks like coal chunks, there is nothing definitive pointing to We Energies as the source.  Even the Sierra Club says it could have fallen off a ship years ago, only to get churned up and washed ashore now.