Hello Fellow Readers,
While visiting dear Mom in a nursing home in Virginia, we stumbled upon a historic place along the James River and took respite amongst nature. Along the drive into Henricus Historical Park in Chester VA is an electric plant powered by coal owned by Dominion – one of the largest electric power and natural gas companies in the country serving 14 states. They pride themselves in responsible environmental stewardship.
While the clouds billowing above the majestic pipes may cause concern, there’s something magnificent about it. Patriotic really as you consider the history of coal energy that spearheaded the Industrial Age and the growth of our country. The plant is neat and impressive and surrounded by railroads with vast lanes of open cargo cars of coal. Then there’s the coal ash managed in a meticulous manner. A massive pile underneath a grassy cover three-stories high is centered amongst a network of trails with boat launches, prolific fishing spots and a bird sanctuary known as the Dutch Gap Conservation Area; proving there can be a balance between industry and nature. I thought the trails were part of the Henricus Historical Park but learned it stands alone, yet the histories have been intertwined for thousands of years.
Native Americans resided in the area over 10,000 years ago. First, there were seasonal camps as they foraged and hunted. Then, as they developed techniques of raising crops, agriculture was born and villages emerged. By the early 1600’s the Powhatan Chiefdom grew to be one of the most complex cultures in the area which is also when the English settlement began.
In 1611 Sir Thomas Dale arrived in Virginia and established Henricus. He began altering the land using a Dutch method of digging a ditch to create a moat around the city for protection. The area on each side of the moat became known as Dale’s Dutch Gap. As you would guess the cohabitation between the settlers and the Native Americans did not go smoothly. You can visit the Henricus Historical Park website at www.henricus.org to learn the vast history of the area including its significance during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
In the 1930’s the Dutch Gap Canal was extended to where the Dominion power plant is today. Coal remains a significant energy source for electricity generation because of its low cost and abundance compared to other fuels. Scrubbers on emissions are currently used and at some time in the future, Dominion writes, coal gasifiers could be added to create a clean burnable gas from the coal. Comforting to know power plants and wildlife can peacefully coexist. Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com
About the environment…
“Have you ever fished here before?” I asked a young man as he studied the Dutch Gap Conservation map. “No ma’am but there’s lots of fish here.” When I returned home I reached out to Mark Battista, Naturalist of the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, who shared, “amphibians are often the first evidence of decline of an environment.” The abundance of fish and birds are a great sign of a sound environment. I asked Mark about the newly installed boxes and learned they are wells installed by Dominion to monitor ground water.
“This process had been quite controversial,” wrote Mark Battista, ” since opponents were hoping Dominion would remove and transfer the fly ash into a modern and lined containment ponds. The current ponds, because of their age, are not lined, so there is concern that mercury, arsenic and other waste will leach into the ground water and river.” He also added that Dominion often exceeds rules of the EPA and DEQ (VA Department of Environmental Quality) and are contributors and partners in preserving Dutch Gap.