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Virginia parks face landfill, power plant.

A proposed Virginia power plant could worsen air pollution at Shenandoah National Park and other sites nearby.

The plant, and an ash landfill planned next to it, are also creating concern for water quality in the area, which includes George Washington Birthplace National Monument.

"What we want to prevent," said Bruce Craig, NPCA Northeast regional director, "is damage to the ecological health of these two parks."

The SEI Birchwood Power Facility, a $300 million coal-burning plant planned in King George County, Virginia, would generate energy for the regional utility, Virginia Power.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from the plant are likely to reduce visibility and increase acid rain and ozone pollution in the region. Shenandoah, 60 miles away, already has some of the highest levels of sulfur dioxide and ozone in the park system.

The National Park Service has officially declared its opposition to the power plant unless the problem of its emissions can be resolved. "We're not opposed to a particular project per se, we're opposed to the pollution," said Julie Thomas, air quality program manager at Shenandoah.

In 1990, before the Birchwood plant was proposed, Shenandoah identified 15 new power plants planned within 120 miles of its borders that it said would worsen the park's air quality. So far, 12 of those plants have received permits from the state. But the park's assertive stance has resulted in better emissions controls on those plants. "We haven't stopped the increase in air pollution, but we've slowed it down a heck of a lot," Thomas said.

The emissions could also worsen water quality in nearby Chesapeake Bay. King George County occupies a neck of land bordered by the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers as they flow into the Chesapeake.

The Birchwood plant would draw 4.4 million gallons of water a day from the Rappahannock. Some of the water would then be released back into the river. The discharged water could raise the temperature of the river, affecting its plant and animal life. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on plans to preserve sites along the Rappahannock, one of the East Coast's most pristine rivers, as part of a national wildlife refuge. The plant is within a few miles of some of the sites.

The water withdrawal would occur near the point where the Rappahannock charges local aquifers. If enough fresh water is pulled from the aquifers, local citizens fear, saline water from the Potomac River could take its place. The result could be salt water pulsing into the creeks and wetlands of George Washington Birthplace, which are fed by the aquifers. The national monument preserves the little-changed area along the Potomac where the first president's early boyhood home stood.

The landfill proposal is also creating concern about water quality at the historic site and surrounding area. The King George County Board of Supervisors issued a permit in April for an ash dump on land adjoining the power plant site. County residents have formed a group, Pride of King George, to fight the plan.

The 538-acre landfill would accept ash from municipal incinerators in the Washington, D.C., and New York City areas, as well as conventional trash.

The dump site is near Caledon State Natural Area, where as many as 60 bald eagles can be spotted at once in summer.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Shenandoah National Park and George Washington Birthplace National Monument
Publication:National Parks
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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