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DNR blames We Energies for bluff collapse in Oak Creek last year


OAK CREEK, WI (WTAQ) - State officials say they’ve figured out why a bluff collapsed along Lake Michigan at Oak Creek last fall.

The DNR said We Energies failed to install a liner in a storm water holding pond next to the utility’s Oak Creek power plant. And it was a “significant factor” in the collapse that spilled a mixture of coal ash and dirt down a steep hill and into Lake Michigan on Halloween of last year.

The DNR gave the utility a notice Thursday that it violated state solid waste rules. The penalty is $5,000 for each day the violation occurred, but DNR regional director Eric Nitschke could not say what type of fine We Energies might be facing.

The utility is challenging the DNR’s findings. Spokesman Barry McNulty said a liner was not required for the storm water pond, because it was not built directly above a coal-ash landfill the utility operated in a ravine there in the 1950’s.

Mud and ash from the landfill fell more than 300-feet down the bluff and into Lake Michigan last fall. And workers spent much of November and December stopping the erosion and removing the material from the lake.

Lots of debris also tumbled from the bluff – along with several construction trailers near the power plant site which were damaged while landing next to the lake.

The DNR said it exempted the old ash landfill from rules which are in place today for operating such facilities. But it said the utility was still required to install liners where ponds and open channels are built over the waste areas.