Our View: GenOn plant cleanup needs transparency

Our View: GenOn plant cleanup needs transparency

(File photo)

It has been two months since D.C.’s environmental agency and four months since the National Park Service expressed concerns about NRG’s plan to clean up previous oil leaks at the site of the closed GenOn coal-fired power plant in North Old Town.

But the utility’s plans to alleviate those fears are still as hidden as the underground tanks that were responsible for the leak. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved the company’s plan to clean up the spill in March, news that garnered much fanfare. And NRG officials confirmed that they have amended their plan this week in response to the District Department of the Environment and the park service.

But the company has been mum about the details of the new plan. Until DDOE finishes its review, city officials and North Old Town residents, who fought for upwards of a decade to close the facility, appear to be left in the dark.

This is unacceptable. We have said many times — about many issues — that corporations and agencies need to be open with residents. Alexandrians are well informed and engaged on local issues. They expect to be notified about developments within the city limits.

By not publishing its latest proposal, NRG is stoking fears among residents that it is doing the bare minimum to fix a site that many see as a golden opportunity to redevelop an eyesore into a crown jewel. North Old Town resident Elizabeth Chimento, who has been at the forefront of the effort to close and clean up the facility for years, encapsulated that sentiment: “I just think NRG is going to do the least they can get by with, whatever it is.”

Given the long history of the effort to close the power plant and the significant interest in the site’s cleanup and eventual redevelopment, NRG should know better. The company has worked with city leaders and activists since it merged with GenOn shortly after the plant’s closure in 2012. The city’s way of doing business and the preference for transparency should be clear by now.

Residents’ fears could be unfounded. The new plan could address everyone’s concerns and pave the way for a robust discussion of how to make the site into a vibrant community hotspot. But without the proposal itself, we just don’t know.

If NRG published its new plan, city environmental experts and residents could see whether the new proposal is adequate as well as provide their own input, eliminating the possibility of future headaches.

A more open process will be better for everyone. Alexandria can ensure the cleanup will be sufficient to allow redevelopment of the site and the utility can acquire a feather in its cap touting its environmental stewardship. But as it stands now, Alexandria appears to be shut out of the process.

Publish the new proposal. Let residents, officials and staff examine it. More eyes can only lead to a better overall outcome for the site. And you never know, we just might like it.