SHERIDAN — Through the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Voluntary Remediation Program and USEPA Assessment Grant, contractors began assessment activities at the site of the former Acme Power Plant.

Information from these assessments will be used to develop alternatives with cost estimates for addressing environmental concerns at the site. The initial focus will be a risk determination for exposure to asbestos fibers during assessment activities. Asbestos fibers were identified in the soils around the site in 2017. Several health complications, including lung cancer, can be caused by inhaling asbestos fibers, even a single exposure. Many of the symptoms won’t develop until several years later.

Additional activities scheduled for this fall will include soil core sampling and installation of groundwater wells.

“Soil and groundwater samples will be collected and analyzed for Volatile and Semivolatile Organic Contaminants, PCBs and metals,” said Cindi Martinez with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. “The data will ultimately be used to evaluate cleanup alternatives at the site.”

Carrie Rogaczewski, district manager of the Sheridan County Conservation District, who owns the site, notes that SCCD is excited to begin the detailed assessment work.

“Projects of this size and complexity take a long time and sometimes give the impression that nothing is happening,” Rogaczewski said. “Participation in state and federal programs provides a lot of resources that we would not have, so taking the extra time to complete all of the paperwork and planning behind the scenes is certainly worth it. “

The focus of the current work is on the grounds around the site; items specific to the building and the adjacent coal-ash pile will come later.

“While we know the building still has a significant amount of asbestos and other issues, it was not included in the current grant,” Rogaczewski said. “We are seeking additional funding sources to complete assessments and planning specific to the building.”

In the fall of 2018, contractors were able to remove more than 50 55-gallon unlabeled drums and their contents, 60 cubic yards of loose and bulk asbestos containing materials in storage areas, various paints, greases and other items, and three truckloads of empty buckets and containers from around the site. While not addressing the full extent of contamination, these activities will prevent further contamination of the site and surrounding area and will reduce the risk for workers on the site.

That being said, the site itself is still extremely dangerous. The building is full of asbestos and other serious physical and health hazards.

Anyone accessing the site can track contaminants to surrounding areas. Opening (or breaking down) doorways and windows in the building allow the asbestos fibers to be blown outside. Project partners request the public’s continued cooperation in respecting fences, signs and adjacent landowners. The Acme Power Plant Reclamation Project is a community effort to address environmental and safety concerns at the former Acme Power Plant located along the Tongue River. The purpose is to make the site suitable for public use in the future. While specific future uses have not been determined, expectations for any future use include protecting water and land quality, ensuring public access and capturing the historical importance for the site. Input from earlier discussions has heavily favored some form of outdoor recreation.

A project website, acmeprojectwyoming.org includes information on the site’s history, environmental assessments, timelines, funding, photos and other updates. There are also avenues for people to share their stories about the site’s past and their ideas on potential future uses.

The Acme Working Group was formed in December 2017 to provide technical guidance and assistance to the Sheridan County Conservation District, who currently owns the site and is responsible for overall project coordination. The group consists of representatives from the Sheridan County Conservation District, the Sheridan Community Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Sheridan County, Sheridan Travel and Tourism, Montana-Dakota Utilities, Sheridan County Historical Society and Museum and the adjacent landowner.