Coal ash emergency plans arrive ahead of schedule

Posted December 5, 2014

A coal ash pond at the former Lee Steam Station near Goldsboro sits along the Neuse River.

— After years of refusing to tell state regulators how failed dams could impact areas downstream of coal ash ponds, Duke Energy has supplied most of the information months ahead of a 2015 legislative deadline.

In a letter from Duke last week, the company said it planned to submit additional details on the dams' emergency action plans, or EAPs, requested by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources no later than Dec. 22.

Duke and other owners of intermediate- and high-hazard dams are now required to submit EAPs as part of the state legislature's 2014 coal ash legislation. The measure passed in the wake of a ruptured pipe that dumped 40,000 tons of coal ash from one of Duke's retaining ponds into the Dan River in Rockingham County in February.

Duke operates 49 intermediate- and high-hazard dams at 15 retired and operational energy plants, including 13 plants that store coal ash.

Inundation maps for coal ash dams now on file

A major part of emergency action plans are inundation maps, which detail how dam breaches would affect areas downstream. For more than three years, WRAL News reported in April, Duke used a loophole in state law to avoid filing those maps with the state.

"An EAP without a valid and up-to-date inundation map is pretty much no good," Bridget Munger, a DENR spokeswoman, told WRAL News last spring.

But under the coal ash law, Duke has until March 1 to submit complete EAPs, including inundation maps, to DENR and the state Department of Public Safety.

Munger said this week that state regulators received EAPs and inundation maps for all of Duke's coal ash sites, although not all are "satisfactory." For 32 of the 49, DENR dam safety engineers have requested revisions and additional information ranging from more legible map notations to proof drawings were completed by professional engineers.

Coal ash Coal ash ponds located across NC

To submit those changes, Duke will use a new online portal state officials launched last month to collect EAPs from dam owners and distribute them to environmental regulators and emergency personnel when needed.

State Dam Safety Engineer Steve McEvoy said the new tool walks dam owners through the process of submitting emergency plans, much like Turbotax walks citizens through filing tax returns.

Although the EAP filing deadline applies to all intermediate- and high-hazard dams in the state – not just those storing coal ash – Duke is one of the largest owners in the state. That's why McEvoy said DENR worked with the company as the tool entered its "beta-plus stage."

"We've asked Duke to more or less be our first large entry on this," McEvoy said.

McEvoy said the company has encountered a few bugs with the tool, created by both DENR and DPS, which the agencies are working to fix.

He said he's confident Duke will have all of its emergency plans, including the additional information requested by regulators, in before the March deadline. But he said he wasn't sure about the other 1,500 or so dam owners across the state.

"That remains to be seen," McEvoy said. "I don't know exactly how that will turn out."

Dam owners that don't comply may be subject to civil or criminal penalties, he said.

Access to plans limited

Only state officials with the two departments will be able to access EAPs through the online system, meaning, for now, emergency responders on the county level will have to get them through state public safety officials. But McEvoy said that could change given continued conversations with local emergency personnel.

But one thing won't change: The plans remain off-limits to the public.

Through at least February 2012, DENR had released EAPs in response to records requests by environmental groups seeking more information about the state's coal ash ponds.

Under pressure from Duke, WRAL News reported in April, the state environmental agency changed its stance on the potential release of these documents, telling a requester in May 2013 that EAPs qualified as "sensitive public security information."

The 2014 coal ash law made that exemption from public records explicit.


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  • southerntalent Dec 10, 2014

    latest financial disclosure form: 3

    Total amount of Duke Energy's direct contributions to McCrory's two gubernatorial campaigns through the end of 2012: $332,836
    think he has your best interest in his heart ??? another politician using smoke and mirrors ,why would we believe any politician getting campaign contributions no matter what party would not be on dukes side,how many years did it take us to really know how harmful tobacco was. Could the coal ash spill be the next cancer causing deal years down the road like the camp lejune water deal. then they finally admit it is their fault.

  • Rebelyell55 Dec 9, 2014

    Most companies have a five year or even a few a 10 years plan. It looks like Duke's five year plan is right on track.

  • bmac813 Dec 9, 2014

    View quoted thread

    My question is why is the Governor getting Yelled at. From 1992 to 20012 we had Democratic Governors and Coal Ash was being Dumped there. Now since it is getting out of hand 24 years later people blame McCrory, Blame the People responsible, DUKE POWER.
    Sorry Angryingram, But I have been saying the same thing since this Happened.
    Just like bush and WMD's Terrorist were Blowing up Our Embassies and our Ship the USS COLE during Clinton's days in office , it was the Whole Clinton Administration who told Bush about Hussein and his WMD'S.
    After 9/11 Clinton said WHY didn't something like that happen during My days in office, Bill they did, Africa, Saudi Arabia, Africa, The USS Cole, But you were to busy with Monica.

  • Dolly Butler Dec 8, 2014
    user avatar

    Thank you Leslie, you didn't let her to get away with all that evasiveness

  • Terry Lightfoot Dec 8, 2014
    user avatar

    too little too late....also I loved the non responses and evasiness of Duke's female CEO in the 60 minutes interview with Leslie Stahl last night. Shows that Duke Energy is really about burying it's head in the coal ash and not taking responsibility. It's an outrage that Duke Energy is being given more time for "studies" Why??

  • angryingram Dec 8, 2014

    After years of refusing? How about after years of a Democratic Administration ignoring it? Not only did the Democrats ignore they exempted Duke Energy. Funny I don't recall WRAL reporting on that. Pat McCrory is first Governor to address issue and yet it is all his fault...go figure.

  • 1983rs Dec 5, 2014

    after one of the largest spills "ahead of schedule" this needed to be taken of years ago..

  • heelhawk Dec 5, 2014

    "But one thing won't change: the plans remain off-limits to the public."

    Duke doesn't want you to know what they are putting in your drinking water!!