Raleigh, N.C. — State regulators on Friday issued the necessary permits for Duke Energy to dump coal ash in open-pit clay mines in Lee and Chatham counties.
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources approved modified mining permits for the Colon Mine Site in Lee County and the Brickhaven No. 2 Mine Tract “A” in Chatham County and issued permits to property owner Green Meadow LLC and its parent company, Charah Inc., to use coal ash to fill the mines as part of reclamation plans.
"With necessary permits in hand, we will move quickly to begin the next phase of our work in Lee and Chatham counties," Duke said in a statement. "The lined structural fill projects at those locations will safely store coal ash and turn unusable land into sites that can be developed in the future."
The Charlotte-based utility said last fall that it wanted to moved about 3 million tons of ash from its Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington to the clay mines in Sanford and Moncure as "engineered structural fill." The mines, which have been used by brick manufacturers, have layers of impervious clay that add environmental protections to the synthetic liner Duke plans to install, officials said at the time.
Residents and commissioners in both counties have balked at the plans, but under state legislation passed last year, they have no power to stop the move.
Officials said they did take public comments into consideration in revising the permits, adding requirements for expanded groundwater monitoring, dust control, 24/7 on-site operators, spill response plans and proposals to spare an endangered bat species in the area from any adverse impact.
“Issuance of these permits is a critical step in our efforts to permanently close all of North Carolina’s coal ash ponds,” Tom Reeder, an assistant secretary for DENR, said in a statement. “Our department will continue to monitor these projects closely to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.”
Earlier this week, DENR cited Green Meadow for environmental permit violations related to unauthorized land-clearing activities near the Brickhaven mine. The area was being prepared so the companies could bring coal ash by rail to the site, and all work has been halted until the required stormwater permit is obtained.
A second notice issued earlier this week is related to Green Meadow’s existing mining permit at the Brickhaven Mine and requires the company to install sediment basins and silt fencing and submit a separate mining permit modification to DENR for approval before proceeding with planned construction of a rail spur.
Green Meadow will also need federal and state water quality permits before work can begin near the portions of the mines with wetlands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is reviewing the company’s application for a federal permit, and DENR’s Division of Water Resources is reviewing a state certification, officials said.
“We will ensure the companies comply with the environmental laws they have violated and closely monitor project activities as we move forward with this process,” Tracy Davis, director of the state Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, the agency responsible for the state’s mining and stormwater programs, said in a statement.
Duke must close all 32 ash ponds at its North Carolina plants by 2029 under legislation the General Assembly apporved last year.