Duke Energy: Pace of coal ash removal picking up

Posted January 14, 2016

— Nearly two years after 70 miles of the Dan River were fouled by coal ash from a mothballed power plant, contractors are steadily removing mounds of the toxic ash and hauling it off to a Virginia landfill.

The excavation of the unlined pits at the Dan River Steam Station must be completed by 2019 under a state law passed in the wake of the Feb. 2, 2014, spill of 39 tons of coal ash into the river. Three other Duke Energy facilities face the same deadline for their ash basins, while other plants have until 2024 or 2029 to close their ash basins.

Coal ash is the material that's left over when coal is burned for fuel. While much of it is inert, it does contain thallium, mercury, lead and other materials harmful to humans and wildlife.

"This is priority one for Duke Energy right now," spokesman Jeff Brooks said Thursday as dump trucks and loaders dug away at the 3 million tons of coal ash at the Dan River site. "This is the most important thing that many of us have worked on here for several years now, and we have an army of engineers and technical staff that have developed the closure plan for these sites."

About 66,000 tons of ash have been removed from the Dan River site so far, Brooks said, and Duke put in a 2-mile railroad spur to speed the excavation. A 30-car train rolls out of the site three times a week, with each car hauling 103 tons of ash wrapped in protective tarps to a lined landfill 150 miles away in Virginia.

"It's taken some time to begin the work here, and that's because there's a lot of scientific engineering and groundwater studies that had to take place in advance of work beginning," he said.

More than half of the ash at the Dan River site is stored in ponds, and officials are still awaiting permits to drain the ponds so they can dig up that ash, Brooks said.

Protesters want meeting with governor

Meanwhile, people who live near the ash sites maintain the state isn't doing enough to protect them.

About two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Executive Mansion in Raleigh on Thursday to protest what they say is a cozy relationship between Duke and state officials.

Last week WRAL News reported on a dinner Gov. Pat McCrory had in June that included Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good, the state's top environmental regulator and lawyers for the utility and the governor. The dinner came at a time when the state was suing Duke over coal ash.

Although the administration has declined to say whether coal ash was discussed at the dinner meeting, McCrory has said there's nothing unusual or wrong with him meeting with one of the state's biggest corporations.

Safe Retest Don't drink

Explore the coal ash tests

Find out more about the state's ongoing tests of private and public wells near North Carolina's 14 coal ash locations. Click on a well marker to see the recommendations state health officials have issued in response to the tests, or select a Duke Energy plant to get an overview.

Mike Carroway, who lives next to a ash pond near Goldsboro, said citizens affected by coal ash contamination would like their own a private meeting with McCrory.

"We're here to ask the governor to come have dinner with us. We have some things we'd like to discuss," Carroway said. "If would accept our invitation, I'd gladly tell him to come and please bring water, because ours is contaminated."

He and others say contaminants found in their wells are from the ash pits, and their communities have seen widespread health problems.

Duke officials say their analysis shows the ash ponds aren't contaminating nearby wells. State regulators say they're still studying the issue.


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