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Duke to pay Chatham for dumping coal ash in Moncure

Posted June 16, 2015

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— Chatham County officials have reached an agreement with Duke Energy over the utility's plans to move tons of coal ash to a former clay mine near Moncure.

State regulators two weeks ago issued the necessary permits for Duke to dump coal ash in open-pit mines in Lee and Chatham counties, but Chatham officials still were able to secure a deal that will help pay for monitoring environmental safety at the Moncure site and will cap the amount of ash put there.

"The agreement we voted on is certainly not everything we sought, because actions by the State of North Carolina prevent us from denying the site and have minimized our leverage. Even so, we have secured several important requirements that will help protect the safety and health of the community and natural resources,” Jim Crawford, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement.

The Charlotte-based utility said last fall that it wanted to move millions of 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.

Under legislation passed by state lawmakers last year, local governments cannot deny lined repositories for coal ash and have limited local regulation over them.

"Anything we did that was perceived as precluding the disposal of coal ash would be struck down, but we could bind Duke to testing and compensation for the risks our county has taken on for the state," Crawford said.

The agreement, which still must be signed by county and Duke officials, would pay Chatham County $18 million for the ash dumped at the Brickhaven site near Moncure. The first $6 million must be paid within 10 days after the first coal ash is placed at the site, with subsequent payments made annually.

“This will give the county funding to monitor and keep track of various environmental risks associated with lined repositories of coal ash in and around the Brickhaven site,” Commissioner Mike Cross, who lives in Moncure, said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to sound an alarm when it needs to be sounded. The safety of residents, businesses and natural resources in that area is paramount.”

Duke also agreed to pay Chatham County $114,193 per year for five years to help make up for property tax revenue lost because of the closure of the utility's nearby Cape Fear Plant. The Moncure Fire Department also lost fire tax revenue in the closure, so Duke will pay an additional $300,000 to help pay off the department’s debt service for equipment and facilities.

The deal also calls for capping the total amount of coal ash in Moncure at 12 million tons and prohibiting coal ash from outside the state from being stored there.

Duke and the county continue to work on safely containing the coal ash stored in ponds at the Cape Fear Plant, which could include moving some to the Brickhaven site. Duke agreed not to move ash from any of its other plants to the Cape Fear site.

Following are other safety and health measures included in the pending agreement:

  • The county will be able to obtain the records from Duke to determine how much ash has been deposited and the dates of delivery. Duke also must maintain delivery logs as required by law and make them available to the county on request.
  • Duke would be required to notify the county if there are any permit violations issued by state environmental regulators related to the Brickhaven operations and must do so within 10 days.
  • Any local regulations generally applicable to all developments would be applicable to the Brickhaven site, including provisions related to setbacks, buffers, stormwater and lighting.
  • The county could request and receive from Charah, the firm handling the ash storage, the results of sampling tests for the Brickhaven site performed before any coal ash is deposited. This includes baseline sampling and ongoing subsequent sampling of ash and groundwater.
  • With notice, the county could conduct its own split sample tests on a quarterly basis at groundwater wells on the site. The county also will use funding from the agreement to set up its own monitoring systems around the site.

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  • Scott Mace Jun 16, 2015
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    That's what the payment is for... to replace the lost property tax revenues....

  • Charles Boyer Jun 16, 2015
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    Good for the county. Now what about the nearby landowners whose property values will surely suffer thanks to their proximity to this site?