Feds expanding coal ash probe

Posted February 19, 2014 10:24 a.m. EST
Updated February 19, 2014 7:38 p.m. EST

— The federal inquiry into a spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River is expanding to other similar ponds throughout the state and to specific state employees, according to federal subpoenas obtained by WRAL News through a public records request.

One subpoena asks for documents that relates to the company's regulation of 13 other coal ash ponds throughout the state that were not part of the Feb. 2 spill but have been the subject of litigation.

On Feb. 2, a retired Duke Energy power generation plant spilled tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River. The slurry contained the material left over after coal was burned to turn steam turbines. It contains arsenic, mercury and other heavy metals.

Named in the subpoena

Sergei ChernikovEngineer, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting
Matt MathewsDivision of Water Quality, section chief for surface water protection
Corey BasingerDivision of Water Quality, Winston-Salem supervisor
Debra WattsSupervisor, ground water protection unit, Division of Water Quality
Sherri KnightEnvironmental supervisor, Division of Water Quality, aquifer protection
Michael ParkerDivision of Water Quality, water protection supervisor, Mooresville regional office
Andrew PitnerDivision of Water Quality, aquifer protection supervisor, Mooresville regional office
Chuck CranfordDivision of Water Quality, regional office supervisor Asheville
Landon DavidsonDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, aquifer protection, Asheville
Jim GregsonDivision of Water Quality, surface water protection supervisor, Wilmington
Morella Sanchez KingDivision of Water Quality, Wilimgton
Belinda HensonDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, Fayetteville
Stephen Art Barnhardt Regional Supervisor, aquifer protection, Fayetteville
Danny SmithRegional supervisor, surface water, Raleigh
Chuck WakildRetired, former director of the Division of Water Resources
Colleen SullinsFormer environmental program manager.
David MayDivision of Water Quality, regional supervisor, aquifer protection, Washington
Rick BolichRegional aquifer protection supervisor, Raleigh

Federal prosecutors asked for documents related to that spill last week. The new documents released Wednesday expand the probe to all of Duke's coal ash ponds in North Carolina.

In a separate subpoena also released by the state Wednesday, federal prosecutors ask for information related to certain Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees. Among the information those employees are commanded to produce are "All documents related to payments ... received by you from any of the Relevant Parties" and "All documents relating to receipt of an item of value received by you from any of the Relevant Parties." The relevant parties include Duke Energy and the company once known as Progress Energy, which Duke acquired two years ago.

Those same subpoenas ask for payments those individuals may have made to Duke Energy, as well as records of the employees' communications with the company.

Those subpoenaed are scattered throughout DENR, but each appears to have some role in protecting water from pollution or regulating the specific site that spilled on Feb. 2. For example, Debra Watts is listed as the branch supervisor of the groundwater protection branch. Sherri Knight, aquifer protection supervisor, and Corey Basinger, surface water protection supervisor, both work in DENR's Winston-Salem office, which was responsible for responding to the Dan River spill.

A third element to the subpoena asks for "all personnel records" for a group of 20 current and former DENR employees, including Tom Reeder, director of the Division of Water Resources, and Charles "Chuck" Wakild, who used to have that post.

Drew Elliot, a spokesman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state couldn't comment on either subpoena beyond saying, "The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will cooperate in this matter."

During a news conference Wednesday, Elliot and DENR Sec. John Skvarla declined to say whether the federal government had issued any other subpoenas to the agency. Later in the day, Elliot said that all subpoenas issued to DENR had been made public. 

A spokesman for Gov. Pat McCrory told WRAL today that neither McCrory nor anyone else in his office has received a similar subpoena. 

Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, confirmed that his company had also gotten a second set of subpoenas from federal prosecutors but declined to characterize what information they sought. 

Late in the day, Amy Adams, a former DENR employee, said through a news release that she has also been subpoenaed by the federal government.

Adams is the N.C. Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy group. While she has been told she has been subpoenaed, Adams said she has not yet received the demand for information from prosecutors.

"The subpoena is in regards to Amy's tenure at DENR, where she worked from 2004 until 2013, most recently as regional supervisor for the Washington, N.C., office. She left DENR last summer to join Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit grassroots and advocacy conservation organization," according to the news release.

Adams is quoted as saying, "I'm glad the U.S. Attorney's office is casting a wide net in this investigation to ensure the citizens of North Carolina and Virginia learn the truth about this coal ash disaster. I'm glad to help in whatever way I can to bring out the truth, and I look forward to speaking with the federal investigators."