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Moncure residents keep wary eye on truckloads of coal ash coming to town

Duke Energy has started the process of dumping 12 million tons of coal ash into a former clay mine in Chatham County, much to the chagrin of nearby residents.

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MONCURE, N.C. — Duke Energy has started the process of dumping 12 million tons of coal ash into a former clay mine in Chatham County, much to the chagrin of nearby residents.

State lawmakers last year ordered the Charlotte-based utility to close all of the ash ponds at its coal-fired power plants across North Carolina by 2029. The company decided to excavate the toxin-laced ash from several of the basins and dump it in mines in Moncure and Sanford.

"We know it's wrong. It's a way of killing a community," Judy Hogan, who heads Chatham Citizens Against Coal Ash, said Wednesday. "They say it’s all fine, it’s not going to hurt us. They even talk about economic development. But we know better."

Ash is the residue left after coal is burned for energy. While much of it is inert, it contains heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic. Duke has kept the ash in unlined pits near its plants for decades, but a spill last year into the Dan River from ponds at a plant near Eden prompted the cleanup order and the creation of a state commission to oversee the process.

Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said the Brickhaven mine in Moncure has been outfitted with multiple layers of natural and synthetic barriers to protect ground and surface water. Numerous monitoring wells are around the site to measure groundwater quality, he said.

That doesn't reassure longtime resident Helen Mason, who lives across the road from Brickhaven.

"I worry about my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren," said Mason, 89. "I’d rather it not come, but like I’m telling you, there’s not much we can do about it."

Coal ash ponds across NC

Although the Chatham County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the coal ash coming to Moncure, the state law prohibits local governments from interfering with the ash disposal process. So, the Board of Commissioners worked out a deal for Duke to pay about $19 million to the county to monitor the impact of the ash at Brickhaven.

“We should know fairly quickly whether we have a problem being created," Commissioner Mike Cross said.

Cross said he's confident Duke is using the best technology available to seal the ash in the mine, and he noted about half of what will be dumped there will come from ash ponds at the nearby Cape Fear Plant.

"I have concerns. However, I think it’s better than having it where we have it now," he said. "If we have to do this, then I think this is the logical way to do it."

Brooks said a few trucks are delivering ash daily from the Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly, but that will increase to 20 to 40 trucks a day in a few weeks when ash will also be brought in from the L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington. Like the mine, the trucks are lined to prevent the ash from spreading, and GPS monitors ensure the vehicles stay on a pre-set route.

Eventually, he said, a rail spur to the mine will allow the ash to be brought in by train.

Local opponents aren't giving up the fight to stop the ash transfer to Brickhaven – or to a clay mine in neighboring Lee County that is expected to open in 2017. A lawsuit alleges that state regulators didn't properly issue permits to use the Moncure site as a dump.

"We don’t trust Duke, period," Hogan said.


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