Duke: Coal ash not threat locally

By Sarah Willets - [email protected]

LUMBERTON — Duke Energy says water from a coal ash basin at the former Weatherspoon coal generating plant site is not flowing toward the wells of neighboring residents.

Duke Energy recently began submitting groundwater assessments to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources for each of the 14 coal plants in the state. W.H. Weatherspoon coal generating plant was one of the first three assessments to be released.

An executive summary of data collected as Weatherspoon suggests there are no immediate dangers to human health or the environment because of groundwater migration from the ash basin.

Christine Ellis, with the Winyah Rivers Foundation, said Tuesday that she has not yet seen the full report but is pleased that Duke is calling for full excavation of coal ash at the Weatherspoon site. She also said that she is not surprised that the Weatherspoon assessment was one of the first that Duke released.

“The local community and state legislators have been actively engaged in letting Duke know that they don’t want coal ash stored on the Weatherspoon property,” she said.

“There are still some issues,” said Ellis. “But we are expecting the best of everything.”

According to a statement from Duke Energy, the area of groundwater impact at Weatherspoon is confined to the ash basin footprint and the former coal pile area. Water quality in the nearby Lumber River has not been affected, the utility said.

Robeson County water supply wells are located about three miles up river from Weatherspoon.

Data at the 14 plants was gathered from 900 new monitoring wells installed in the ash basin areas and from more than 5,000 soil and water samples. The data collected has “been consistent with historical data provided to state regulators over many years,” Duke Energy says.

“The company and NCDENR will use this science and engineering, along with other information, to determine how best to continue to protect groundwater as ash basins are closed,” the utility said in a statement.

Assessments for Goldsboro’s H.F. Lee Energy Complex and Wilmington’s L.V. Sutton Energy Complex were released along with Weatherspoon’s.

In Goldsboro, the utility says, groundwater is flowing away from private wells and affected groundwater has “migrated off site in isolated areas where there are no private wells.” The company previously announced groundwater impacts in Wilmington and last week said that private drinking water wells sampled so far show exceedances only for substances that are also naturally occurring in the region.

The company says site assessments for the other 11 North Carolina facilities will be filed with regulators by mid-September.

Duke Energy announced in June that the Weatherspoon site is one of 24 coal ash ponds in North Carolina that it is recommending to be fully excavated.

Coal ash, the remaining residue when coal is burned to produce power, contains hazardous elements, including mercury, cadmium and arsenic. The potential hazards to the environment and human health became an issue statewide after a Feb. 2, 2014, spill at a Duke Energy plant in Eden resulted in nearly 40,000 tons of coal ash being dumped into the Dan River.

“We’re far from being done there,” Ellis said. “We want to make sure the excavation is done correctly. We’ll going to continue monitoring Duke’s groundwater monitoring during the excavation period to ensure that the excavation is done correctly.”

According to The Associated Press, Duke Energy in December conceded in regulatory filings that it identified about 200 leaks and seeps at its 32 coal ash dumps statewide that together ooze out more than 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater each day. The company pleaded guilty in May to nine criminal violations of the federal Clean Water Act and agreed to pay $102 million in fines, restitution and community service.

By Sarah Willets

[email protected]

Staff writer Bob Shiles contributed to this report.

Staff writer Bob Shiles contributed to this report.

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