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North Carolina ponders removal of Dan ash site
SoVaNow.com / February 27, 2014
The state of North Carolina is considering action to force Duke Energy to remove its waste pit on the Dan River following a massive ash spill earlier this month in Eden, N.C.
State environmental regulators announced Tuesday they plan to reopen Duke Energy’s wastewater discharge permit at the decommissioned Dan River Steam Station, site of the Feb. 2 spill that released tens of thousands of tons of ash wastes into the Dan.
The action potentially allows North Carolina to impose new conditions on the utility, including requiring it to close the 27-acre containment pit by the banks of the Dan and haul off the wastes for storage in a lined landfill away from water sources.
North Carolina officials said that such an order is one of the steps under consideration, although no decision has yet been made.
“We are taking swift and appropriate action to address a catastrophic failure at the Dan River power plant,” said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. “Now that the two unpermitted discharges have been stopped, and the assessment and cleanup has started, our focus has turned to what steps we can take to protect the Dan River.
“Based on our investigation of this spill, one option under consideration right now is to eliminate all coal ash waste discharges coming from this facility and require that Duke Energy move the coal ash waste stored onsite to a lined landfill away from any waterways.”
The Feb. 2 spill was caused by the collapse of a 48-inch stormwater drainage pipe that runs beneath the ash pit and empties into the Dan. The failure of a corrugated metal segment of pipe created a sinkhole in the watery containment pit, allowing ash and wastewater to escape into the river over the span of more than a week.
Regulators subsequently discovered a break in a second, 36-inch underground drain pipe that also lies underneath the ash bed. Like the larger pipe, this line since has been plugged with concrete.
While some coal wastes seeped out of the second pipe, officials say, the size of any releases would have been dwarfed by the initial disaster.
Duke Energy estimates that some 39,000 tons of coal ash — equivalent to 53 Olympic-sized pools — and millions of gallons of wastewater made its way into the river. Initially, the utility pegged the size of the spill at 82,000 tons of ash. Federal officials have not ruled out the possibility that the release may approach initial estimates.
Duke Energy spokesperson Jeff Brooks, who represented the utility at a town hall meeting last Thursday in South Boston, reacted to North Carolina’s announcement by noting the company “will respond to the state and work to determine the most appropriate resolution. As we have stated, our company is taking another look at how we manage ash basins.”
In the wake of the spill, Duke has pledged to close its coal ash pits at retired plants such as the Dan River Steam Station, which was built in 1949 and shuttered two years ago. The utility says it is considering two main options: disposing of the wastes in an off-site, lined landfill, or sealing up the existing ash pit in a heavy-duty liner and burying it beneath a layer of earth.
The ash pit sits some 50 feet from the banks of the Dan, with no liner to protect against releases into the river or groundwater sources.
If North Carolina follows through on a demand for wholesale removal, it would mark the first time the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has forced the utility to clean up any of its 14 ash disposal sites in the state.
In recent years, DENR has come under fire from environmental groups for maintaining an alleged cozy relationship with Duke. Criticism mounted after the agency intervened last year in a lawsuit brought by citizen groups to force the cleanup of coal ash sites. After the outside legal action was put on with the state’s intervention, DENR proposed a $99,1000 settlement with Duke that fell short of requiring the company to remove the ash pits.
Days after the Dan River spill, North Carolina withdrew the proposal.
In a letter Monday, DENR notified Duke Energy of its intention to reopen the existing wastewater discharge permit to consider modifications. The permit currently allows Duke Energy to discharge basin water from the ash storage ponds at the Eden facility. By law, the state agency is required to give Duke Energy 60 days to respond to the agency’s decision to reopen the permit.
“Actions we take with regard to this wastewater permit will be considered independent of DENR’s work to assess and impose appropriate penalties for the coal ash spill,” Reeder said.
The environmental group that is leading legal efforts against Duke and DENR to force the cleanup of coal ash in North Carolina praised Tuesday’s announcement, but said more action is needed.
“It’s encouraging that DENR has appeared to adopt our solution for the Dan River and other coal ash sites,” said Cale Jaffe, director of the Southern Environmental Law Center office in Charlottesville.
However, Jaffe said he remains concerned that DENR has not stated conclusively it will order the removal of Duke Energy ash beds. Referring to the agency’s intervention in the coal ash lawsuit initiated by SELC, Jaffe said the state should go to the federal court hearing the case and ask the judge to issue an order against Duke.
Jaffe said the clean-up on the Dan, while long overdue, is not enough. “It’s about cleaning up all of these sites,” he said. “The Dan River site was an eye-opening event, but the other sites are no less dangerous.” 790
CommentsCLOSE ALL COAL POWERPLANTS IMMEDIATELY, SOLAR IS THE POWER OF THE FUTURE!!!!!!!
- By CLOSE on 02 / 27 / 14
CommentsYou, sir or madam, are out of your damn mind.
I'm sure you're willing to give up all your electric conveniences and revert to the turn of the 20th century.
PV cells have their place, but depending on them to supply power on a scale needed to maintain modern life at an affordable cost/KWh is ludicrous.
- By powerhouse on 02 / 27 / 14
Oh yea. It's so ludicrous the damn utility companies want to start charging for the sun.
- By Daylight savings time on 03 / 02 / 14
CommentsAffordable to who? The homeowners or the utility companies?
- By Fossil fool on 03 / 02 / 14
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