Leftovers from Duke Energy’s coal plants concern environmentalists

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 16, 2014

SALISBURY — The Yadkin Riverkeeper hopes to join litigation against Duke Energy over alleged groundwater contamination caused by coal ash ponds like the ones near Buck Steam Station.
The intervention is part of a motion filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center that would allow seven conservation groups across the state to weigh in on possible remedial clean-up efforts.
The state filed a lawsuit against Duke Energy last fall, demanding the company clean up groundwater contamination near coal ash ponds at 14 coal-fired power plants, including Buck Steam Station on the Yadkin River.
Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks said the motion gives environmental groups a “seat at the table,” when discussing possible remedial actions.
“We were concerned that the (North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources) was not going to take any type of significant actions to get Duke Power to remediate their coal ash ponds,” Naujoks said.
Attorneys for the Southern Environmental Law Center say the pollution threatens rivers, lakes and drinking water across the state.
“Forty-four coal ash ponds around the country, (the Environmental Protection Agency) deemed as high hazards,” Naujoks said. “Three of those are Duke’s Buck Steam plant ponds.”
But in an email Wednesday, Duke Energy spokeswoman Erin Culbert said Buck is a “retired” site — where ash is no longer being generated and ash basin discharges are minimal — and that the sites are continually monitored.
“Lakes and rivers near our operating and retired coal plants remain well protected, and we monitor groundwater routinely to ensure neighbors are safe,” Culbert wrote. “We have no indication of any off-site groundwater impacts across the state that would pose a health concern for neighbors. If we did, we would take steps to resolve it.”
Last year, the state filed enforcement actions against Duke for coal ash pollution at its Asheville and Riverbend facilities after local conservation groups announced their intent to take private legal action, according to a press release.
When conservation groups sent another notice of intent to sue over pollution at the Sutton facility near Wilmington, the state filed its own actions for Duke’s other 12 coal ash sites around North Carolina.
The state agency and Duke have already proposed a settlement of the Asheville and Riverbend cases that did not require Duke to clean up its coal ash pollution, the release said. The court has not yet decided whether to accept the proposed settlement.
Naujoks said the North Carolina court has previously allowed other Riverkeeper organizations to intervene regarding sites in Riverbend, Allen and Marshall, Sutton and Lakes Wylie and Norman.
“We just felt like we had to provide citizen interest at the table for people who wanted these coal ash ponds cleaned up,” Naujoks said.
Naujoks said his organization will hold a public forum on Jan. 27 at Catawba College to discuss environmental impacts for High Rock Lake and the Yadkin River. The coal ash ponds are also slated to be discussed.
The forum will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 2300 W. Innes St.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.