Duke could build water line if plant contaminated water

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, April 29, 2015

DUKEVILLE — With results from private well testing flowing into mailboxes near Buck Steam Station, a Duke Energy spokesperson said the company would commit to extending a water line to families if an underway groundwater assessment shows plant operations resulted in unsafe drinking water.

The Department of Health and Human Services has declared 32 wells in the Dukeville community unsafe for consumption. More test results are scheduled to be delivered. A total of 51 wells near Buck Steam Station participated in testing mandated by the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act. Duke Energy Spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the company would agree to provide water on a temporary basis to any families advised their well water is unsafe by the state.

Culbert said temporary assistance would continue until Duke Energy completes a groundwater assessment required by the Coal Ash Management Act. If the study shows Buck Steam Station or its coal ash ponds contributed to contamination of nearby wells, Dukeville residents could be connected to water lines operated by Salisbury-Rowan Utilities.

“We certainly would consider a water line or more permanent solution if the groundwater assessment we are performing shows neighbors’ wells have been influenced by plant operations,” Culbert said. “Our first priority is ensuring public health. The groundwater assessments under way at each site are critical pieces of information that we need before we could make a determination about whether a permanent water supply would be needed.”

She said Buck Steam Station’s groundwater assessment would be done in August. Duke has repeatedly denied operations at the Buck Steam Station are connected to advisories from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that private well water is unsafe for consumption.

Dukeville resident James Gobble said being connected to a municipal water system was the only solution after he received a letter from the state advising that his water was unsafe for consumption. Gobble said he just wanted Duke’s Buck Steam Station to be a good neighbor, like anyone in the Dukeville community.

The most common contaminant listed on the state’s results is vanadium — occurring naturally and in coal ash. Letters also include abnormal levels of hexavalent chromium. Both compounds are toxic at certain exposure levels, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

If Duke decides to build a water line into the area, its would include about three miles of pipe, according to a draft of a county water system feasibility study.  If Duke pays for a system similar to the one proposed in the draft of the county’s water study, the price tag would likely be more than $2 million. The nearest connection to Salisbury-Rowan Utilities is near I-85.

When questioned about the water study after its release, county commissioners said they weren’t interested in building a residential water system and would meet with the consulting firm responsible for the study to make tweaks. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said a decision to extend water lines involves more than county commissioners.

“When the study was ordered, none of that was even contemplated,” Edds said about private well contamination. “We’ll let DENR work through its studies and report back to the community.”

Commissioner Craig Pierce likewise said the purpose of the study was not to investigate how to provide water to unsafe wells.

“I don’t want this to be taken the wrong way, we naturally want to take care of our citizens, but our intention is not to build a water system simply to take care of 20 families,” Pierce said.

Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Director Jim Behmer said it would be possible to only run a water line to houses without also running sewer, which would be more expensive.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the state agency that declared private wells unsafe.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246