State agency picks March 22 for Rowan coal ash meeting

Published 12:10 am Saturday, January 9, 2016

Dukeville residents in March will finally have their shot to talk directly with state government officials about coal ash at Buck Steam Station.

North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality on Friday announced a series of coal-ash-focused meetings across the state. By law, DEQ must hold a meeting in every county where a coal ash pond sits by the end of March. Rowan County’s public meeting will be at 6 p.m. on March 22 in Catawba College’s Center for the Environment Building. The meeting will be in room 300.

Catawba spokeswoman Tonia Black-Gold recommended attendees park in the Robertson College-Community Center parking lot, which is adjacent to the Center for the Environment.

Rowan’s coal ash meeting, and others across North Carolina, are intended to focus on Buck Steam Station’s recent low-to-intermediate priority ranking. DEQ released its priority rankings for coal ash ponds across the state on Dec. 31. An internal draft document showed Buck Steam Station as a high-priority site. However, the final draft rankings lowered Buck’s priority to low or intermediate. In its priority rankings announcement, DEQ said it lacked enough information to narrow Buck Steam Station and a few others to a single classification.

Buck Steam Station’s low to intermediate ranking already has vocal opposition from several evironmental groups in North Carolina and some residents in Dukeville near the plant.

The state agency is scheduled to explain its priority rankings during Rowan’s March meeting.

Priority rankings determine the method and date coal ash ponds are closed. A high priority ranking means coal ash ponds must be excavated and closed by 2019. Intermediate means ponds will be excavated and closed by 2024. With a low priority rankings, ponds could be capped in place, as solution disliked by environmentalists and local residents.

Before announcing its final rankings later this year, DEQ will review additional scientific information and conduct a lengthy public input process that includes public meetings.

“DEQ is committed to relying on science and public comment to determine closure deadlines,” said DEQ Assistant Secretary Tom Reeder. “We welcome feedback from the communities impacted by Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds and hope that the public participation process produces additional scientific and technical data that can help inform our final determinations.”

In a news release announcing the public meeting dates, DEQ said all priority rankings are subject to change.

A public comment period for residents across North Carolina is also scheduled to occur before final rankings are decided. Dates for comments to be submitted to DEQ haven’t been announced.

The public comment period and public meetings are required under the 2014 Coal Ash Management Act.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.