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Dukeville residents mostly happy about settlement to remove coal ash

By Amanda Raymond
amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

DUKEVILLE — Dukeville residents say they are happy about the recent announcement that all coal ash in Rowan County will be excavated, but they know they will not be able to give up their bottled waters any time soon.

News of the settlement between environmental groups and Duke Energy that stated that all coal ash at Buck Steam Station will be excavated was announced Wednesday. The settlement included the Yadkin Riverkeeper, the Waterkeep Alliance and Duke Energy.

The coal ash will either be recycled at a facility at the Buck Steam Station site or it will be put into a lined landfill separate from groundwater and away from the Yadkin River.

Frank Holleman, Southern Environment Law Center attorney who has represented the Yadkin Riverkeeper in court, said the Yadkin Riverkeeper will end its lawsuit against Duke Energy in federal court and remove itself from being a party in an ongoing suit in state court.

Holleman said the settlement states the excavation deadline as 2035. Buck Steam Station was ranked as an intermediate-priority site earlier this year, which put the excavation deadline at 2024. When the ranking was announced, state regulators said it would be reevaluated in 18 months.

The Dukeville community has been dealing with water quality issues for about two years. Environmental regulators have gone back and forth on whether the well water was safe to drink and many residents switched to bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, said the settlement was “a complete win” for local residents.

Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said cleaning up coal ash has not been a focus for commissioners, but they have been working towards the economic development and installation of water and sewer infrastructure in the Dukeville area.

“(The settlement) will bring a sense of relief to those folks,” he said.

Marcos Albarran, a Dukeville resident, said he was happy to hear about the settlement. He and his family live close to the site and he said they had been drinking the water for years before they found out it was unsafe.

“It’s going to be great for the environment, for the ecosystem and for the people that live around it,” he said.

Phyllis Loflin-Kluttz, another Dukeville resident, said it has been “such a long road” that it is hard to celebrate.

Not knowing if the well water was safe to use and living on bottled water has been frustrating for her and other residents.

She said Duke Energy took “a step in the right direction to clean up the environment,” but she’ll celebrate when the coal ash removal gets started.

“When I see something actually happen, I’ll be happy,” she said.

Deborah Graham, another Dukeville resident, said she shed tears of joy when she heard about the settlement, but she knows conditions won’t change overnight.

“Let us not forget that Dukeville residents are still living on bottled water,” and they will continue to do so until water lines are installed in the area by the county, she said.

She said when the water lines are installed, residents will have to get used to paying the water bills and fees they did not have to pay previously. Residents will also have to continue dealing with the stigma that has been attached to the community because of the controversy.

“This is what we have asked for … but the reality is, we still face many, many battles ahead,” she said.

She said she will continue her fight against coal ash contamination by helping the Allen Steam Station in Belmont with its efforts. Graham said “eight down, six to go,” is her new slogan. She won’t be able to truly celebrate until all 14 stations are cleaned up.

“(Duke Energy) is stepping in the right direction,” she said. “They need to continue stepping.”

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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