9 On Your Side Investigates Coal Ash And The East - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

9 On Your Side Investigates Coal Ash And The East

Posted: Updated:
Coal ash is one of the most challenging problems facing the state. Governor McCrory and Duke Energy have both vowed to find solutions.

But while those solutions are being developed, coal ash continues to pose dangers all throughout the state, including here in the East.

The H.F. Lee Facility in Goldsboro used to be one of Duke Energy's coal ash plants. Although the plant no longer uses coal, it's pond contains nearly 900 million gallons of coal ash right next to the Neuse River.

"If a dam failed at Lee, that would be a problem all the way down to the sound," said Peter Harrison, an attorney with Waterkeeper Alliance.

Harrison says he's seen the dam in Goldsboro leak into the Neuse.

"We've gone out and investigated this site from the water and confirmed that indeed it is leaking and it's leaking dangerous pollutants," he said.

DENR Secretary John Skvarla says dams are engineered to have some discharge.

"Construction of these ponds requires that water seep into the surface water," Skvarla said.

Facilities must obtain the proper permits to allow any type of discharge.

The idea behind the coal ash ponds is that overtime, the more toxic chemicals and remnants of the coal ash sinks to the bottom, leaving the top water cleaner. That water is then discharged into waterways.

But Harrison says the dam at H.F. Lee has areas leaking that aren't covered by permits.

In August of 2013, the H.F. Lee facility was one of several Duke Energy plants to be sued by the state for discharging chemicals like arsenic, boron and chromium into the groundwater.

"Duke Energy is very cognizant that we are in a challenging time right here in North Carolina," said Erin Culbert, who is with Duke Energy.

In March, a Wake County judge ruled Duke Energy must eliminate sources of groundwater contamination immediately, something environmentalists say hasn't happened yet.

The state responded by saying the definition of immediate, in this sense, is confusing.

"Do you shut down all of the power plants? Does it mean you have to immediately stop these discharges, which is virtually impossible," said Skvarla.

Duke Energy also responded by saying the ruling isn't specific.

"We are in the period of time right now where it is unclear what that ruling means," said Culbert. "What it means for the state, and what it means for our operations."

Culbert said Duke Energy does everything they can to prevent leaks. She said inspectors had been out at the Dan River site just two days before the massive coal ash leak in February.

Steve McEvoy, who is the state dam safety engineer, agrees.

"As the components of the dam get older, they can sometimes fail or have problems that suddenly, you notice suddenly," McEvoy said.

He says the dam at H.F. Lee is classified as a high hazard dam because of potential environmental damage.

The state is required to inspect these dams at least once every two years. In each of their inspection reports, the state notifies Duke Energy that they must by the ones to notify the state if a problem arises.

Duke Energy officials say they have already closed some coal ash ponds, and plan to continue searching for ways to solve coal ash problems, including emptying ponds of their water.

But Skvarla said emptying one of these large ponds would take a lot of work.

"It would take one truck, every three minutes, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for 30 years," Skvarla said.

With the future of coal ash in question, I asked McEvoy if he trusted Duke Energy to notify him if there are problems.

"Yes, we have to," McEvoy responded.

The Waterkeeper Alliance said they haven't tested the Neuse River further downstream from H.F. Lee for toxins associated with coal ash.

If you are concerned with water quality in your area, you are encouraged to reach out to your Division of Water Resources regional office. In the East, there are offices located in Washington and New Bern. You can visit their website for more information.

Powered by WorldNow

3221 South Evans Street
Greenville N.C. 27834

Telephone: 252.355.8500
Fax: 252.355.8568
Email: newsdesk@wnct.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.