Coal ash deal viewed as step in the right direction

Jun. 12, 2014 @ 06:37 PM

Months after the Tri-County governments approved resolutions calling for a comprehensive coal ash cleanup, the state environmental regulatory agency signed an agreement Monday with Duke Energy holding the utility responsible for cleaning the February spill.

The N.C. Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality formed the agreement with Duke Energy to initiate the damage assessment and restoration process, according to a release from DENR.

“Based on the damage assessment, the trustees will work with Duke Energy to restore or replace natural resources and/or seek compensation from Duke Energy to carry out restoration activities,” the release states.

Deborah Ferruccio, an environmental activist, said the deal is a step in the right direction. It also has support from some of Henderson’s city council.

She and other water groups, like the Roanoke River Basin Association, held a community meeting in April to encourage residents to contact elected officials about the spill.

“The only way we will be able to ensure we get this cleanup is if we have a stakeholder who lives in the affected area and their representatives sitting at the table and being a part of this discussion,” she said.

Ferruccio said she plans to set up a meeting with a local EPA representative to help formulate a framework and ensure the comprehensive framework is progressing in a timely way.

The EPA signed a similar agreement with Duke Energy at the end of May that called for a comprehensive assessment and removal of the coal ash.

Repeated testing and sampling by the EPA, state regulatory agencies and the Kerr Lake Regional Water System indicates only trace amounts of some of the metals that make up coal ash are within Kerr Lake. Those amounts do not present a health concern for swimmers, fishermen or boaters.

The most recent water and sediment sampling released by the EPA in April stated the reservoir’s surface water did not detect the presence of coal ash.

Henderson City Manager Ray Griffin said the city council would receive a report on the coal ash spill at its work session June 23.

He said Christy Lipscomb, director of the Kerr Lake Regional Water System, would prepare the report.

“It will be more of an information session,” he said, “and an effort to help educate the public about what has happened. There has been a lot of commentary about what has been going on with the spill. We don’t need misinformation. That is the whole thrust of having this report ready for council and having a public discussion.”

The spill at the Dan River Steam Station in Eden dumped 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash and as much as 27 million tons of coal ash-laced water into the Dan River.

Griffin said the clean up effort should remove the 33 coal ash impoundments that exist in the state.

“There should be a concerted effort for these coal ash depository sites to be cleaned up and removed,” he said.

Councilwoman Brenda Peace-Jenkins said Duke Energy should be held accountable.

“I definitely believe it should be cleaned and they are responsible for getting it clean,” she said. “There needs to be some reassurance that something like this will never happen again. I don’t know how they will do that but it needs to be in place somewhere.”

Councilwoman Sara Coffey said her concern is in the long-term impact of the spill.

“As far as I know, we didn’t have anything to worry about, but I would like to know that it’s not going to affect our drinking water in years to come,” she said.

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.