Local activists stir concern about coal ash

Groups seek to propel residents to action
Apr. 24, 2014 @ 11:14 PM

Activists from local environmental groups presented strong rhetoric to compel residents to take action against Duke Energy in light of the recent coal ash spill in the Dan River.

A panel of representatives from the Roanoke River Basin Association, Environmental Justice Pollution Prevention group and the Southern Environmental Law Center encouraged residents to write letters to state representatives or donate to the association.

"We want to educate, activate and mobilize the people to speak for themselves," said Deborah Ferruccio about the rally to action Thursday night in Perry Memorial Library.

The Farm Bureau room was packed with 75 to 100 people, many of which were property owners from Kerr Lake.

Among those attending the meeting were state Rep. Nathan Baskerville of Henderson and county commissioner chairmen from Warren and Franklin counties. Nancy Wilson, tourism director for Hendeson-Vance County, was also in attendance and Henderson councilman Garry Daeke arrived in the last 30 minutes of the nearly two-hour session.

"We are going to hold Duke to the fires," Ferruccio said.

Speaking to the audience were Michael Ward of the Henry County (Va.) Public Service Authority; Gene Addesso, river association president; Mike Pucci, river association vice president; Andrew Lester, river association executive director; and Amy Adams of Appalachian Voices and a former staffer with the N.C. Department of Environmental Resources.

The panel members summarized the state and federal response to the coal ash spill since February.

Duke Energy's Dan River Steam Station was the site of a collapsed storm pipe beneath the facility's coal ash pond about three months ago.

Duke Energy has reported 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash entered the Dan River, which feeds into Kerr Lake. As much as 27 million gallons of coal ash-laced basin water reached the river.

"We are going to win this; we are going to protect our river, our basin and our lake," Lester said. "If you are too busy paddling, you don't have time to rock the boat."

Each year, Kerr Lake draws roughly 1.2 to 1.4 million people for recreation, according to Wilson. It supplies drinking water to about 60,000 customers in Warren County, Oxford and Henderson, which make up the Kerr Lake Regional Water System partners.

State Sen. Angela Bryant, a member of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission, was not present. At the commission's Monday meeting in Danville, Va., she said she was reassured by scientists from North Carolina and Virginia that testing conducted to date has not confirmed the presence of coal ash in quantifiable amounts in Kerr Lake.

Tom Reeder, of DENR, was seen on a television report last week saying trace amounts of coal ash were in the lake. In front of an Environmental Review Commission of the N.C. General Assembly on Tuesday, he said there was only anecdotal evidence.

DENR, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been conducting water and sediment sample testing along the river.

The spill has also prompted a federal grand jury investigation and subpoenas to at least 60 DENR and Duke Energy officials.

Drew Elliot, DENR spokesman, said legislation proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory would eventually close all ash ponds in the state and convert all the coal-fired plants to dry fly ash handling systems, which means the ash would not be mixed with water in the storage process.

The proposed legislation calls for the removal of coal ash ponds from four Duke Energy sites — including the one in Eden — to a lined landfill, which helps prevent leaching groundwater pollution.

"The idea is to set timelines for putting these plans in motion," Elliot said.

But the proposed legislation does not indicate how long it would take to move the site or where the lined landfills would be located.

Duke Energy has spent more than $15 million to close the pipe that collapsed in Eden.

It has also begun dredging out large deposits of ash found on the river bottom at three locations: immediately downstream of the collapsed storm water pipe, upstream of a Danville, Va., treatment plant at the Schoolfield Dam, and near the confluence of Town Creek in North Carolina.

Elliot said he could not speak to the cost of moving the coal ash ponds.

But Duke Energy, the nation’s largest power company with a net worth of $50 billion, told North Carolina lawmakers Tuesday that removing all of the company’s coal ash away from the state’s rivers and lakes would take decades and cost up to $10 billion. It also has stated plans for customers to incur the costs.


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.