Residents around some Duke Energy coal ash dumps have been urging North Carolina regulators this month to require Duke to dig up the ash and move it to new, lined landfills. The last in a series of public meetings is Tuesday night, this time focusing on the Allen Steam Station on Lake Wylie.
Duke Energy is already required by law to excavate coal ash around eight of its 14 North Carolina coal-fired power plants — both operating and retired. At issue is whether it should be allowed to avoid digging up ash at the remaining six plants, and instead leave it in place under new waterproof covers.
At meetings around the state this month, residents have been "clear and unanimous," said Luis Rodriguez of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
"They do not want a cap in place," Rodriguez said. "They do not want this toxic waste left near their homes, near their children, near where their families play."
About 16 million tons of coal ash are stored in two basins at Allen Steam Station in Belmont. Neighbors and environmental groups want the ash moved away from Lake Wylie and private wells, which they believe have been contaminated by toxic elements in coal ash.
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Duke says its studies show coal ash has not affected wells. Spokesman Bill Norton said both closure options are safe, but removal would cost more — $1.2 billion, or six times the cost of capping in place.
"Scientifically speaking, you're achieving the same outcome. Why would you pay six times the costs, just to achieve the same outcome?" Norton asked.
Norton noted that the cap-in-place option would require some excavation: Ash closest to nearby neighborhoods would be moved farther into the plant site.
These meetings organized by the Department of Environmental Quality originally had residents going table-to-table asking DEQ officials questions about Duke's plans. (Duke, by the way, says it was not invited.) But DEQ has added a comment period, after a Jan. 17 meeting in Catawba County, where residents demanded to make public statements.
Tuesday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Stuart Cramer High School in Belmont.
NCDEQ is expected to decide by April 1 how Duke must close the basins at Marshall, Allen and four other sites. Duke then would have until Aug. 1 to submit final plans.