About 45 residents showed up for a public hearing Thursday night in Belmont. They asked questions about Duke's plans to transfer coal ash from the Allen Steam Station to new, lined landfills.
The hearing, held at Stuart Cramer High School, was hosted by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ officials answered questions from residents about the design of the landfills and how the state would make sure the coal ash is contained.
Amy Brown, an activist and Belmont resident, thanked DEQ for getting a deal that would transfer the coal ash in her town.
“I thank everyone in the department that set up meetings, that listened to all the data that came in and really had the nerve to be brave enough to say, we’re gonna remove the ash," Brown said.
Brown also requested that Duke employees present at the meeting allow her to tour the Allen Steam Station plant. She wanted to understand better how the coal ash was being removed, so that she could inform her neighbors in Belmont what was happening at the site.
In the deal -- struck by Duke, DEQ, and 10 different community and environmental groups on Dec. 31 of last year -- Duke agreed to remove 80 million tons of coal ash from six sites, including the Allen Steam Station in Belmont.
Frank Holleman is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented the environmental groups in multiple lawsuits that led to the settlment with Duke. He attended the hearing and said it made sense that residents came out to ask detailed questions about the plans.
“People are very relieved that a solution will be in place," Holleman said. "At the same time, people want to make sure that’s going to happen. They want to make sure DEQ carefully supervises what’s occurring, and they have legitimate questions about when, where, and how that will be done."
DEQ is taking public comments, both mailed and submitted online, until March 19 at 5 p.m. The department will then review those comments. State law requires the DEQ to approve or reject the plans within four months. Once approved, Duke has 60 days to begin work. Final closure of all the coal ash sites could take years. Duke has until 2035 to complete all the work, according to the settlement.
North Carolina residnets can find instructions on how to submit comments at DEQ's website here: https://deq.nc.gov/news/press-releases/2020/02/18/public-hearings-closure-plans-coal-ash-impoundments-cliffside