Sunday, February 1, 2015

Coal Ash Problem in Central North Carolina

Coal Ash Problem in Central North Carolina

Here in Lee County and Chatham County in central North Carolina, we have been put in harm’s way by Duke Energy, the only public electric utility company now in our state and the largest one in the nation.  After their merger with Progress Energy, they inherited or already owned 130 coal ash ponds, unlined, near coal-burning electric plants all over the state, all of them by rivers which also provide water for those in the area.  The problem is a state-wide problem, but we here in Chatham and Lee have been chosen to receive, in old clay pit mines from brick making, 20 million tons of the total of 150 million tons of coal ash that the state is now requiring Duke to clean up.

There is no doubt that Duke Energy has a lot of power and influence.  They are the Goliath in this battle, and we citizens of two counties which get our water from the Cape Fear River, are the David with our slingshot.  Furthermore, Chatham’s own coal ash ponds near the old Cape Fear Steam plant are also leaking into the river.  In fact last spring Duke was fined by our Dept of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for pumping coal ash water directly into the stream that fed the river.  Some of the state’s riverkeepers photographed them from the air.  Our particular 5 Cape Fear coal ash ponds are in trouble, too, because the dam holding the coal ash ponds back from the river is breaking.

As David we here in Chatham/Lee have been busy.  I have for years believed that public opinion could change things, though sometimes it’s slow.  Since Duke unveiled its scheme to haul coal ash by truck and rail from the Riverbend plant near Charlotte and the Sutton plant near Wilmington last November, our Chatham and Lee County commissioners have both voted resolutions to stop any coal ash coming into our counties.  The state law allows Duke to bypass the will of local jurisdictions, but our local governments are fighting alongside the citizens.  

We have organized into two citizen groups, one in Moncure, which is the village nearest the site in Brickhaven where the dump is planned, and the other is in Lee County, along Colon Rd, and recently the Lee county group, called Environmental Lee, met in a church on Colon Road, and drew a large audience.  Yesterday they also held a march in downtown Sanford to call attention to the plight of Lee County people.  We are writing letters, putting up signs, getting the word out to our fellow citizens.  Newspaper and TV reporters from Durham, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Raleigh, and even Los Angeles have been interviewing citizens in our counties.  

Our Chatham County commissioners invited Duke and Charah, the company Duke has hired to carry out the dumping, to speak to them about their plans.  To hear them speak, you would think coal ash was harmless.  We, however, have learned to be skeptical.  Duke staff even denied last May that they had deliberately pumped coal ash pond water into the river.  They called it “normal maintenance.” 

Coal ash is hazardous and toxic, even though a recent EPA ruling said that it could be treated like ordinary landfill garbage.  We know better.  Coal ash contains arsenic, chromium, selenium mercury and lead.  It can also be radioactive.  It has been a year since the bad coal ash spill into the Dan River last Ground-Hog Day. 70 miles of the Dan River were polluted by about 80,000 tons of coal ash. DENR now considers the river safe for drinking water and fishing, but local people deny this.  There is much less wild life in that area.  For more information on the overall coal ash picture, check out: 

A Coal Ash Commission has been appointed to oversee the proper disposal of coal ash, and Duke has until 2029 to do it all.  The Commission, however, in response to our citizen letters claims that it has no power with Duke Energy’s current plan.  Simply capping the coal ash ponds on site is not acceptable, according to Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. [See WRAL article above]. 

The likelihood is that the toxic ash has already seeped into the ground water.  The ash shouldn’t be moved.  Yet Duke plans to move it.  The Blue Ridge Legal Defense Fund (BREDL) recommends that turning coal ash into salt stone and storing it in large concrete bunkers on site is the safest way.  BREDL also learned that there are nearly 100 active and inactive clay mines all over North Carolina.  They have also released a story that Anson County may be another county target to coal ash from Riverbend and Sutton, if Chatham and Lee don’t work out.  See their website for these stories:

Coal ash is a nation-wide problem, neglected for decades.  Duke Energy likes to see itself as a good neighbor and often makes charitable contributions.  Meantime they keep raising their rates, and the coal ash cleanup will be passed along to their customers, those who survive this toxic plan.  When I spoke on Jan 20, the day that the Duke and Charah officials came to our county’s commissioner meeting on their plan, I pointed out that we no longer trust Duke Energy, as its employees don’t tell us the truth. Even the big honchos who came to the Chatham County Commissioners meeting January 20, are, in my opinion, suspect. They focused on trains, but it will be awhile before a train spur can be built.  The first news was that there would be 120-140 trucks a day.  As I live on a road that is main route to and from the Brickhaven and Corinth Roads parts of the county and also a connecting road via Highway #1 to Colon Road in Lee County, I’m not thrilled at the idea that these trucks will be flying in clouds of coal ash dust down my road in Moncure.  

Back on December 15, 2014, I spoke to our Chatham Commissioners:
My name is Judy Hogan and I speak to you to ask you to do all you can to stop the coal ash dumping in Brickhaven near Moncure. 

I consider the two main issues of our time being, first, to take care of our planet Earth and not to pollute it so badly that we destroy the only home we have.  Second, we human beings need to learn to see all other people who share our planet village as equally human, so that we never reduce any group to being sub-human or unimportant.  If we can learn these two things, then we may save our human race and our only possible place to live in this universe of ours. 

At present the American justice system has allowed a major flaw, which flies in the face of the American Constitution for it is allowing corporations to be treated as single human beings.  For these corporations we are sub-human.  They are focused on their profits and so they feel free to create waste, which harms human beings as fracking does, and as coal-burning does, and then dispose of that waste in such a way that we real human beings will suffer soil, air, and water pollution and the health and life expectancy effects of that.

Our North Carolina Legislature is allowing our only public utility company, Duke Energy, to dump its dangerous coal ash wherever it wishes without consulting the local jurisdictions, our towns, and counties.  All they need is a permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  Duke plans to bring up to 20 million tons of coal ash from the Charlotte and Wilmington areas by truck and rail to dump in the Moncure (Brickhaven) and Sanford Colon Rd. areas.  They further have the gall to say it won’t hurt us. 

We have learned that these corporate “people” lie whenever it suits them.  I personally heard the lies when their illegal behavior had already been documented last spring.  The Duke staff told me that the coal ash flowing into our water source in the Cape Fear River was below the Sanford water intake, when in reality it was above it. An aerial map documents this. We citizens appreciate whatever our BOC can do.  We need you.  Judy Hogan, Moncure 919-545-9932

Note: the Commissioners already had a resolution to ban coal ash on their agenda, and they passed it that day, December 15, unanimously.  JH

Chatham website:

Environmental Lee website:


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