Duke Energy Prepares to Clean Dan River

Duke Energy Prepares to Clean Dan River

11:41pm Mar 31, 2014
On February 12, 2014, Duke Energy crewmen vacuum small area of toxic coal ash sludge from the Dan River.
Duke Energy

Duke Energy says it's ready to manage and dismantle its coal ash basins. Duke Energy equipment is arriving in Danville for cleaning coal ash out of the Dan River. It will also be cleaned from concrete tanks at the water treatment plant in Eden. This week, equipment will be set up at Abreu-Grogan Park. It will vacuum-dredge about 2,500 tons of coal ash deposited near the upstream side of the Schoolfield Dam.Duke Energy says it has a plan to deal with the Dan River coal ash spill. Last week, executives announced they will create an internal strategic task force to oversee an engineering review of the company's sites. It simply needs North Carolina and Gov. Pat McCrory to give it the green light.

Dave Scanzoni, a Duke Energy spokesman, says the corporation has also hired a team of outside engineers to determine the condition of Duke Energy’s 33 ash basins in North Carolina. “The outside engineering consultants are going to be analyzing every component of our ash basin to make sure they’re in the best possible shape they can be," says Scanzoni. "If we see any issues that need to be addressed, we’ll take care of them immediately.” Scanzoni says if the state approves Duke’s plan, the engineers will review the corporations basins across North Carolina and five other states in the Southeast and Midwest. The company plans to complete their assessment by May 31.

This action comes after 30,000-70,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River through a cracked storm drain pipe. It happened February 2 at the retired Dan River Coal Plant in Eden. Since the spill, Duke has been cited for eight violations--the latest was for illegally dumping 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into a tributary of the Cape Fear River in Chatham County.

“Nobody’s doing anything to stop it, that what gets me,” claims Gary Purgason who lives just above Eden. The angler is in his mid-50's and he says his lived on the Dan River all of his life. According to Purgason, the fishing began changing before the Dan River spill. “My Dad took me down there when I was six years old. I saw these people pulling out fish as long as my leg, stripped bass and catfish but the fishing has continually gotten worse and worse," Purgason shakes his head as he looks at the water. "Now you’re not supposed to put your hand in the water, it’s really sad."

Morris Lawson lives in Pelham, N.C. and during the week, he eats lunch along the Dan. On February 23, he took the first pictures of two dead turtles on the river bank. He believes the coal ash forced them out of hibernation and freezing temperatures killed them. “Now I have pictures of snails that are turning up dead. The next will be fish. That’s the food source of the otters and the catfish," says Lawson. "What will the deer and raccoons drink? It’s a sign of what’s to come.”  

Courtney Hayworth lives in Bassett, Virginia and says, "If this gets into the ground water, then all of the fresh fruits and vegetables you buy from local farmers will be affected," she explains. "So even if you don’t live on the Dan River, it’s still going to affect you in some way.”

To combat this, Duke has proposed to relocate coal ash from several retired plants, including the Dan River location. Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni says the toxic material would go into fully lined, encased landfills. “We would also look at moving it to where it can be used in structural landfills as fill material for airport projects.” According to Scanzoni, Duke needs state permits to move the coal ash. He says even after the company gets the permits, the hauling process could take several years.

But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League wants the toxic material to stay on property owned by Duke so the energy giant maintains fiscal and legal responsibility. “What we’re calling for is the coal ash should be solidified, dehydrated, stored safely and housed instead of transferring it to landfills which could cause issues in the transportation," says Katie Dunnagan, the community organizer. "Also, landfills do leak, and if the coal ash is moved to single or double lined landfills, they will eventually over time break down and contaminate the communities nearby.”

Last week, the group presented a technical report on safe storage options for coal ash. They gave it to the state, the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), and to Duke Energy.

Duke workmen are now beginning cleanup efforts upstream of the Schoolfield Dam near the spill site and at a second location about one mile downstream from the Dan River Plant. It’s estimated there’s at least 70-miles of toxic black sludge on the river bottom. The company says it won’t pass the cleanup costs on to customers.

But Stoneville, N.C. resident Ed Yeager says he wouldn’t mind paying a little more if needed. “There’s a cost to doing business and where’s the money going to come from, us the customer, that’s where they get their money from," says Yeager. "You can make them pay for everything but eventually they’re going to have to raise our rates or else go broke and we’re not going to have any electricity and their going to turn off my lights and I don’t want that to happen either.”

Meanwhile, Duke spokesman Dave Scanzoni says water from the Dan River is safe. “The actual water itself, the department of natural resources put out a press release indicating that essentially the water has returned to pre-incident conditions and that there’s no indication of impact on water before it’s treated," explains Scanzoni. "Also on drinking water, there’s no impact on drinking water.”

But Morris Lawson isn't convinced. He refuses to let his wife Angie and their 10 year-old son, Hunter drink the water. “We’re drinking bottled water. We go to restaurants in Danville and we take our own drink," explains Lawson. "My little boy still won’t drink a fountain drink and ice, he won’t touch it.” Duke Energy has also told Gov. Pat McCrory and DENR it is accelerating the closure of other coal plants and their basins.

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