Environmental groups hope a recent legal victory against Duke Energy will encourage faster removal of coal ash at dump sites across the state. The company will soon begin cleaning up millions of tons of coal ash at the Buck Steam Station site near Salisbury, and turning it into a recycling facility.

Duke Energy says the waste from three massive coal ash pits in Rowan County will be dried and used for making concrete or moved to lined landfills elsewhere. 

“This is another important step forward to advance our ash basin closure at Buck and builds on our ongoing efforts to close all basins safely and responsibly,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy's North Carolina president.

The agreement comes after environmental groups sued the utility giant in a federal lawsuit filed in 2014. They say coal ash from the unlined ponds is seeping into the ground and polluting nearby wells with toxic metals, including lead and mercury. Will Scott is with the Yadkin Riverkeeper, one of the groups that sued the company.

“I think that what our agreement shows is that this recycling requirement is making Duke Energy re-evaluate some sites," Scott says. "We are hopeful that they will be looking at some of the sites that are not yet slated for real excavated cleanup and they will be making a commitment to do that in the coming months."

Among other things, North Carolina's coal ash law requires Duke Energy to install three recycling units. The permitting process for the Buck recycling facility will take several months and construction is expected to take about two years.

The company has until 2029 to shut down and clean up all of its ash ponds. Duke Energy denies its ash basins contaminated the wells and has been providing bottled water to residents.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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