Environmental and civil rights groups say they'll sue Duke Energy for violating parts of the Clean Water Act. They want Duke Energy to clean up coal ash stored at the Belews Creek facility in Stokes County.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has given notice of its intent to file suit within 60 days in federal court. It alleges Duke Energy dumped coal ash pollution into Belews Lake, Little Belews Creek, the Dan River, and groundwater through leaks and seepage from its ash basin.

They say this has led to contaminated water for neighbors. SELC attorney Myra Blake also says the company is illegally using the creek as part of its wastewater pollution system.

“We want Duke Energy and our clients want Duke Energy to take responsibility for this, right the wrongs that they have committed over the years and actually cleanup its ash and remove it from the groundwater that it's sitting deep in right now,” says Blake. She adds that moving the ash to a lined landfill or recycling it into concrete would remedy some of those Clean Water Act violations.

Duke Energy says there continues to be no evidence that the Belews Creek facility is impacting nearby drinking water wells. Company spokesperson Paige Sheehan says excavation would be disruptive, expensive and unnecessary.

“Scientists conclude that such extreme plans can actually cause more harm to the environment than good. For example, it would take approximately 12 years and more than 600,000 truck trips to excavate the Belews Creek ash basin and relocate ash to a new location, possibly in a new community,” says Sheehan.

“We will continue to advocate for our customers and smart ash basin closure plans that are customized for each site,” Sheehan adds. 

The Belews Creek plant is located near Walnut Tree, a predominately black community. The state NAACP and the Stokes County Branch are also represented in the lawsuit.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a public meeting in Stokes County last year. The department has since released a report that blasted the EPA for not doing enough to protect residents who live around the sites. According to the report, coal ash storage disproportionately impacts economically disadvantaged and minority communities.

Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal. It contains toxic materials including arsenic and lead.

In 2014, the EPA released new national standards for coal ash. The agency designated it as a nonhazardous waste.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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