Settlement with Yadkin Riverkeeper requires Duke Energy to excavate coal ash ponds at Buck

The residents of Dukeville near the Buck plant in Salisbury won’t have to live near coal ash basins after all, under the terms of a settlement agreement announced yesterday.

amy-brown                            deborah-graham

The agreement with two environmental groups forces Duke Energy to dig up the coal ash from its three basins at the plant, rather than choosing “cap in place.” That option would have left the ash in the basins with an impermeable liner. Now the excavated ash will be recycled for use in concrete.

The settlement allows Duke to avoid facing a pending federal lawsuit by the Yadkin Riverkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance. They are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“After years of litigation and controversy, Duke Energy has finally entered into a binding agreement that requires them to do what the community and Riverkeepers have been asking all along — remove their ash from unlined pits sitting deep in groundwater,” said Yadkin Riverkeeper Will Scott.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is not part of the litigation. However, the agency will have to approve any excavation permits and a closure plan.

Under the terms of the agreement, Duke does have the flexibility to move the coal ash to a lined landfill if it can’t recycle it. However, that landfill must be located away from the Yadkin River and separated from any groundwater or drinking water sources.

The existing ash basins have continued to leak into the Yadkin. As NCPW reported in September, independent testing showed that water in parts of the river near the plant contained arsenic as much as four times higher than surface water standards.

Duke Energy didn’t mention the settlement in its announcement about the new excavation plan:

Duke Energy today announced plans to remove coal ash from three basins at the Buck Steam Station in Salisbury, N.C., and safely recycle the valuable material for concrete.

“This important step forward provides certainty for neighbors about our closure plans and allows us to recycle more coal ash to benefit our customers and North Carolina’s economy,” said David Fountain, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president.

The utility also called coal ash “nonhazardous.” That is technically factual because the EPA rules classify coal ash as nonhazardous waste. However, the components of coal ash are hazardous and can cause cancer or severe neurological damage: arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and cadmium. The US Commission on Civil Rights recently recommended that the EPA reclassify coal ash as hazardous “special” waste. This would allow the ash to be recycled.

Litigation continues over basins at six Duke plants in North Carolina:

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