Wanda Overby used to take her grandson to play along the Dan River almost every day — until Feb. 2, 2014, when a coal ash pond breached, releasing 39,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of toxic contamination into the waterway. “After the spill, we went down there and saw the sludge,” and has been back to the river only once — and had to wear knee boots — Overby said, according to court documents. “I’m sad when I think of all memories he’ll never have. That’s really the main thing that’s been taken from us.”
Overby is one of 33 property owners along the Dan River who have settled with Duke Energy over damages from the environmental disaster: diminished property values and loss of their use and enjoyment of their land.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The plaintiffs were represented by Bryan Brice, whose law firm is based in Raleigh.
“The despoliation of the Dan River as a result of Duke’s negligence caused significant hardship for these 33 individuals and their families,” Brice said in a prepared statement. “It was a tragedy that should have never occurred.”
A Duke spokesperson also issued a statement: “Years of scientific research demonstrates that the Dan River environment, ecosystem and neighboring agricultural lands were not impacted by the 2014 incident and recreational enjoyment of the river and surrounding area continues to grow, so we are pleased to put this issue behind us.”
Although Duke Energy is excavating or has excavated coal ash from impoundments at eight of its North Carolina plants, the utility wants to leave the material in unlined pits at six: Belews Creek Roxboro, Mayo, Marshall, Allen and Rogers/Cliffside.
Duke says it will cap the impoundments to prevent water from entering the impoundments, but that does not solve the groundwater problems that can result from unlined facilities. Monitoring data shows that more than 90 percent of coal ash impoundments nationwide leak; federally mandated monitoring results show that all of them in North Carolina do.
“This settlement also puts Duke Energy on notice to act responsibly to protect the environment and take all necessary steps to ensure that these types of incidents do not occur again,” Brice said. “There are many other coal ash ponds in our state and across the country where proper closure and removal of coal ash must occur to protect all downstream property owners and the rivers upon which they live.”