03/05/14 — Wayne on coal ash pond list

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Wayne on coal ash pond list

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on March 5, 2014 1:46 PM

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This coal-fired power plant was demolished recently to make way for newer technology. The ponds in question were associated with plants like this.

In light of the recent coal ash spill into the Dan River from a Duke Energy coal ash pond the Neuse River Keepers say now is the time to focus on the H.F. Lee Energy Complex coal ash pond in western Wayne County.

Attention from the spills has brought to light a host of violations by Duke Energy Progress power facilities in the state, including the Lee complex, including failure to obtain necessary permits to discharge storm water into waterways.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced Monday that Duke Energy Progress had been issued formal notices of violation for not having the needed permits. Wayne's Lee complex was among those cited for lacking required storm water permits.

Upper Neuse River Keeper Matthew Starr said that all of the coal ash ponds in the state need to be emptied out, but that the Lee facility pond is of extreme importance due to its close proximity to the Neuse River.

"If you are paddling by it in a canoe, you can see the pond from the river," Starr said. "It's that close. It's just on the other side of a large dam."

Starr said the pond needs to be scooped out and its contents placed in a lined landfill to protect the groundwater from being contaminated by the coal ash.

Groundwater around the pond has been tested to hold 665 parts per billion of arsenic, more than 60 times the allowable amount in North Carolina

"It's really both parts that are of concern," Starr said. "The dam breaking and the coal ash spilling out into the river and the groundwater contamination. We need to get that coal ash out of there and into a secure, lined landfill. The spill in the Dan River has reached down farther than we thought it would and the same thing could happen with Goldsboro."

Coal ash in the Dan River has spread as far as 70 miles downstream.

Starr said a hurricane or other natural disaster could cause the pond to spill over, tainting the water for miles, killing fish and isolating Goldsboro's water supply.

"Another concern is how close Goldsboro's water intake is to the pond," Starr said. "They said that there are other options for them but I'm sure they would be very expensive."

Goldsboro Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear said that if a spill did happen, the city has a three-pronged plan to deal with any contamination in the Neuse.

"We have an emergency operations plan," she said.

First, the city would shut off the water intake from the Neuse River and begin to use the 35-million gallon reservoir tank used to give sediment a chance to filter out of the water coming into the water treatment plant.

"We have that because we don't want to bring sand into the system," Ms. Brashear said. "That would last the city about five days. If we hear of a chemical spill upstream, we can shut it down before it gets to us."

Ms. Brashear said she can have the intake shut down within a minute of finding out about a spill.

The second step in the city's plan is to purchase needed water from groundwater-fed county water districts.

By using some of the water in the reservoir and buying some from the water districts, the reservoir would not become depleted and the cost of the water district's water would be tempered by using the reservoir.

The third and final step in the plan would be to return to using the intake, pulling water from the Little River instead of the Neuse River.

That plan would only be needed if the contamination was so bad that it would hinder drawing from the river for a long time, Ms. Brashear said.

"We can always switch to another river," she said. "We are lucky that way because most municipalities only have one way to get water and we have two. We would be able to just go to another river. We would have the time to analyze and do analysis to see how the water is."

Before the Dan River spill, in January, the river keepers filed an injunction with the state, through the Southern Environmental Law Center, to allow seven local river conservation groups, including the river keepers, to participate in state enforcement actions against Duke Energy for what it calls illegal coal ash pollution.

The motion has stalled in the face of the Dan River spill but Starr hopes to see movement soon.