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Duke to pay up to $1.8 million for Wilmington water line

Duke Energy agreed in October to pay up to $1.8 million for a new water line to serve a low-income community near its Sutton power plant in Wilmington.

It was the first time in North Carolina that Duke has agreed to provide alternative water because of ash contamination.

Flemington has long experience with bad water. When industrial pollutants seeped under the low-income neighborhood in the 1980s, the local water authority drilled two deep new wells to serve the community.

Those two wells aren’t contaminated now. But in February, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority found elevated levels of boron in the wells, which serve about 400 people. Because it moves easily through groundwater, boron is used as a marker of ash contamination.

The suspect was Duke’s Sutton coal-fired power plant, whose ash ponds are 2,700 feet from the community wells. Pumping water from those wells could draw contaminated groundwater from the plant.

“We knew, based on the complexity of how groundwater flows near Sutton, there was a potential possibility in the future that groundwater could be slowly moving in that direction,” said Erin Culbert, a Duke spokeswoman.

Cape Fear River Watch and other advocacy groups filed notice in June that they would sue Duke over contamination from Sutton, and did so in September.

The Cape Fear Public Utility Authority asked Duke in August to install more test wells to detect the flow of groundwater. Duke also agreed to pay for most of the cost of the pipeline, which had been in the authority’s master plan.

Once the line is installed, the utility will abandon the Flemington wells. Duke added a provision to the agreement that Cape Fear avoid drilling new wells in an area that Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette estimated at 17 square miles.

“Had we not brought this up, I’m not convinced that anything would have happened,” Burdette said. Bruce Henderson

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