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State wants Duke documents on coal ash ponds

North Carolina’s environmental agency wants Duke Energy to provide information about its coal ash ponds that state legislation has allowed the utility to keep private.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Wednesday that it will inspect all of Duke’s ash ponds next week.

The agency wants Duke to provide engineering and emergency-action plans with maps showing the flood impacts if the ponds’ dikes fail. Utilities have not previously been required to produce those documents.

“Having a more comprehensive look at everything that’s out there will aid us in moving forward” with regulating the ponds, said DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer.

Legislation passed in 2009, after a massive ash spill in Tennessee, placed ash-pond dam inspections under the state dam safety office.

The legislation deemed all ash ponds “approved” by the state at that point. It said Duke and Progress Energy, separate companies at that time, did not have to provide documents connected with their continued operation and maintenance.

The utilities have cited that provision in refusing to turn over some documents the state requested, state dam safety engineer Steve McEvoy has told The Observer.

In a letter to Duke on Wednesday, McEvoy acknowledged the legislation. “However, in the interest of public safety (the state) feels this information is necessary in order to gain a full understanding of how the facilities function and how to respond in the case of emergency,” he added.

The state will treat the emergency action plans and flood inundation maps as confidential for security reasons, he said.

Duke has said it cooperates with regulators who ask for documentation on its structures.

DENR said it will inspect all permitted and unpermitted discharge points at all 14 of Duke’s active and retired coal-fired power plants. It will check the structural integrity of the pipes and collect water samples from each.

The state also wants Duke to provide videos of the inside of each pipe, starting with those made of corrosion-prone corrugated metal.

A 48-inch metal stormwater pipe under an ash pond at Duke’s retired power plant in Eden dumped thousands of tons of ash into the Dan River when it broke Feb. 2.

A Duke video viewed by the state later revealed leaks and potential failure of a 36-inch concrete stormwater pipe under that pond.

Duke revealed last week that eight of its 33 ash ponds have corrugated metal pipes, the material that broke at the Dan River plant. No others run under its North Carolina ash ponds, Duke says.

Henderson: 704-358-5051; Twitter: @bhender
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