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City considering coal ash dump sites north, south of airport runways

The city of Charlotte has ruled out placing coal ash under any airport infrastructure such as runways, but officials are looking closely at two sites adjacent to Charlotte Douglas where Duke Energy’s waste could be buried.

Assistant City Manager Hyong Yi said the city has looked several possible areas, including a site north of the airport’s runways, as well as a site southwest of the runways.

The City Council’s environmental committee is scheduled to hear a proposal from staff Monday. Yi said staff has a recommendation prepared but declined to say what it is.

In March, Duke Energy first proposed relocating 4 million tons of ash from pits near Mountain Island Lake, which is the city’s drinking water supply, to the airport. There, it could be buried and used as fill for a construction project, possibly a runway. But the airport balked at that proposal, worried about disruption to service if a problem arose and a runway had to be closed.

After a Feb. 2 ash spill into the Dan River, Duke has been under pressure to move its coal ash, which has been stored for decades in unlined pits. The ash would be buried in a thick liner and wrapped up like a burrito to protect groundwater in Duke’s plan for the airport.

City Manager Ron Carlee said earlier this year the city would only accept the ash if it would be safe for the environment and if it made economic sense. The original concept was that using the ash as fill could have saved the airport millions of dollars from having to buy and move fill dirt while building major upgrades, such as a planned fourth runway.

That plan fell through when interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said last month that Charlotte Douglas doesn’t want any ash under airplane movement areas, such as a runway, because it could be massively disruptive to airport operations if something went wrong.

“We’re still looking at the pros and cons” of other sites on airport property, Yi said.

He agreed with Cagle’s assessment. “His chief concern is the airport is growing, and continuing to grow,” Yi said. “If you put a 4 million ton coal ash burrito between two runways, you don’t ever want to disturb it, ever.”

But if the city accepts the ash on or near airport property, it’s unclear what the economic upside would be for the city.

Council member David Howard, who is on the environmental committee, said he’s against accepting the fill unless Charlotte can use it for a specific purpose where the city benefits financially.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” Howard said. “There are other places to put it in the state. For the life of me, I don’t know why we would do that.”

A northern location could be adjacent to the airport’s newest, western runway.

The city owns nearly 200 acres of vacant land that is south of Wilkinson Boulevard, east of Interstate 485 and west of Sears Road. Charlotte also owns hundreds of acres south of the airport and is buying a 370-acre neighborhood there as well.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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