Duke Energy said Thursday it is planning repairs to a 50-foot break found in an earthen wall around a 545-acre cooling water pond at its retired H.F. Lee power plant in Goldsboro.
Water from the pond, which holds 1.2 billion gallons, is flowing through the crack into the Neuse River, which flooded after Hurricane Matthew. An inspection by helicopter, Duke said, indicated the cooling pond and an actively-used ash pond across the river are safe.
“We haven’t seen any substantial changes overnight,” spokeswoman Erin Culbert said. The level of the Neuse has dropped so less water is flowing into the pond, she said.
The company hopes to inspect Lee’s active ash pond by boat Thursday, Culbert said. The ash at Lee and Duke’s Weatherspoon and Cape Fear power plants in eastern North Carolina was previously scheduled to be excavated by 2028 because of flooding risks.
No other ash ponds in the region appear to be in peril after Matthew, Culbert said.
Duke has said it expects the Lee cooling pond break to add less than an inch to the already-elevated river level. The Neuse has flooded three unused ash ponds that are normally dry.
Two environmental advocates, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, said the ash ponds have been submerged since Sunday. They said breaches are most likely as water recedes, as it is began to do Wednesday.
“We remain very concerned about the integrity of the ash pond dams at Lee as the river recedes over the next week,” they said in a statement.
Duke announced the break at Lee two hours after saying in a release Wednesday that “ash basin and cooling pond dams across the state continue to operate safely.” In that release, Duke accused environmental advocates of trying to mislead the public about the safety of Lee’s ponds.
The U.S. Geological Survey said peak streamflow records have been broken for at least 14 sites in North Carolina, including the Neuse River, after heavy rainfall from Hurricane Matthew and rains before the weekend storm.
The Neuse near Goldsboro peaked at 29.7 feet, breaking the record of 28.8 feet set after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, the USGS said.