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Duke Energy agrees to put coal ash flood maps online after advocates complained

A failed Duke Energy drainage pipe, shown being dug up in 2014, spilled coal ash into the Dan River. Duke said Friday it will post maps of potential flooding if any of its coal ash dams fail, after environmental advocates threatened to sue.
A failed Duke Energy drainage pipe, shown being dug up in 2014, spilled coal ash into the Dan River. Duke said Friday it will post maps of potential flooding if any of its coal ash dams fail, after environmental advocates threatened to sue. AP

Duke Energy reversed course Friday, saying it would make public maps showing areas that would be flooded if any of its dozens of coal ash dams in North Carolina and other states fail.

Advocates earlier this week filed notices that they would sue Duke for blacking out flood maps, and contact information, from emergency response plans that a federal rule requires utilities to publish online. Duke is the only U.S. utility to withhold the maps, advocates said.

In a statement Friday, George Hamrick, Duke’s senior vice president of coal combustion products, said the maps and contact information will go online for most coal-fired power plants. The federal rule does not apply to the retired Riverbend plant west of Charlotte and the Cape Fear plant in Chatham County.

Hamrick said Duke relied on past interpretations of state law, which allow information about critical infrastructure to be redacted, when it last updated the emergency plans in 2014.

“After revisiting the issue and reviewing how other utilities have managed the expectations of the (federal) rule, we agree it is appropriate to post additional information and make it available to the public,” he said.

The maps and contact information will be posted to Duke’s coal ash page as documents are updated in the coming weeks, Duke said. Until then, questions about emergency action plans can be emailed to coalashquestions@duke-energy.com.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented environmental groups challenging Duke on the issue in North Carolina, said Duke should post the maps immediately.

“It is a shame that citizens have to threaten to sue Duke Energy to get it to obey the law,” senior attorney Frank Holleman said in a statement. “The public should have had this emergency information for months.... Communities across North Carolina should look closely at these flood maps once Duke Energy reluctantly makes them public to see what threats Duke Energy has imposed on the families of North Carolina.”

The law center challenged plans for 10 Duke power plants in North Carolina. Duke’s 31 coal ash basins in the state hold 111 million tons of ash in water-filled ponds. Ash holds metals that can contaminate rivers, lakes and groundwater.

Similar challenges were also filed this week in Kentucky and Indiana.

Duke says its ash basins are safe and inspected weekly. North Carolina law also requires them to be drained of water, a move that Duke says makes them safer.

Full versions of emergency response plans are provided to local emergency agencies, with whom Duke meets once a year.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

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