Meeting set on Riverbend power plant’s ash risks

A pipe into the retired Riverbend power plant’s primary ash basin in 2014.
A pipe into the retired Riverbend power plant’s primary ash basin in 2014. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

State regulators will host a public meeting next week on the risks of coal ash stored at the Riverbend power plant west of Charlotte, but the outcome is predetermined.

Riverbend is one of four Duke Energy power plants whose ash ponds were deemed high-risk by state legislation in 2014. That means the 4.5 million tons of ash there has to be excavated by 2019, and work has been underway since last May.

Riverbend sits on the Gaston County shores of Mountain Island Lake, Charlotte’s major drinking water source. Metals in coal ash can be toxic if they reach water.

Despite that, Tuesday’s meeting is required by the legislation. It’s among the first in a series of meetings statewide on ash at each of Duke’s 14 operating or retired coal plants.

Riverbend is one of Duke’s oldest power plants, dating to 1929. It was retired in 2013.

Dry ash from the plant was initially sent to a landfill in northern Georgia, but now is shipped by rail to an abandoned clay mine in Chatham County.

Duke began draining surface water from the two Riverbend ponds in January as a prelude to excavating ash from them. This month, the state approved a permit to drain more contaminated water that is mixed with ash.

The Department of Environmental Quality posted details in January on proposed risk classifications for the 10 Duke power plants not already categorized as high-risk by legislators.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

Riverbend meeting

Tuesday at 6 p.m., Gaston College’s Myers Center Auditorium, 201 U.S. 321 South in Dallas. Comments on the risk classification may be sent to Riverbendcomments@ncdenr.gov until April 18.