Judge closes state lawsuits over ash at 3 Duke Energy plants

A Wake County judge has approved motions by Duke Energy and environmental advocates to close state lawsuits over coal ash contamination at three power plants in eastern North Carolina.

Duke and advocates had asked the court to dismiss lawsuits over ash at seven power plants last July, saying cleanup terms – including excavation of the ash – had largely been resolved.

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway approved the settlement for three plants: H.F. Lee in Goldsboro, Cape Fear in Moncure and Weatherspoon in Wilmington. Advocates expect Ridgeway to issue a separate order for the four other plants, including Riverbend west of Charlotte.

The Department of Environmental Quality had opposed the move. DEQ argued that closing the lawsuits would short-circuit public input on closing Duke’s ash ponds that is required by state law.

The department is taking public comments on proposed risk classifications for ash stored at all 14 Duke coal plants until April 18.

The settlement between Duke and advocates does not cover ash at seven other power plants, including Marshall on Lake Norman and Allen on Lake Wylie.

“We can only hope that North Carolina’s environmental protection agency will begin to actually protect North Carolina’s environment and require a total cleanup of the remaining polluted coal ash sites across the state,” Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center said in a statement.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender