Duke Energy permanently plugs leaking ash-pond pipe

Duke Energy says it has installed a permanent plug in the leaking stormwater pipe that dumped tons of coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River about 130 miles northeast of Charlotte.

Crews filled a section of the 48-inch pipe with concrete grout and a cap, Duke said. The material hardened for 12 hours and was tested Saturday afternoon.

Duke said it will continue to grout the whole pipe, which drains stormwater from the plant under the 27-acre ash pond and into the Dan. The pipe is about 850 feet long from the point where it broke to the river.

The plant is in Eden.

“Plugging the pipe was clearly job one, but we’re continuing our efforts and working closely with all the agencies involved in this response,” Charlie Gates, Duke’s senior vice president for power generation operations, said in a statement. “Our next step is to continue to monitor the water quality of the river and to accelerate our planning for the best long-term solution at the site.”

Spokesman Jeff Brooks said Sunday that workers continued to excavate around the broken part of the pipe so grout can be pumped into it.

The pipe at the now-retired Dan River coal-fired power plant broke last Sunday, sending 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash and 24 million to 27 million gallons of water into the river. The Environmental Protection Agency says it was likely the nation’s third-largest ash spill.

Duke struggled for days to stop the broken pipe from leaking into the Dan, in part, it said, because of repair crews’ need to have access to the pipe’s interior. The company also discovered that the pipe, which was installed decades ago, was made of corrugated metal at its break point instead of the reinforced concrete it was believed to be.

On Friday, Duke said water coming out of the pipe was being recirculated back into the ash pond. The company also apologized for the spill.

“We’re committed to the Dan River and the communities that it serves,” Gates said. “We are accountable for what happened and have plenty of work ahead of us.”

Downstream municipalities say they’ve been able to filter out the potentially toxic metals in the ash. Water from the Dan River itself has shown elevated levels of arsenic, iron, aluminum and copper, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Friday.

Gov. Pat McCrory visited the site Thursday, urging Duke to stop the leak. N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, who lives in Eden, asked that a legislative inquiry begin into the spill. Berger asked that it be placed on the agenda for Wednesday’s legislative Environmental Review Commission meeting.

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