Protesters demonstrate outside Duke Energy building

A loud crowd of people protesting Duke Energy’s activities packed the sidewalk outside its corporate headquarters in uptown Charlotte Thursday morning as people arrived for the company’s shareholder meeting.

Protesters carried signs and pulled “crime scene” tape along the sidewalk. They chanted and banged drums. One woman dressed up like they Statue of Liberty.

Much of the ire of the crowd was focused on Duke’s response to a Feb. 2 coal ash spill in the Dan River.

“They have poisoned the water and want us to pay for the cleanup,” said Ruth Zalph of Chapel Hill, echoing a sentiment shared by many of the protesters. Zalph called herself a “raging granny.”

Duke has said it would pay to clean up the Dan River spill, but that it would seek approval from state regulators to pass the costs of closing its 33 North Carolina ash ponds to customers.

A Duke spokesman, Tom Williams, was walking near the protesters. “This is a passionate crowd. They’re always passionate,” he said. “They care deeply about the environment and so do we.”

Asheville resident Kendall Hale, the woman dressed in the Statue of Liberty costume, said she was concerned that Duke Energy had too much influence over state government. “It’s almost a state-owned monopoly,” she said.

Several protesters conceded they did not expect to have an immediate impact on the shareholders inside the building, but they still hoped their message would get out.

Gov. Pat McCrory was the focus of some of the signs, including one with his picture that read “For Sale —Sold.” Another one had McCrory and several other state officials’ names under pictures of four of the Three Stooges.

Other signs included: “No Mo’ Coal;” “Clean Up Your Mess At Your Own Expense;” and “Dirty Energy, Dirty Politics, Dirty Duke.”

The Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, criticized what he called extremists in state government and their “seeming disdain for the voice of the people and the legislation that would protect the people from the monopolized and harmful action of a business.”

Barber and others speakers also led the crowd in various protest chants.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers kept watch over the peaceful demonstration. City officials declared the shareholders meeting an Extraordinary Event, which gives police additional powers to regulate items that people can bring with them into the area near the Duke headquarters.

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