Mountain Island Lake residents question Duke Energy about coal ash

A small but steady trickle of Mountain Island Lake-area residents questioned Duke Energy officials about coal ash during a community meeting Monday.

The lake is home to Duke’s retired Riverbend power plant, where 4 million tons of ash is stored. Mountain Island is also Charlotte’s major water supply.

Duke has said it will remove the ash from the site, but it’s unclear when that will happen or where the ash will go.

State regulators have to sign off on the removal plan. Officials of Charlotte’s airport, where Duke had intended to bury the Riverbend ash, now say they don’t want it under a new runway or other infrastructure.

“The big question is ‘When?’ ” said Deanna Hamm, a co-founder of We Love Mountain Island Lake, a community group. “They tell us it’s going to the airport, and then we hear that’s fallen through. They tell us it could go to a lined landfill, but they don’t know where.

“There doesn’t seem to be a definite plan yet, and that’s what we want: a definite plan.”

The group prefers the ash be removed by rail, she said, the same way coal came into the plant, and then buried in a lined landfill away from water.

“We’re going to excavate it one way or another, and we’d like it to go to something useful,” Lisa Hoffmann, a company spokesperson, said during a media tour of Riverbend earlier Monday.

Ash from Duke’s Asheville plant is being used as structural fill, leveling ground for potential redevelopment at the Asheville airport.

Two large ponds hold ash at Riverbend, which shut down in April 2013.

Plants now grow in parts of the primary pond, into which a slurry of ash and water was pumped so ash could settle to the bottom. Its water level is about 1 1/2 feet lower than it was before the plant retired, Duke said.

Basking turtles slide into the water of the secondary pond nearest the lake. That pond has an outlet pipe to the lake, but little water now drains from it, Duke officials said.

Overlooking the ponds is a flat, grassy field about 100 yards wide and 200 yards long. Under the grass and a layer of topsoil is a 40-foot thickness of ash excavated from the ponds.

Riverbend operated 84 years, burning mountains of coal.

Real estate agent Bonnie Colberg, who lives in the Stonewater community near the power plant, said her clients ask questions about the plant. She came to Monday night’s meeting, she said, to learn more herself.

“I’m still open to listening to what they’ve got to say,” added Vera Smith, who’s lived all her life in the Shuffletown community near the lake. She considers Duke a good neighbor.

“I think they will make good decisions and, naturally, the community pressure makes a difference,” she said.