Duke Energy, EPA sign Dan River cleanup agreement

Duke Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement Thursday that formalizes Duke’s cleanup of the Dan River after a February coal ash spill.

Such agreements typically come before contamination cleanups begin, said Kenneth Rhame, an EPA on-scene coordinator. In the case of the Dan, where Duke spilled up to 39,000 tons of ash, the agency didn’t want to delay the work.

The agreement covers continued monitoring of the river, removal of ash and assessments once the work is done. It sets timelines for Duke to submit work plans but does not include an overall deadline to finish the work.

“We feel like there’s going to be some long-term monitoring,” Rhame said. “If we find ash deposits, we may come back in.”

The settlement, filed under the federal Superfund hazardous sites law, allows the EPA to seek penalties of $1,000 to $8,000 a day if Duke’s work doesn’t follow its conditions. Duke would pay $500,000 if the EPA has to take over the cleanup.

Duke also agrees to pay the agency’s costs of responding to the spill, which have come to about $1 million so far.

Coal ash contains nine metals that Superfund law defines as hazardous. Ash recovered from the Dan will have to be buried in lined landfills with measures to protect groundwater.

“EPA will work with Duke Energy to ensure that cleanup at the site, and affected areas, is comprehensive based on sound scientific and ecological principles, complies with all federal and state environmental standards and moves as quickly as possible,” EPA regional administrator Heather McTeer Toney said in a release.

Duke called the agreement “a significant milestone” in efforts to restore the river. “Duke Energy is fully committed to the river’s long-term health and well-being,” a statement said.

A team including the EPA, Duke, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental agencies from North Carolina and Virginia is identifying ash deposits in the river. Ash flowed 70 miles downstream of the spill, in Eden, to Kerr Reservoir.

Duke, working under EPA oversight, began vacuuming up an ash deposit from the river bottom in Danville, Va., last week. They expect to remove up to 2,500 tons of ash and sediment.

A second deposit has been identified upstream, at the confluence of Town Creek and the Dan, Rhame said. A third, smaller deposit was removed near the spill site in Eden.

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