Force Duke to really clean up its coal ash ponds

Capping a leaking coal ash pond makes it look better but doesn’t solve the problem.
Capping a leaking coal ash pond makes it look better but doesn’t solve the problem. File photo

Last month, citizens across North Carolina weighed in on the risk classifications of Duke Energy’s unlined, toxic coal ash ponds. The final risk classifications will determine whether coal ash gets cleaned up in several communities across the state. It’s crucially important for the Department of Environmental Quality to take the concerns of community members into account. No community is low priority and no pond should be left leaking in place.

Duke Energy’s reports confirm that every site with coal ash ponds in North Carolina is known to be leaking and contaminating groundwater. However, only ponds classified by DEQ as high or intermediate risk will require full excavation by Duke Energy.

Duke Energy will be allowed to simply cover up any ash ponds given a low-risk rating, a process called “cap in place.” Capping in place is not a true cleanup. The ash will still be left in unlined pits, and a cap will not prevent chromium, arsenic and other contaminants from infiltrating drinking water, our lakes, streams and rivers. Capping in place is like putting a new coat of paint on a run-down house. The house might look nicer on the outside, but it’s not really fixed. This is not a solution and will not protect our communities.

The Marshall Steam Station sits precariously close to the northern portion of Lake Norman. Not far downstream, the G.G. Allen Steam Station in Belmont sits directly on the Catawba River. If any coal ash escapes from either of these sites, it will threaten the water supplies for Charlotte and all of the surrounding Lake Norman and Belmont communities that rely on the Catawba River for clean water. Alarmingly, Marshall Steam Station is also a threat to the safety of those who reside and recreate on Lake Norman. DEQ rates the Marshall dams as high hazard, meaning that dam failure would likely result in loss of human life or economic damage over $200,000 – a risk we should not be willing to shoulder. North Carolinians living near the G.G. Allen plant in Belmont have drinking water wells with elevated levels of contaminants and have been given more questions than answers by the actions of the state government.

Lake Norman and the Catawba River – our drinking water source – could be at stake if the political appointees at Gov. Pat McCrory’s DEQ fail to classify this site above a low-risk designation. As the mayors of our communities, served by Catawba River water, it is our duty to stand up for our constituents and their right to clean, safe water.

We urge DEQ to consider the concerns of the thousands of people who provided input during the public comment period and to the more than 400 people who attended a coal ash hearing for Marshall or Allen, demanding that their water be kept safe. It is not only our responsibility as the mayors of our communities to protect those in our own communities, but to also stand up for our friends and neighbors across the lake and downstream. We all have a right to clean, safe drinking water.

Give Marshall, G.G. Allen, and other unsafe coal ash ponds in North Carolina a classification that will require cleanup of all the coal ash. Secure the well-being of our citizens, our children, and the businesses that thrive along the shores of Lake Norman and the Catawba River.

Edwards (jedwards@pine is the mayor of Pineville. Woods (jwoods@ is the mayor of Davidson.