Coal ash meeting draws tepid crowd

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Interest in Duke Energy’s coal ash basin closure plan at the company’s Mayo plant is virtually nonexistent.

Only about 35 people – most of them either state or Duke Energy officials – attended a public hearing and question and answer session Monday night at North End Elementary School. And only one of those in attendance addressed any comments or questions to the hearing officer.

That speaker, Nick Torrey of Chapel Hill, represented the Southern Environmental Law Center. Torrey praised the state Department of Environmental Quality for requiring Duke Energy to excavate coal ash from the existing open-air basins where it now sits into lined landfills that employ more up-to-date technology for preventing pollution and contamination.

Duke, DEQ and several environmental groups including the SELC agreed to the plan to excavate the coal ash as part of a settlement of legal action taken by Duke Energy to oppose a similar ruling by DEQ.

On Monday, Torrey said DEQ had shown courage in making its decisions. “You stood up for what was right. You took on the largest polluter in the state and you made the correct decision,” Torrey said.

Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for DEQ representatives to explain the closure plan to the public. The existing coal ash basin at Mayo will be excavated and stored in a new landfill which will lie partially in the same footprint as the existing coal ash basin. Duke Energy also operates a lined landfill just across NC 49 from the plant.

Torrey encouraged officials with DEQ to consider requiring Duke Energy to use the existing landfill rather than creating a second one. “That would eliminate the need to double handle all the coal ash,” Torrey said. Duke and DEQ estimate there are about 6.6 million tons of coal ash in the existing basin.

But Duke Energy representatives say that’s not a good idea because it would cause disruptions to traffic in the area if trucks are regularly trying to cross the public roadway.

“It makes a lot more sense if we can just keep it right there and put it in a landfill that is literally right next to where it is now,” said Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton.

Monday night’s meeting was not intended to result in any decisions. DEQ officials have until April 29 to approve the closure plan for Mayo. That approval is widely expected because all the parties have reached an agreement on the best way to dispose of the coal ash.

Monday’s meeting is the first of two planned for Person County. On Feb. 19, DEQ will be back in Person County, this time at North Elementary School, to take comments on closure plans at the Hyco plant, where two coal ash basins are expected to be excavated.

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