Duke Energy cleared a major hurdle Friday in its plan to bury toxic coal ash in permanent landfills with the issuance of state permits to operate the coal ash facilities in Lee and Chatham counties.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued the permits Friday to the landfill operator, Kentucky-based Charah and its local subsidiary Green Meadow, to begin construction of the fills.
Some local residents and environmental activists oppose the Lee and Chatham landfills, fearing dust clouds, water contamination, potential accidents and other problems.
The agency issued the landfill permits the same week that it had cited Green Meadow and Moncure Holdings for environmental violations at the Chatham County site resulting from unauthorized land clearing.
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Charah expects to proceed with construction and said it will start burying coal ash there in the fall. The ash will come from Charlotte-based Duke’s Riverbend Steam Station in Mount Holly and from the L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant in Wilmington, operated by Raleigh-based Duke Energy Progress.
The Brickhaven site in Chatham County and the Colon site in Lee County will receive 2.9 million tons of ash in the first phase of the excavation and ash transfer, which is expected to take about 18 months. The sites will be designed to accept up to about 20 million tons of ash, to be delivered by truck and rail.
The DENR permits restrict Charah’s landfill work to certain sections of the planned landfills. To complete the projects, Charah will need federal and state water quality permits to develop the landfills near wetlands.
The landfills will be built with plastic liners and leachate monitoring to detect and repair accidental leaks. The coal ash contains arsenic, lead, selenium and other heavy metals that pose a health risk to people and wildlife when exceeding safety limits set by environmental regulators.
Duke is currently storing more than 150 million tons of coal ash at 14 power plant sites in North Carolina, all of which are contaminating local groundwater, and some contamination has reached local drinking wells. The state legislature last year required Duke Energy to move ash from four sites that lawmakers deemed high-priority to lined landfills by August 2019.