North Carolina regulators have again cited a Duke Energy coal ash deposit site for environmental violations, this time at the Asheville Regional Airport, where Duke coal ash is being used as construction fill in road bedding.
The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality on Wednesday cited Charlotte-based Duke for a pair of violations at the Asheville site. In both cases Duke, and site operator Charah, failed to notify the agency within 24 hours of a structural breach caused by severe erosion that had exposed coal ash and a plastic cover to the elements.
It’s the third time in the past seven months that state officials have cited concerns at a site where Duke’s coal ash is being retired. DEQ had twice cited the owner and operator of the Brickhaven coal ash landfill in Chatham County – most recently Nov. 25 – for earth-clearing activities without proper state and county approvals.
Duke discovered the Asheville erosion problems Oct. 29 but didn’t report them until Nov. 2, DEQ said in its notice of violation issued to the utility company. In one instance, between 4 feet and 6 feet of soil cover had disappeared, exposing coal ash below. In the other, about 4 feet of soil cover was eroded, exposing an impermeable plastic liner that is installed to prevent coal ash from flowing away.
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Duke and DEQ both stress that no coal ash was discovered off the site as a result of the erosion. The ash produced at coal-burning power plants is an environmental concern because it can contain arsenic, selenium and other toxic elements.
“During a routine inspection at two of the previously structural fill projects at the Asheville Regional Airport, erosion of the soil caps covering the material was identified,” Duke spokeswoman Catherine Butler said by email. “Duke Energy, in coordination with the Airport and Charah, took immediate steps to address the issue and install additional erosion and sediment controls at the site.”
DEQ has given Duke until Dec. 31 to submit a written report explaining how the structures breached and where the coal ash migrated.
Butler said the combined affected area measures about 30 feet by 30 feet in two separate sections of the airport project.
Duke has supplied more than 4 million tons of ash to the airport project since 2007; the airport taxiway expansion project has not yet been completed.
Duke continues removing coal ash from its Asheville power plant as part of a cleanup mandated by the N.C. Coal Ash Management Act, which requires the coal ash storage site in Asheville to be permanently closed by August 1, 2019 and the 3.4 million tons of ash remaining there to be taken elsewhere.
Duke is currently transporting the Asheville ash to a lined landfill in Homer, Ga.
DEQ said Thursday that Duke is actively removing ash at all four sites, including Asheville, which were identified as priority cleanup sites by the 2014 coal ash law.
Duke is also removing ash from its Riverbend Steam Station, Dan River Steam Station and Sutton Plant, where the ash is contaminating ground water below the site.