Chatham County officials have agreed not to oppose a coal ash landfill planned in their county in exchange for nearly $19 million from Duke Energy.
County officials voted 3-2 Monday to accept the payment from the Charlotte utility and said they will use the money for environmental monitoring and possibly for catastrophic insurance.
“I don’t think anyone is especially happy,” said County Commission Chairman Jim Crawford, who voted in favor of the deal. “This agreement gives the county a measure of control that it otherwise wouldn’t have.”
As part of the agreement, which has yet to be signed by Duke, Chatham County officials will have the right to request groundwater sampling before and after the coal ash is deposited at the landfill in Moncure. Coal ash from coal-burning power plants contain arsenic, lead, selenium and other heavy metals that pose a health risk to people and wildlife when exceeding safety limits set by environmental regulators.
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Duke is storing more than 150 million tons of coal ash at 14 power plant sites in North Carolina, all of which are contaminating local groundwater; some contaminants have 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.
Duke Energy is developing landfills in Lee and Chatham counties to accept up to 20 million tons of coal ash. The Brickhaven site in Chatham County is designed to take 12 million tons and the Colon site in Lee can accommodate 8 million tons.
Duke had previously agreed to pay Lee County officials $12 million in exchange for accepting the toxic waste.
The landfills will be lined with an impermeable plastic membrane and will be equipped with monitoring equipment; it will be built by Kentucky-based Charah and operated by its subsidiary, Green Meadow.
Chatham County officials will next determine what kind of environmental monitoring will be required at the site, but Crawford said issues of concern are truck traffic, potential accidents and dust clouds.
Charah has agreed to monitor the landfill for 30 years for leaks, groundwater contamination and structural integrity. Chatham officials are considering protection beyond the initial three decades.
“We’re looking at a 100-year operation, so this would be like a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy,” said Crawford.